Maryland Institute College of Art

Current Courses

Kropp: Thesis VEHICLE

My thesis will take a number of forms—each responding uniquely to the research topic and the content within. This multiform approach would help my thesis and the ideas contained within reach a wider audience, a goal that is important to me. The main vehicle, however, will combine scholarly research and visual interpretations of this research in the form of a book—a form that can deliver information efficiently, while simultaneously responding to it through typography and composition.

This book need not be voluminous or meager, but just enough to present the content in a clear and accessible manner. Through brief passages of text and crafted visuals—images, symbols, icons, diagrams—I hope to bring the user closer to a succinct and intelligible understanding of the role of semiotics in design.

In addition to the book, I will also produce:

  1. The Thesis Exhibition
  2. A Supplementary Website
  3. Published Critical Essay
  4. Miscellaneous visual exercises whose content will be included in a variety of printed pieces

Given the nature of my thesis topic, the support materials will all take a minimalist approach in their design and presentation. Clear type, few colors and straightforward visuals are key to a successful execution.

Kropp: Thesis VOICE


Semiotics, like graphic design, is a relatively new field—at least in the way it is formally discussed in design circles. Its history can be traced back to the era of Aristotle and Plato, although it was not referred to as semiotics. It is grounded in linguistic theory and has been tethered to academia for far too long. Few have made successful attempts at integrating semiotic study into contemporary graphic design education and discourse, least of all practice. But there has been a growing need for this to change.


You encounter meaning on a daily basis. Such confrontations require response, reflection, and interpretation—all intense cognitive processes, yet carried out in a moment. The more you analyze the environment and how you interact with it—the more you begin to detect codes; modes of interpretation that can shift within the context in which you experience them.


I can wax poetic about all the ways semiotics is important to the profession of graphic design; how its exclusion from many design curricula is an enormous mistake and prohibits our growth as makers of meaning. I believe that a sufficient model of semiotics that bridges the gap between theory and application does not yet exist. In our current state of technological growth and shifting ideologies, understanding the nuances involved in the presentation of meaning is essential. I believe that an updated model needs to be introduced that is both relevant and accessible to as many people as possible.

Kropp: Thesis FRAME

This thesis is not a comparative analysis of dyadic (French) and triadic (American) semiotics. It is not an exposition of semiotic theory’s role in the realm of aesthetics, nor is it a catalog of interpretations. This thesis will serve as an exacting attempt to understand and dissect not the entire history of semiotics, but rather the ideas of the two most predominant progenitors of modern semiotic theory: C.S. Peirce and Ferdinand de Saussure.

And while my topic is perhaps more academic in nature than it is visual, the results shall be a balance of both. This is not just a path in which I can attain acclaim from peers and superiors, but rather a personal endeavor that I hope will prove fruitful in its goal to contribute something of importance to the design community as a whole. As a practitioner of graphic design and an admirer of academia, I feel it is my responsibility to give back and help move our profession forward.

This thesis is not a show-and-tell—it is an investigation on the function of semiotics in graphic design today and a chance to provide a more articulate model for understanding the significance of semiotic theory and the need for closer study of the topic within graphic design. It is my hope that my thesis can play a small part in helping to bridge the widening gaps that exist between academic research, design education, and graphic design practice.

Semiotics for Beginners

Daniel Chandler’s “Semiotics for Beginners” online is a great overview for those looking to cut their semiotic teeth.

GD MFA in Mobile


Virginia Sasser, Andrew Shea, and Mark Alcasabas were invited to present their paper, “Designing for Social Change in the Baltimore Community,” in May 2009, at the National UCDA Design Education Summit. This annual conference is in its fifth year, and it provides a platform for dialog among design educators around the country. This year’s theme was “Designing for the Common Good” and it was hosted at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama.

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At the end of last semester our last visiting artist Mike Perry came for a long weekend to lead us in our first independently published project. We decided on the theme of Science. What resulted was a 36-page, tabloid format zine print in 3 beautiful colors.

If you would like to purchase a copy you can get it directly from us on-line at : MICA GD MFA PROJECTS

To our advertisers, we will be getting your complimentary copies out very soon. We could not have done it without you.

