Online course: Ideas from the History of Graphic Design (part of the Long term online programme Graphic Design)

Dates: any time

Duration: 10 hours

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 out of 1999 ratings (see top rating courses here)

Participating countries: anyone can apply

Apply: Here

Organizer: California Institute of the Arts at Coursera


  • FREE
  • $49 with sharable certificate

Ideas from the History of Graphic Design

This condensed survey course focuses on four key periods or themes from the history of design. Together we’ll trace the emergence of design as a recognized practice, why things look the way they do, and how designers approached specific design problems in their work.

Each week, a short quiz will test your knowledge of concepts, and a short reflective assignment will give you the opportunity to analyze the questions designers ask themselves today. This is an essential course for emerging designers entering the field, or for students interested in learning more about visual culture and analysis. No previous experience is required.

You will learn

  • Learn about the history of graphic design

  • Understand the emergence of design as a recognized practice

  • Learn about graphic design radicalism in late 1950s to early 1970s

  • Make informed design choices



WEEK 1: Early Mass Marketing

This week we are going to take a look at the effects of industrialization in the late 19th century, and how goods were produced, sold, and marketed.

Course Introduction
Introduction to Early Mass Marketing
Form Follows Function
A Democratization of Choice
A Revival of Styles
Style Mash-up
An Exaggeration of Type
A Household Name
Text and Image
“Words doing the work”
About this course
About the assignments
Instructor Presence and Staff Support
Forum Guidelines
Requesting Peer Reviews
Academic Integrity
The Designer’s Toolbox: Wood Type

WEEK 2: The Bauhaus

This week, we’ll look at how the work and teachings of The Bauhaus (1919-1933), and how design emerged as a recognized practice.

Introduction to The Bauhaus
Founding the Bauhaus
The Foundation Year
The Bauhaus and Architecture
Klee, Schlemmer & Albers
László Moholy-Nagy
Herbert Bayer
Color & Image
Textiles & Ceramics

WEEK 3 Modernism in America

Modernism in mid-century America through the eyes of four key designers.

Introduction to Modernism in America
The Bauhaus influence
A symbolic language
Case Study: Scope Magazine
Developing corporate identities
A new subjectivity
Case Study: Fortune Magazine
Play and humor
Case Study: The Mechanized Mule brochure
Duality & Simplicity
Case Study: El Producto cigars
Rand’s Logo Designs
A clear identity

WEEK 4 Graphic Design Radicalism

Design practice in the late 1950s to early 1970s was new, radical and divergent. To show you just how varied it was, we’ll look at the work of four key players/movements.

Introduction to Graphic Design Radicalism
The objectivity of Swiss Design
Incorporating abstraction
Josef Mueller-Brockmann
The Grid
Emil Ruder
Compositional Strategies
The subjectivity of Push Pin
Milton Glaser
“The South”
The Psychedelic Poster and Looking to the Past
The Diggers
Sister Corita’s Aesthetics
Sister Corita’s Politics
The Designer’s Toolbox: Four-color printing
The Designer’s Toolbox: “Psychedelic” Effects
The Designer’s Toolbox: Gestetner Machine
The Designer’s Toolbox: Screen printing