Course Title: Contextual Studies

Part A: Course Overview

Course Title: Contextual Studies

Credit Points: 12

Course Code




Learning Mode

Teaching Period(s)


City Campus


335H Applied Communication


Sem 1 2006,
Sem 1 2007,
Sem 1 2008,
Sem 1 2009,
Sem 2 2006,
Sem 2 2008,
Sem 2 2009


City Campus


345H Media and Communication


Sem 1 2010,
Sem 1 2011,
Sem 1 2012,
Sem 1 2013,
Sem 1 2014,
Sem 2 2011,
Sem 2 2012

Course Coordinator: Mark Paterson

Course Coordinator Phone: Admin office: +61 3 9925 5371

Course Coordinator

Course Coordinator Location: Building 9, level 5, RMIT City campus.

Course Coordinator Availability: Outside class time by appointment or via email.

Pre-requisite Courses and Assumed Knowledge and Capabilities


Students applying through a Single Course Application should be aware that an appropriate undergraduate program and presentation and approval of a Folio is a requirement for entry into this course.

Course Description

Contextual Studies introduces key concepts of the broad field of Communication Design, concentrating on the diversity, history and meaning of sign construction as graphic design. You will explore the history of graphic design elements (such as image and text) and the changing technologies affecting printing, type and paper production.

The course presents visual semiotic and rhetorical theory and investigates methods for developing innovative ways of using graphic design as a unique form of sign formation and visual expression. You will also examine the six major design elements – space, type, image, colour, materials and time – and explore the range of expression available to communication/graphic designers with their regular palette of signs from which they create meaning.

Objectives/Learning Outcomes/Capability Development

Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
•    examine the influences of social, political, economic, and technological change on the history of graphic design and the construction of identity;
•    research and analyse the nature of graphic design as a service-driven practice in relation to issues of ownership of production, creativity as commodity, authorship and the role of the designer in meaning construction;
•    interrogate and construct visual discourse using both semiotic and rhetorical frameworks; and
•    evaluate and critique visual communication works.

In this course you will develop the following program capabilities:
•    critique global design context and theory from a variety of perspectives;
•    analyse client-based and user-based audiences and contexts which visual communication solutions must address, including the recognition of the physical, cognitive, cultural, environmental and social human factors that shape design solutions; and
•    create, develop and reflect on visual form in response to communication problems, including articulation of principles of visual organisation, information hierarchy, symbolic representation, typography, aesthetics and the construction of meaningful images.

Overview of Learning Activities

You will be actively engaged in learning that involves a combination of lectures, tutorials, practical interactive exercises, group discussion and activities in which you will have the opportunity to put into practice the skills and knowledge discussed in class. Peer and self-critique is an integral part of the learning and teaching philosophy of the course.

Overview of Learning Resources

A list of recommended learning resources will be provided by your lecturer, including books, journal articles, industry resources and web resources. You will also be expected to seek further resources relevant to the focus of your own learning.
Macintosh computers and industry-standard software and fonts are available on campus.

Overview of Assessment

Assessment will cover both theoretical and practical aspects of your learning. Assessment will occur during and at the end of the course. Your ability to discuss, reflect, survey, critique, construct and integrate the context of graphic design will be assessed by a range of methods such as reports, folios, presentations, reflective journals and practical projects.