Foreword - Graphic Design: The New Basics: Second Edition, Revised and Expanded (2015)

Graphic Design: The New Basics: Second Edition, Revised and Expanded (2015)


Ellen Lupton and Jennifer Cole Phillips

This book is a guide to visual form-making, showing designers how to build richness and complexity around simple relationships. We created the first edition of this book in 2008 because we didn’t see anything quite like it for today’s students and young designers: a concise, contemporary guide to two-dimensional design. Since its release, Graphic Design: The New Basics has reached an enthusiastic audience around the world. Everywhere we go, we meet educators and young designers who have used the book and learned something from it.

What’s new in this volume? You will find updated and expanded content throughout the book, reflecting new ideas emerging in our classrooms at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). The most important addition to this volume, however, is an entirely new opening chapter devoted to “formstorming,” a term originated by Jennifer Cole Phillips. Formstorming is a set of structured techniques for generating visual solutions to graphic design challenges. We open the book with this chapter in order to plunge our readers directly into the act of visual invention.

As educators with decades of combined experience in graduate and undergraduate teaching, we have witnessed the design world change and change again in response to new technologies. When we were students ourselves in the 1980s, classic books such as Armin Hofmann’s Graphic Design Manual (published in 1965) had begun to lose their relevance within the restless and shifting design scene. Postmodernism was on the rise, and abstract design exercises seemed out of step with the interest at that time in appropriation and historicism.

During the 1990s, design educators became caught in the pressure to teach (and learn) software, and many of us struggled to balance technical skills with visual and critical thinking. Form sometimes got lost along the way, as design methodologies moved away from universal visual concepts toward a more anthropological understanding of design as a constantly changing flow of cultural sensibilities.

This book addresses the gap between software and visual thinking. By focusing on form, we have re-embraced the pioneering work of modernist design educators, from Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy at the Bauhaus to Armin Hofmann and some of our own great teachers, including Malcolm Grear.

We initiated this project when we noticed that our students were not at ease building concepts abstractly. They were adept at working and reworking pop-culture vocabularies, but they were less comfortable manipulating scale, rhythm, color, hierarchy, grids, and diagrammatic relationships.

This is a book for students and emerging designers, and it is illustrated primarily with student work, produced within graduate and undergraduate design studios. Our school, MICA, has been our laboratory. Numerous faculty and scores of students participated in our brave experiment. The work shown on these pages is varied and diverse, reflecting an organic range of skill levels and sensibilities. Unless otherwise noted, all the student examples were generated in the context of MICA’s courses; a few projects originate from schools we visited or where our own graduate alumni are teaching.

Our student contributors come from China, India, Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Zimbabwe, a wide range of US states, and many other places. The book was manufactured in China and published with Princeton Architectural Press in New York City. It was thus created in a global context. The work presented within its pages is energized by the diverse backgrounds of its producers, whose creativity is shaped by their cultural identities as well as by their unique life experiences. A common thread that draws all these people together in one place is design.

The majority of student work featured here comes from the course we teach together at MICA, the Graphic Design MFA Studio. Our MFA program’s first publishing venture was the book D.I.Y.: Design It Yourself (2006), directed at general readers who want to use design in their own lives. We have published a series of other titles since then, including Indie Publishing (2009), Graphic Design Thinking (2010), and Type on Screen (2014). These books are researched and produced under the aegis of MICA’s Center for Design Thinking, an umbrella for organizing the college’s diverse efforts in the area of design education research.

Complementing the student work included in this book are examples from contemporary professional practice that demonstrate visually rich design approaches. Many of the designers featured, including Marian Bantjes, Alicia Cheng, Peter Cho, Malcolm Grear, David Plunkert, C. E. B. Reas, Paul Sahre, Rick Valicenti, and Jan van Toorn, have worked with our students as visiting artists at MICA. Some conducted special workshops, whose results are included in this volume.

Graphic Design: The New Basics lays out the elements of a visual language whose forms are employed by individuals, institutions, and communities that are increasingly connected in a global society. We hope the book will inspire more thought and creativity in the years ahead.


The first edition of this book constituted my degree project in the Doctorate in Communication Design program at the University of Baltimore. I thank my advisors, Stuart Moulthrop, Sean Carton, and Amy Pointer. I also thank my colleagues at MICA, including Samuel Hoi, president; Ray Allen, provost; Gwynne Keathley, vice provost for research and graduate studies; Brockett Horne, chair, Graphic Design BFA; and my longtime friend and collaborator, Jennifer Cole Phillips. Special thanks go to the dozens of students who contributed work.

Editors Clare Jacobson, Nicola Brower, and the team at Princeton Architectural Press made the book real.

My family is an inspiration, especially my parents Bill, Lauren, Mary Jane, and Ken; my children Jay and Ruby; my sisters Julia and Michelle; and my husband Abbott.

Ellen Lupton

My contribution to this book is dedicated to Malcolm Grear, mentor and friend, who taught me to approach design from the inside out, and instilled an appetite for invention and formal rigor.

The culture at MICA is a joy in which to work, thanks in large part to the vision and support of our past president, Fred Lazarus; our new president, Samuel Hoi; provost Ray Allen; vice provost for research and graduate studies Gwynne Keathley; and our talented faculty colleagues. Deep respect and thanks to our students for their commitment and contributions. Heartfelt gratitude goes to my friend and close collaborator, Ellen Lupton, for raising the bar with grace and generosity.

I am thankful for the support of my family and close friends, especially my parents Ann and Jack; and my sisters Lanie and Jodie.