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Unit 1
Reflecting on Design

Borders and Crossroads Project

1. Introduction

Understanding what design is, what designers do and what processes they follow is an important knowledge to acquire during the course. In Unit 1, you will be exposed to an introduction of the design field as you will reflect critically on design works as well as your own work. You will also learn to use the sketchbook and reflective questions to guide your own practice. 

2. Learning outcomes

By the end of this unit, you will be able to:

> Explain what is design and what is a designer

> Explain the difference between design and art

> Analyse what graphic design field you prefer

> Explore and evaluate the work of designers

> Evaluate your practice in a sketchbook

> Explore and evaluate others’ sketchbook


Lesson 1
Design and Designers

Lesson 1

1. What is design?

When you say ‘design’, what do you think of? Design is everywhere and all around us: from notebook that you use everyday, the home you live in, the visual messages that you see outside, the device that you are messaging your friends with or even the layout of this page. The word comes from the Latin verb – designare – which means to select, order, plan or scheme, but there isn’t one definition that we can point to. To start, have a look at the definition of the International Council of Design.


Design is a problem-solving process that seeks solutions to all sorts of different needs, concerns and desires. We could say that most people’s experience of design comes from their daily interaction with physical objects, built spaces and digital environments. Share your thoughts on the following questions. 

> What would be your definition of design?

> Do you see any difference so far between design and, for example, art? 

Download the Head, Heart and Hand poster on What is Design?

2. What is a designer?

Within the profession we call ‘designers’ there are a spectrum of specialisations, including (1) visual communication designers/graphic designers, (2) industrial designers/product designers, (3) fashion/textile designers (4) interior designers (5) service designers (6) UI/ UX designers. Have a look here at the different design disciplines.

3. What is graphic design?

Graphic design is the craft of planning and creating visual content to communicate ideas and messages. Graphic design is everywhere you look in the digital age — from billboards to cereal boxes to mobile apps. Have a look at the image below can give you a broad idea of the sub-disciplines within the field of graphic design. 

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Share your thoughts on the following questions. 

> Which field(s) of graphic design do you prefer to work in? Why?

> Which field(s) would you be interested to discover and which you don't? Why?


Lesson 2
Design projects

Lesson 2

1. Analysing creative projects in context

For every project, you need to develop a relevant process of investigation on designers and design projects as well as looking into other fields. For example, when working on the project Borders and Crossroads, the following creative projects might come to mind when thinking about the keywords "borders" and "crossroads". Do you see why?


Neighbours, Norman McLaren, 1952, Short film

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Posters without borders, 2013, Series of posters on immigration

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Trespassers only, Stef Heidhues, Artist book


Inside Out, JR, Street Art project


Choose 1 project to reflect on. 

Share your thoughts on the following questions.

> What are the topics found in this project?

> Why does this work inspire you?

2. Design case study: A behind the scenes process

Now, consider one of my design works where the concept "borders and crossroads" was part of the starting point. Here are some images that show my process of work until designing the outcome as photographic zine, URBAN VISA. I saw the manholes being collected as passport stamps, as the entry and exit of an underground border, as the grid patterns of our streets, and I used photographs to design the zine.

Unit manhole.jpg

Urban visa is a photographic zine that explores manholes as grid patterns and stamps in a fictional urban passport.


Share your thoughts on the following questions.

> How did I link the research together in my idea development?

> Why are experiments and tests important?

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Lesson 3
Sketchbook Reflection

Lesson 3

1. The sketchbook

Sketchbooks are used to document your practice visually. You could ask: Why should we record what we do? We could say that it is to keep a track on ideas, to visualise our work process, to reflect critically on what we do. Do you find any other reason? Now, when asking: How should we record what we do? We could say by using images, videos, drawings, pieces of materials, etc. As you are doing workshops, ask yourself: What can you show from your experiments?


Open a page of your sketchbook that you are proud of because of the work shown. Take post-it notes and learn to give constructive feedback by answering these questions: What works? What doesn't work? Why? Share your thoughts.

2. Models of reflection

In the last few weeks, you have been doing workshops that you should have documented in your sketchbook. Consider the workshop as an "action". There exist different ways to reflect on an action by asking yourself the right questions.

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Reflective action instructional design (RAID), Luppicini (2003)

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Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1988)


In your sketchbook, think back at the workshop(s) that you did in the last weeks and start a reflection in/on/from action. Share your thoughts on the following questions. 

> What have you tried to make?

> What worked? What didn't? Why?

> What could you improve and do next? 

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