CMS.405 | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Media and Methods: Seeing and Expression


Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session

Course Description

Students create digital visual images and analyze designs from historical and theoretical perspectives with an emphasis on art and design. Students will examine visual experience in broad terms, from the perspectives of creators and viewers. The course will address a number of key topics including: image-making as a cognitive and perceptual practice, production of visual significance and meaning, and the role of technology in creating and understanding digitally-produced images. Students will be given design problems growing out of their reading and present solutions using technologies such as the Adobe Creative Suite and/or similar applications.


CMS.100 Introduction to Media Studies, 21L.011 The Film Experience, or permission of instructor.

Learning Objectives

After taking this course you should be able to:

  • Create more compelling visual compositions for digital media, informed by a working knowledge of the basic elements and structures of visual design.
  • Use the theories and works presented in this course to frame and support discussions and critiques of contemporary visual design particularly objects of digital media.

Put another way, you should be able to “create” and “think about” visual designs in a more skilled, knowledgeable and critical manner, and this should further your capabilities as both digital media producers and scholars.

Two themes will be woven through the course. These are: (1) the aesthetics of ambiguity vs. clarity and (2) social aspects of design including the role of the author/reader nexus and the social impact of design. Bear these in mind during all critiques.


The total grade for the class will be based upon the following factors and weights:

Class Participation 20%
Exercises 15%
Assignments 45%
Final Project 20%


Coursework will consist of exercises, assignments, and a final project. Exercises are of a smaller scale than assignments, which are smaller than the final project.

All coursework *must be submitted online* at least an hour ahead of class on the day it is due.

Production Note

You will not be taught specific software in this course such as Adobe Photoshop or Flash. The assumption is that, as MIT students, you can learn to use such applications through the execution of projects. This allows us to focus on design concepts and practice. However, I am more than happy to connect you to online resources to assist with this. Though you can use free software tools such as Processing to complete your work, there is a computer cluster with multimedia development software available at the New Media Center, which features multiple online tutorials on their help site.

Attendance & Participation

Class attendance and participation are mandatory. Participation in class discussion is imperative because it allows you to explore the texts and themes collaboratively, and in the process, discover meanings and issues that you probably would not discover on your own. Participation in class also challenges you to continuously question, refine and articulate your own ideas and interpretations.

In addition, much of this class is based on critiques, which require full participation and cannot be replicated outside of class. Critiques are a central aspect of a studio culture. Extensive teaching and learning occur through critiques: it is through critiques that you will develop your skills for both creating and discussing designs.

Missing more than 3 classes (unexcused) will result in a loss of one letter grade.

Required Texts

You are required to purchase the following books. All other texts will be provided to you either as print-outs or pdfs. These books are available from a variety of online booksellers.

Buy at MIT Press Dondis, Donis. A Primer of Visual Literacy. MIT Press, 1973. ISBN: 9780262540292. [Preview with Google Books]

Buy at MIT Press Harrell, D. Fox. Phantasmal Media: An Approach to Imagination, Computation, Expression. MIT Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780262019330.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. William Morrow Paperbacks, 1994. ISBN: 9780060976255.

Required readings are to be completed before class.