Visual Communications Online Course

By Robert Gluckson, M.A.

View the masterpieces of visual art and discover powerful communications techniques. Learn the history of mass media to discover the "Whys" and "Hows" of communicating.

Whether you’re a communications student, a concerned parent, or an entry-level web designer, you can quickly absorb the principles of working with WORDS and PICTURES. Learn how communications techniques have developed in a survey of the masterpieces that have shaped our modern world.

At the beginning of human culture, people sought to communicate with each other across time and space, using technologies like cave paintings and the pyramids. As technologies developed – from wood block prints to computer screens – master communicators continued to develop the techniques that shape our ways of seeing.


This course will expose you to the masterpieces of communications arts, put them in historic context, and explain the basic principles and "rules" that each new technology developed. The survey will incorporate literally thousands of images to improve your MEDIA LITERACY. Simply seeing these masterworks can improve your own graphic design, advertising, or web pages, your work could explode in productivity, clarity, and power.

Discover the business and technological foundation for these new ways of seeing. By placing masterworks in historic context, you will understand both how and why communication principles developed. These insights will enable you to transfer what has worked in the past to the new demands of changing technologies. Web sites aren’t just a new way of communicating: they incorporate old ways with a new technology.

Course Description

Multi-media visual communications draw on the traditions of newspaper and magazine design, photojournalism, cartooning, graphic design, and fine art. Creating powerful media -- websites, ads, even greeting cards -- takes more than knowing software; creators need to understand how people read; what colors look good together; and what makes a telling image. Until now, most web programming courses paid little attention to these skills -- instead, they focused on software. The result is that programmers know the programs but have to re-create the wheel when it comes to learning how to communicate.

Each mass communications discipline has its own traditions, worked out over years of experiment and the contributions of the greatest creators in each field. For example, newspaper designers learned how to place photographs to draw readers INTO a story -- the photo encouraged the reader to linger. Without this insight, page designers might place pictures at the bottom of the page, encouraging viewer to jump down and then turn the page. Photojournalists learned how to tell stories from illustrators and learned composition tricks from painters.

This survey course will bring together the traditions from each visual discipline, from art to advertising, TV to modern Web Site design. The material comes from my experience teaching mass communications and art courses; graduate school communication courses; classic texts in each field; and the collected resources available to professionals in each field.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," says an old adage. Just as cultural literacy requires familiarity with the best a culture has to offer, visual literacy requires absorbing visual traditions. Studying the all-time greatest photographs and cartoons will go a long way toward explaining how to communicate with pictures.

Fortunately, we live in a time when these visual resources are readily available. Each discipline has a multitude of resources available. Annual awards celebrate the best work in each field, usually presented by a professional Association (the film industry's Academy Awards, Clios for the best television commercials, and the Pulitzer prize for photojournalism). Students will be led to the professional associations' Web pages. Further Web Resources will be drawn from the many academic and professional websites that celebrate the best each medium has to offer.

The course can be developed in two stages: first using using web resources, followed by streaming audio and video or televised presentations.



The Art of Seeing

Art History Methodology and Fine Art

Illustration from Cave Paintings to Wood Blocks

Prints and Posters



Print Media, Part 1 -- Typography, Newspapers, Magazines, Books

Print Media, Part 2 -- Newsletters, Brochures, Business Cards

Motion Pictures and Animation: moving pictures and type

Multi-Media Web Design -- History and Esthetics

Each Topic will include viewing masterpieces of the medium. The work will be put in historic context and analysis of the technology that lead to the development of new techniques. Students will explore the contemporary business and discover the professional associations, conferences, and master texts.

Designed as a survey course, each discipline will be introduced in ten weekly installments. Students will interact with the material, do their own research, and apply what they learn to the basic design challenges of each medium. The course will be broadly oriented, so that the knowledge can be applied to any multi-media project, from a Power Point presentation to Web Site design, as well as Print Media. Students will leave the course the ability to tackle any problem with the conceptual tools from many disciplines. They will have the resources to do in-depth study on their own. With these basic skills and knowledge, students can learn more advanced design skills throughout their more technical software studies, and finish their schooling as designers as well as technicians.



Online lectures


Textbook (Visual Communications by Paul Lester)

Streaming Audio and Video Interviews with instructors and professionals (online)

The course can be developed in two stages. First, as an online course offered with web resources. Second, with original multi-media documentaries that can be produced as CDs or streaming audio/visual.

Audio Visual Presentations: For Stage Two, we'll create additional resources, as a multi-media online course licensed world-wide. In order to attract online students from other areas, we'll develop additional materials. To create the Stage Two materials, we'll interview top media professionals and academics, in the tradition of the Media Waves and American Cinema documentaries. Interviews can be conducted both online and at international conferences.

Contents of Each Unit

Visual history of the medium

Technological and Business developments

Esthetic Standards

Step-by-step instructions for working in each medium

Jobs and the Job Market

Applications to Web Design

Professional Associations and Schools

Web Resources

Annotated Bibliography of texts, CD, Video, and other resource.

