Art, Design & Technology

This topic explores the confluence of art and design and the commonalities and distinctions between them. Under what circumstances can graphic design be considered fine art? Is ownership vs. anonymity a defining attribute of art vs. design? In the context of artists such as Warhol, Kruger, and Fairey, can even Internet memes be considered “art”? Or, as addressed in a conference panel asking “Is Graphic Design Fine Art?” … does it matter?
It also addresses the symbiotic relationship between technological skill and creative and critical thinking in design education, where design is “both a noun and a verb”: the principles to conceptualize successful designs, and the software practices to effectively produce them.
How does teaching address the appropriate balance of technological skill and design knowledge so that students are proficient in the use of tools to produce effective visual communications, and knowledgeable enough about design theory, principles, and aesthetics that they may continue to produce such solutions as technologies inevitably and rapidly change?
Consistent with emerging personal interests, teaching responsibilities, and upcoming conference panels and related presentations, this research interest is being expanded to include design for social good.

Invited Lectures & Presentations

May 2015
The Design Recharge Show
(Diane Gibbs’ interactive weekly webcast to motivate, connect, inspire and educate designers.)
“Why Graphic Design Is Fine Art”


Conference Panels & Presentations

  • What Do You Meme? Art, Design, and Why the Internet Ruins Everything
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  • View Presentation PDF

Southeastern College of Art Conference (SECAC)
October 21–24, 2015
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Building on last year’s SECAC Conference exploration of graphic design and fine art, and whether or not the visible presence of ownership elevates the status of graphic design, this presentation will examine the anonymous bottom-dwellers of the Internet—memes—to pursue a better understanding of the commonalities and distinctions between art and design.

The visual formula of memes relies on a combination of text and image that makes them more akin to graphic design.  But, like some of the best works of art, memes can be subversive and biting, and can elicit immediate emotional responses.  They are the not-so-distant relative of Andy Warhol, Barbara Kruger, and Shepard Fairey, and can even be likened to irreverent marginalia found in medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Internet memes are, inarguably, visual communication, but where do they fit in the discussion of art and design? What is their allure? Though usually perceived as low-brow due to their crude compositions, memes often employ sophisticated visual rhetoric and keen wit.  Do Internet memes exist at an abandoned intersection of art and design? Or at a very relevant confluence of art, design, rhetoric, and virality?

Nabi SECAC 2015.001

  • Educating the Disciplined Designer (Panel Chair)
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Southeastern College Arts Conference (SECAC 2014)
Sarasota, Florida
October 8–11, 2014

In the changing landscape of media and technology, it is an ongoing struggle to define the best educational standards in graphic design. While there is always pressure to teach cutting edge technologies, older methods provide opportunities to appreciate the hand-craft, to teach attention to detail, to enhance understanding of user experiences across different mediums and to help define the possibilities of new technologies. Instead of digital methods supplanting the teaching of the hand-tooled predecessors, perhaps they complement each other and expand students’ abilities to communicate even more effectively. What innovative, integrated solutions are instructors using to navigate the obligations to both ground students in traditional practices and to train them in emerging technologies? Today it is also being argued that graphic designers need transferable skills in the humanities, business and social sciences, but with pressure to have a diverse range of technological skills for the workplace, how can educators prepare college students for careers in graphic design as well as involve them in deeper inquiry? This session seeks new research and case studies in graphic design education that address these multifaceted challenges.

  • Anonymity Versus Ownership: Elevating the Status of Graphic Design
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Southeastern College Arts Conference (SECAC 2014)
Sarasota, Florida
October 8–11, 2014

Does the act of signing elevate the status of a creative work?

The earliest designers of metal type traditionally left their marks of creative ownership with eponymous typefaces (Baskerville, Caslon, Bodoni, Jenson). The trans-disciplinary greats of Art Nouveau (Toulouse-Lautrec, Cheret, Mucha) signed their posters just as they would sign their paintings. The members of the Wiener Werkstatte designed beautiful individual logos to proclaim the artistic origin of their wares. Venetian printers introduced the heritage of printing marks in the 15th century to distinguish their books from other publishers.

However, as a contemporary discipline, graphic design seems to exist behind a veil of anonymity. So when and why did designers stop signing their work? Did the separation of craft from design result in the dissociation of creation and signature? How might the coining of the term “graphic designer” in the 1920s have lowered the status of the creative work being produced? Does style serve as a signature? Does a recognizable style warrant categorization as art? This presentation will explore the relationship of graphic design to fine art through the consideration of creative ownership and (seeming) anonymity.

  • Design and Technology: Frenemies Against a Common Foe
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University and College Designers Association (UCDA) Design Education Summit: Catch 22
Blacksburg, Virginia
May 21–22, 2012
Co-presented with Associate Professor David Begley

The relationship between technological skill and creative and critical thinking is a frequent point of contention in design education. Our panel will address how technology is not the enemy of design, but rather an ally against a barrage of ineffective visual communication. Historically, technology has led the charge, with production methods influencing design aesthetics. However, as the tools and the media of graphic design have become more accessible, more people are producing visual messages; it is design thinking that often takes command to generate original, effective, inspired visual solutions. We will explore the symbiotic relationship between design and technology through historical examples.

The identity of a graphic designer exists not just in having the tools of one, but also in the ability to think like one, specifically through problem solving and creative concept development. Many design education programs try to separate the teaching of design principles from the tools of design practice. Our program encourages students to explore design as both a noun and a verb. They learn concurrently the principles to conceptualize and visualize successful designs, and the software practices to effectively design them. We will discuss the strategies used in our introductory level courses, including computer-based and computer-free projects, to teach students that achieving smart visual solutions relies on a balance of technological skill and design knowledge.

Ivan Chermayeff said, “The design of history is the history of design,” and what is history but constantly advancing and evolving technologies? We will aim to show how a successful graphic design education can rely on teaching students enough about the tools to produce effective visual communication and enough about design theory, principles and aesthetics that they may continue to produce these solutions as technologies inevitably and rapidly change.