Mary Stewart Educator: Digital Foundations Syllabus: Assignment 2: Color and Communication

Use of digital variations to explore a range of color harmonies and uses.

Example A: Postage Stamp for an Invented Country
(Inspired by Gail Hoffman's assignment at Syracuse University)

Problem: Design 4 postage stamps for a country you invent. Include the country name and a price within the stamps. 


  • Master basic methods of research
  • Demonstrate understanding of the role of the boundary in design
  • Expand ideas through variations on a theme
  • Learn color vocabulary and use various forms of harmony and disharmony effectively

Final Result: Can be done in Photoshop or Illustrator

1. Invent your country. Using actual countries as a point of departure, make a list of its characteristics: location, climate, chief export, topography, political system, cuisine, national sport, major literary figures, etc. Your “country” can also be a virtual community or an interest group, such as chess players. Give your country an appropriate name.

2. Given these characteristics, what type of stamp is right for your country? Experiment with circular, triangular, and square formats as well as the more familiar rectangle.

3. When you have the basic designs down, experiment with traditional forms of color harmony, including monochromatic, analogous, complementary, and triadic schemes, and with disharmony. What is most effective?

Reading: Chapters 2, 6 and 8. Launching the Imagination              

Timetable: 2.5 weeks

Example B: American Dreams: Lost, found, and Re-written

Create an 11x17” color poster commenting on some aspect of American society


  • See and effectively use visual metaphor
  • Learn the role of visual research
  • Acquire critical thinking skills and express these skills both visually and verbally
  • Relate text to image both aesthetically and conceptually
  • Learn about design process. Use a sketchbook or loose-leaf notebook to keep a record of your ideas and research.


1.  Brainstorm 3 critical issues. What do you see in the world around you that is not the way it should be? Avoid overworked national issues, instead open your viewers eyes to some peculiarity that they may not have thought about before; they will be more receptive to your message if they haven’t already developed an opinion about it. Consider:

  • What’s amiss in American society?
  • What do people think about America that isn’t true? What is all too true about America?
  • What do I see that should be, but isn’t?

2. Group brainstorming for issue selection. Select the most promising issue by asking yourself: does it ring true? (or all too true), is it unique? what ideas are really thought-provoking?

3.  Do visual research to determine the visual metaphors associated with your issue. 

4.  Match your concept with one or more principles of design.  What compositional strategies are suggested by the concept?

5.  Using the principles of design that you selected, develop sketches.  What combination of images would convey your concept most effectively?  The image should effectively communicate the concept... no headline yet.

6. Take or find two images that can be combined to convey your message. Look in children’s books, or the library. We aren’t going to publish this poster, so copyright won’t be an issue. Your images must be sizable to 300 dpi. You cannot effectively add dots to an image, so they must be there from the beginning. Some online images will work. You may have to join or pay something for the image, but if it’s a good image, it may be worth it. Your online image must be at least 1000 dots on a side, so do only large image searches. Good sources:,, Corbis.

7.  Bring the images into Photoshop by scanning or using digital images. The poster will be 11 x 17, so you must begin working at that size; adjust image quality if necessary. Cut and combine the images to create an image that communicates your concept visually. 

8.  Look at the image, considering what is unsaid. What quip would let the audience in on the visual incongruity you have created?  This will take the form of commentary on the issue rather than a restatement of the message on the poster.

9.  Identify the grid in the image, and place the text so that it is compatible with the image.

10. Experiment with various color palettes and choose the most effective for the incongruous situation you are creating.

11.  Flatten your image for printing, save as a TIFF, but save the original layered PSD as a separate file. Allow enough time to make adjustments if print quality or color isn’t satisfactory.

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Sample Assignments for Digital Foundations

Assignment 1:The Parts and The Puzzle
Assignment 2: Color and Communication
Assignment 3: Linear Narrative
Assignment 4: Juxtaposition and Association

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