In 2007 Harvey Levenson, then the head of the Graphic Communication Department at Cal Poly, published the first edition of Introduction to Graphic Communication, a textbook for college-level studies in the field. I was teaching the subject at another university at the time, and I’d been frustrated by the fact that a graphics handbook suitable for classroom use didn’t exist. Although I didn’t adopt Levenson’s book for my courses, I could see it had the potential to become the standard reference work that the discipline had been waiting for.
Unfortunately, the technology of graphic communication never stands still, and obsolescence of content in books about it is unavoidable when the content is locked into ink on paper. But last year, Levenson and John Parsons – a well-known industry analyst and the former editorial director of the famous Seybold Report – came out with an update to the original work that promises to solve the problem.
The new edition’s answer is interactivity in the form of videos and other resources that students can access from selected pages with the help of Clickable Paper, an image recognition technology from Ricoh. This enables the printed book to present not only core concepts as static text, but also supplementary multimedia material, viewable on cell phones and tablets, that can be changed and renewed as advances in the subject matter require. (Parsons explains how it all works in more detail here.)
If I now were to choose the book as a course text, my next task would be to build a teaching plan around it. That plan is called a syllabus, and a good syllabus must be based upon a rubric: essentially, the instructor’s written memorandum of understanding to his or her students concerning what they will learn, what they will be able to accomplish as a result of taking the course, and – usually most important in the students’ eyes – how they will be graded for the work they’ll be expected to do.
Writing and fine-tuning syllabi is a chore that no instructor looks forward to. Academic departments can be sticklers for precision and specificity in the documents, which they regard as binding contracts between instructors and their students. How grateful instructors who’ve adopted Introduction to Graphic Communication will be to know that Levenson and Parsons have done most of the heavy lifting for them.
The authors have now companioned the book with a ready-to-use syllabus that turns its chapter structure into a 12-session lesson plan and rubric covering everything students of graphic communication will need for a thorough grounding in the subject. In giving the book’s interactive elements equal weight with the text, the syllabus lets instructors offer their students a channel of live information that they’ll continue to find relevant long after the course is over.
A course that uses the syllabus as a roadmap will begin with an overview of graphic communication, a history of printing, and a summary of the technological transitions that have defined the business of graphic communication as it stands today. By week four, students will have learned what the industry consists of and how its various segments interact.
Then come sessions on the fundamentals of production: design and prepress; color management and proofing; paper, ink, and toner; printing processes; and postpress and finishing. Packaging gets a session to itself, as do best practices and industry standards. The final installment addresses how online technology has affected the business of printing, emphasizing the complementary natures of the two.
Students will need to keep up not only with the reading, but also with the viewing: each session includes blocks of video content – some running longer than an hour – that they’ll be expected to absorb along with the written words.
If they wish, schools can add their own media, available only to their students and employees, to the online content delivered via Clickable Paper and Ricoh’s CP Clicker app. There’s even a way to use the book’s Epilogue chapter as a “virtual venue” where students can share videos they’ve created for class projects, field trips, and other assignments.
Students who do well in courses built on the elements that Levenson and Parsons have provided will gain a baseline knowledge of the industry that employers look for – but say they don’t often find – in candidates for graphic communication jobs. This goes to the heart of the authors’ intentions.
Introduction to Graphic Communications and its syllabus are technology-focused, but not to the extent of forgetting that technology isn’t an end unto itself (a point that tends to elude other textbooks on the subject). Stressed throughout is the fact that graphic communication technology is the foundation of an industry that makes and sells products, employs people, observes best practices of management, and contributes to the spread of human knowledge in harmony with other media.
Those who aspire to master all of this – whether they be students, teachers, or professionals in the field – must possess, as the syllabus declares, “an intellectual curiosity and insatiable thirst for knowledge and wisdom in graphic communication.” Levenson and Parsons have opened a pathway toward that enlightenment with their ongoing work, and for that, the industry owes them both a vote of thanks.