Make BookDesign Studio 2016–18

Unit 03: John Caserta

Question: How can we use symbols to unify a group of people?

The creation and appropriation of symbols to create meaning is an important part of a designer’s toolset – whether on a flag, website, emblem, logo or other context. This unit will take a close look at flags as an example of how symbols can connect (or distance) a group of people. Whether for nations, towns, labor unions, or schools, flags make use of the simplest of forms to communicate various cultural, historical or aspirational qualities of the group. This unit asks students to perform basic ethnographic research to better understand the values of a group, and to design symbols — sited on flags – that communicate those values.

Learning objectives

Design Center

Core Assignment:

Design a flag to fly at the top of Design Center. This should act as a symbol for the RISD GD Department, the primary tenant of the building.

WEEK ONE: Oct. 11 – 18

Inform yourself about the community for whom the flag represents. What holds the group together? Is there a common understanding of what RISD GD is (or GD generally) or what it should be? How can a flag unite the group? How can a flag pull the group towards an ideal or belief? How can a flag (symbol) distinguish this group from others? How have others solved this problem?

Research is part of the design process, and can be done in creative and unique ways. This project requires a few types of research: material/contextual research, research into symbols more generally, and ethnographic research (understanding the community being represented/served).

For next week: Produce a keynote of research of what you found, acknowledging each of the three areas. You will work in groups of three or four, with each person taking on one of the three areas, and combining those findings into one keynote presentation with each other and presenting to the class.

Material/Contextual Research

Research into symbols

Ethnographic Research

Be sure to sketch and think about the ‘final’ flag as you research.

Lecture Notes


Lecture as pdf

Bookmarks informing lecture

Lecture References below can be viewed in the folder

Ethnographic research

Material/Contextual Research


WEEK TWO: OCT 18 – 25

Design 48 flags, print to plotter (42” x 28”) at actual size (flags should be 3 x 4.5”). Do not trim flags, but you may need to put a background shade behind certain flags to see white.

Upload one flag to and have open on your laptop for walkabout.


Make one flag printed and trimmed at 22” x 33”. Pencil your name lightly on the back. Hand this in on November 1 at the start of class.

Write a caption for the piece (150 word max) and place onto the Google Doc Shared with you. The caption should mention consider these questions: what does the flag symbolizes (and/or what the individual parts symbolize)? Why would this unify the community and/or how do you predict the public would see the community? (What is your intention?)

Additionally, remember you will be creating a reflective document at the end of the semester. In preparation for this, you should note which of your flags you would like to include in the document. And more importantly, what did you learn about RISD GD, Graphic Design the profession, the Design Center, your own goals/ambitions for your the community? Please list out the research that was instrumental in you forming your designs. What were you trying to communicate? Did some of the visual moves that you came up with begin to inform your ideas?