Book Details

  • Paperback
  • Bookstore's Wholesale Price: $47.00
  • September 2012
  • ISBN: 978-0-500-28980-8
  • 256 pages
  • Territory Rights: USA and Dependencies, Philippines and Canada.

Graphic Design Theory


See all options and formats starting at

Meredith Davis (Author)


A comprehensive introduction to graphic design theory.

This textbook combines an analysis of historical thinking about design with contemporary critical theory. Throughout, explanations are linked to visual concepts, so the book is useful for studio instruction as well as freestanding lecture courses on history or theory. Promoting rigorous thinking as well as practical and technical proficiency, it encourages students to critique the professional design work they encounter, as well as their own studio practice. New thinking about graphic design, uniting a historical perspective with an essential critical background, is made accessible to students—this thinking would otherwise be available only in diverse and unsuitable readings.


Balanced and authoritative

The author has played a crucial role in the development of graphic design as a field of academic study in the United States, and her expertise ensures a balanced, thorough exploration of the discipline.

Emphasizes intellectual rigor

An essential resource for developing broad critical-thinking skills as well as practical and technical experience, the text meets a growing demand for an understanding of design theories.

Visual examples illuminate the text

A wealth of images demonstrate how practicing designers have applied theories addressed throughout the text, including Swiss typography in relation to modernist theory and magazine design from the 1980s in relation to postmodernism.



    Part 1: Laying the Groundwork

    1: Communication Models: Representing Thought and Action
        The Shannon/Weaver Model of Communication
        The Emmert/Donaghy Model of Communication
        Berlo’s Message Components
        The Message Cycle

    2: The Nature of Representation: What and How Things Mean
        What Do We Mean by Representation?
        The Context of Culture
        Choosing an Appropriate Sign
        Ordering the Elements within the Representation
        Matching the Representation to Its Context of Use

    3: The Dimensions of Context
        The Fit between Form and Context
        The Scale of Context
        The Cognitive Context for Design: How We Are Alike and Different
        The Socio-Cultural Context for Design: The Search for Pattern
        The Technological Context for Design: Material Matters
        The Physical Context for Design: Everything Is Relational
        The Economic Context for Design: Expanding the Definition of “Cost”

    Part 2: Theory from 1900 to the Present

    4: The Language of the Visual World
        Ferdinand de Saussure: The Birth of Semiotics
        Charles Sanders Peirce: A Pragmatist’s Approach
        Roland Barthes: A Bridge to Post-Structuralism

    5: Modernism
        A New Century
        Striving for Objectivity and Logic
        Searching for the Universal
        The Troublesome Issues of Class and Style
        The Growth of Advertising

    6: Post-Modernism
        Signs of Discontent
        The Reader Writes the Text
        One versus Many
        Metaphor and Metonymy
        Cultural Position
        Vernacular, Appropriated, and Default Forms
        Hyperreality and Living in the Image

    7: A New Paradigm
        The Insight of Marshall McLuhan
        A Convergence of Media
        Complicity and Experience
        The Changing Notion of Audience
        A New Paradigm

    Further Reading