Beyond the Compass


Banner installed at the Walters Art Museum for the upcoming exhibition Beyond the Compass Beyond the Square, designed for the EDS class. Designed by John P Corrigan, spring 2008.

Graphic Design: The New Basics


Graphic Design: The New Basics, published by Princeton Architectural Press and Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Spring 2008, is a guide to basic design principles. This book addresses the gap between software and visual thinking. By focusing on form, the authors have re-embraced the Bauhaus tradition and the pioneering work of the great formal design educators, from Armin Hofmann to some of our own teachers, including Malcolm Grear.

The majority of student work featured in The New Basics comes from the course we teach together at MICA, the Graphic Design MFA Studio. Also featured are excercises from a range of undergraduate design courses. A sampling of those exercises are assembled on this site. To complement the student work, the book also presents key examples from contemporary professional practice that demonstrate a variety of experimental, visually rich design approaches.

Images from Graphic Design: The New Basics by GD MFA students:





Adbusters One Flag Competition

Adbusters held an international online competition to design a symbol for people who wish to identify with humanity at larger rather than with a national group designation. “Those who have the vision to rise above national and political boundaries still have no symbol to rally under. We invite you to create a flag – free from language and well-worn clichés – that embodies the idea of global citizenship. A symbol that triggers pride and cohesion, whether worn on a backpack, displayed on a door, or flown on a flagpole. A symbol for anyone to declare membership in a growing and vital human cooperative.”

Blauvelt at MICA


We were all excited about Andrew Blauvelt’s recent seminar presentation for MICA’s GD MFA program. There’s a short summary of his talk on the Walker Art Center blog. Thanks to Tony Venne for the lead.

And here’s the text on Design Observer.

We’re Live on Flickr!

Kit of Parts project by Virginia Sasser

Kit of Parts project by Virginia Sasser

View ongoing work of the MICA GD MFA program.

Helen Goes to CAA

NV PosterFinal3.indd

Helen Armstrong just got back from the CAA conference, a professional conference for college-level educators in studio art and art history. Some schools who are hiring new faculty conduct interviews at CAA. Most interviews are set up in advance, but there is some spontaneous networking as well. Here are Helen’s notes:

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MICA in Print


MICA’s Graphic Design MFA program was featured in the April 2009 issue of Print Magazine as one of the top general-interest graphic design programs in the U.S.


Joe’s Robots on TV


An army of Joe Galbreath’s paper robots appeared on Minneapolis TV news this week, threatening to overwhelm the Twin Cities.

Jim Sherraden at Thesis Exhibition

L to R: MICA letterpress guru Kyle Van Horn, Joe Galbreath, Globe Poster owner Bob Cicero, Jim Sherraden and MICA GD/MFAer Ryan Clifford

L to R: MICA letterpress guru Kyle Van Horn, Joe Galbreath, Globe Poster owner Bob Cicero, Jim Sherraden and MICA GD/MFAer Ryan Clifford

The head of Hatch Show Print, Jim Sherraden, had a few hours to kill before his AIGA Baltimore lecture and stopped by to check out Joe Galbreath’s thesis exhibition about Globe Poster Printing.

Social Studies Live


Our conference web site is live, thanks to the hard work of the whole first-year team (okay, especially Kristian). Check it out at Logo designed by Tony Venne.

Sexy Librarian Lives!


Sexy Librarian is a novel designed by Kristian Bjornard in the GD MFA Studio. We published the novel as a case study for our forthcoming book Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book. Written by writer, artist, and librarian Julia Weist, the novel is now available on You can learn more about how the novel was created at

More from the workshop!


Here’s a gorgeous group shot of us with Laurie, and our work! — Kelley

Laurie's Workshop


A few photos from our workshop with Laurie Rosenwald.

We got really into making our trash bag outfits. — Kim

Laurie Rosenwald Lecture

It’s back to school week, and Laurie Rosenwald will be speaking on campus and conducting a workshop with GD MFA students. Come hear her lecture on Thursday, January 24, 3:30pm, Brown 320.

Type on Screen

GD MFA students and faculty have published a series of books about design in partnership with Princeton Architectural Press. Our latest title, Type on Screen, is now available for purchase on Amazon. The book was written, designed, and produced by GD MFA students and faculty.