Collaborative Approaches to teaching Design History

Lisa Scharoun, Stephen O'Connor and Tat-Ming Yu
2011 Conference

At the undergraduate level, Graphic Design history is essential in understanding the core foundations of our discipline; however, it is often taught in a traditional mode that does not engage and inspire students. As was the case of previous unit offering at the University of Canberra, students spent an inordinate amount of their study memorizing periods and styles and generating essays based on that content. In order to make this unit more engaging, the graphic design teaching team at the University of Canberra set out to create a syllabus that would enhance the learning outcomes by using a collaborative teaching approach. By presented the students with skill based activities based on the application of design principles rather than essays, the students were able to interact with theoretical information in a dynamic way. According to Heller (2003: xii), ‘to [teach design] effectively, a teacher must balance the requisites of the class, needs of the students expectations of the school and still have a fresh result.’ Heller (2003: xii) goes on to explain that the essential ingredient in this process is the charisma of the lecturer in delivering the material, however, ‘the syllabus is her blueprint, roadmap and manifesto rolled into one.’ Through the use of collaborative teaching methods and unique syllabus, the Graphic Design teaching team at the University of Canberra has effectively attempted to provide the best outcome for the delivery of history units. In an attempt to facilitate new teaching directions, this paper will discuss the methods, outcomes and techniques utilized by the staff in creating Design history units.

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About the author

Dr. Lisa Scharoun holds a PhD in Visual Communications from the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University in Brisbane. Lisa completed a Bachelor of Arts in graphic design at Florida Southern College in Lakeland FL, USA and subsequently worked in the advertising industry in the US before commencing a Masters in Design Studies at The University of the Arts London, Central St. Martin’s College. She has previously held the position of head of the graphic design discipline at Deakin University in Melbourne and has also lectured in the visual communications department at Raffles Design Institute in Shanghai, China. Her research focus is on global graphic design strategy, emotions and value sets in visual communications and global concepts of utopia in contemporary graphic design strategy.


Mr. Stephen O’Connor completed the Master of Digital Design at Queensland College of Art, Griffith University in Brisbane in 2010 after spending eight years in the graphic design industry and two years teaching graphic design with Study Group Australia. Capitalising on his post gradation momentum, Stephen plans to enrol in the Doctorate of Visual Arts at Griffith QCA with a proposal to identify and expose Brisbane’s visual culture. Moving into design education Stephen applies his specialisation in digital design, process and production to enhance design education delivery.


Mr. Tat-Ming Yu graduated from England’s Maidstone College of Art with a First Class Honours Bachelor of Arts Degree in Graphic Design that was followed by a Master Degree in Photography from the Royal College of Art in London in 1986. He worked as a professional photographer and graphic designer in London England, before moving to Melbourne, Australia in 1988, Tat-Ming continued his career in photography, graphic design, art direction and TVC directing. In 2004 Tat-Ming began his photo exhibitions in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Australia. In the same year Tat-Ming joined the School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and became an assistant professor in Visual Communication Design. In 2009 he returned to Melbourne and continued his teaching role in graphic design and photography at Deakin University, Melbourne. Tat-Ming is actively involved in creative consultancy work nationally as well as in Hong Kong and Mainland China. His research work focus is on digital imaging and colour management and he is undertaking a doctorate degree with a focus on digital imaging.