Instructor’s Handbook and Web Site

Course Outline


Test Bank

Web Template for Online Delivery

The Market

This proposal describes Visual Communication, an online survey course for communications students and for beginning web-designers. It will introduce beginners (and advanced programmers who want to improve their design skills) to all the media that communicate with words and pictures.

Currently, Multi-Media training programs focus on software skills. This course is designed to introduce the background and basic abilities to DESIGN programs. It should be a survey course offered at the beginning of one, two, and four year programs for Multi-Media Technicians.

Some schools introduce these skills as students go along; some have an introduction to Art requirement that teaches some design. But the Design Traditions and Skills are usually considered in passing, rather than as fundamentals for successful web design.

The demand for webmasters is so great that students can find work as soon as their schooling ends. But although they know how to operate the programs, they don't necessarily know what looks good or works well.

So, the market is virtually every Multi-Media Training Program in the world.

The entire package is designed for an Online Training Program. This opens the market worldwide: as a stand-alone program for professionals, as part of an already established Online Training Program, and as an Online adjunct to established, live-body Multi-Media Training Programs.

Market Research

This project has brought enthusiastic response from the academics I have contacted so far. Industry response has also been positive: Adam Hanin, manager of Higher Education at Compac Computer Corporation, was enthusiastic, and offered to put me in touch with industry professionals. The Seattle Post Intelligencer offered support; Chronicle Books' head designer has agreed to an interview. The Communications Director for the Seattle Community College District, Ross Davis, is interested in producing a series of videos for the course.

The Competition

The competition is scattered, from four-year degree programs to peripherally related single courses. Almost every textbook focuses on the "How" of web design, not the "Why". I know of no textbook for a Visual Communication Course aimed at multi-media professionals. There are a few products that contain some of this material, but they are so focused on Web design that they give little attention to the visual traditions that have shaped all of our understanding of how to "read" pictures. The related areas are Web Design, Art Surveys, and Mass Media Texts. I surveyed all the references available at the League for Innovation Conference last year and could find nothing comparable.

Visual Communication/Art Surveys: Many schools offer surveys of Art, which contain some of the basic skills in design and art analysis. They rarely connect with real-world skills in graphic design, much less web design. I am aware of only one survey of all the visual media that compares in scope to the proposed project: Visual Communication, by Paul Martin Lester (Wadsworth, now in a 3rd edition). This is a fine work, but contains only one chapter on computers; it doesn’t have an online component; and is limited in its professional applications.

Visual Information: The primary survey work is Paul Lester's Visual Communication, which is the proposed text for this course. His website also provides valuable links. Neither the text nor the website are designed for a stand-alone online course. The works of Edward Tufte are pre-eminent in a smaller area, the use of information graphics. There is another masterwork regarding the use of words and pictures, "Understanding Comics" by Scott McCloud, which has many applications to web design. None stand alone to present the scope of information to be offered in this class.

Mass Media Courses: There are numerous introductory journalism and mass media texts, such as those used for Journalism 100; these focus on words more than pictures, and are inadequately illustrated. However, they do provide the business and historic context that would be included in our work. The website that accompanies North's Journalism 100/MediaWaves course is a good starting place and could supply many of the websites needed for Visual Communications. Websites now accompany many college classes; for example, the University of Washington sponsors a great propaganda site. These will be surveyed and incorporated.

Each industry has texts and histories (photography, film, etc.). These do not consider the entire range of visual communication. Individual textbooks can inform the content for each chapter's subject area. For example, Photo History texts would inform the Photography chapter; Newspaper Editing Texts would inform that Chapter, etc.

Textbooks for Multi-Media Programmers: These focus on the software more than content. Most teach individual programs, rather than a survey of the field.

Proposed Course Designers

Robert Gluckson has created four online courses, including "Introduction to Mass Media" and "Introduction to Film," which have had the highest enrollment of any courses in the Seattle Community College District (more than 2000 since 1994). As part of the Mass Media course, he created television sequences that linked the course of study with a textbook and online resources -- these episodes are shown weekly on SCCD TV and KBTC TV. He has two online continuing education courses in development, "Business Communications" and "Make Thousands in Mail Order." Some lectures were researched for his "Photojournalism History" and "Art, Culture, and Technology of the 20th Century at Southern Oregon University. His recent television production "Words and Pictures" is the first of a series of videos to be used in the course.

He was a presenter and co-producer of the 1994 Media Literacy Conference at Seattle Central Community College, and has taught at Seattle Pacific University and Southern Oregon University; plus art courses at many locations throughout the Northwest. He has two Master’s degrees, one in Popular Culture from Bowling Green State University, and one in Communications from the University of Washington. He also works as a freelance writer and has received three King County Arts Commission Grants for writing on art and media issues.

This project is so large that other writers may be called in. I have spoken with Leonard Rifas, Ph.D. (artist and designer of a 3-D information display program); and Parker Lindner, a teacher and media producer working on Distance Learning issues for Washington State. Paul Lester, author of the related text Visual Communications, is also excited about the project. Television production help is also available.

For More Information:

Robert Gluckson

Phone: (808) 278-2151



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