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Imitate, Cite, Contextualise. Approaches and the Use of History in the Teaching of Graphic Design

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Part of the Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems book series (LNNS,volume 631)


There are no such things as originality and authorship when it comes to the production of images, and what appears as an original artwork is always, explicitly or implicitly, a product of borrowings.

The work of great masters of design plays a crucial role in the academic training of visual communication designers. Design masters themselves quoted each other, for instance, Jan Tschichold referenced what he regarded as respectable colleagues to exemplify a certain design task, supplementing his discussion with examples.

The practice of imitation embedded in visual designers’ education – which in itself resonates with artists’ and craftsman’s training in the traditional workshop of the past – contributes to the integration of models from the history of design within their coursework and beyond. Yet how does this corpus of references inform the practice of visual designer? How does history affect the projects and ideas of graphic design students?

Starting from my own experiences as lecturer teaching to design students (from 2013–), and taking in particular consideration the visual communication courses held in the academic years 2018–2019 and 2019–2020, this paper examines different approaches to history from the perspective of graphic design education and how these feed future image-makers in developing their own visual language.


  • Design history
  • Images Based Education
  • Knowledge Images Learning
  • Learning by imitation
  • Design education
  • Design methodology

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  1. 1.

    The following histories of graphic design were considered when writing this essay: Brockmann, 1971; Meggs, 1983, and its updated and revised reprint, Meggs and Purvis, 2016; Hollis, 1994; Baroni and Vitta, 2003; Eskilson, 2007; Drucker and McVarish, 2008; Müller and Wiedemann, 2017.

  2. 2.

    On this topic, see Scotford, 1991 and 2008; Blauvelt, 1994; Drucker, 2009; Dalla Mura and Vinti, 2013; Heller, 2019; Cezzar, 2019 and Toppins, 2020.

  3. 3.

    An example of this is internationally renowned designer A G Fronzoni who, in his courses at the Scuola Umanitaria of Milan first, the ISIA of Monza and Urbino later, and lastly at the scuola-bottega (school-workshop) he founded himself in Milan, sought to develop professionals in his own image (for more on A G Fronzoni, see Manitto, 2012).


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Correspondence to Gianluca Camillini .

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Camillini, G. (2023). Imitate, Cite, Contextualise. Approaches and the Use of History in the Teaching of Graphic Design. In: Villa, D., Zuccoli, F. (eds) Proceedings of the 3rd International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Image and Imagination. IMG 2021. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, vol 631. Springer, Cham.

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