Design & Education


Digital by Hand: The Art [and Craft]
of Using Handmade Elements in Digital Design


As more and more designers drop their pencils and sketchbooks in favor of computers and tablets, the breadth of personality-filled designs seems to be shrinking. The great success of companies like Apple and Google, as well as the growing popularity of minimalist brands like Method and Muji, have created a national desire for sleek, clean designs. But in all of this less-is-more frenzy, we have lost much of the personality that used to pervade design and artwork alike—the type of personality that is born from creating by hand. Smaller niche markets have already witnessed growing interest in the retro and handmade aesthetic, evidenced by the return of Letterpress as a production method and the increasing presence of hand-drawn type and illustrations—despite the fact that the media through which they are ultimately viewed in more often than not entirely digital. This class will look at these new methods of integrating handmade pieces into digital designs as a way to inject a human element into an increasingly homogenous medium. Throughout the semester, we will both explore the strategies designers can employ to breathe life into their digital designs through the inclusion of handmade elements, as well as the techniques used to create these objects.

Click to expand/collapse the full syllabus and accompanying analysis.



Ford, Hannah and Anne Odling-Smee. The New Handmade Graphics: Beyond Digital Design. RotoVision, 2003.

Levine, Faythe. Handmade Nation: The Rise of DIY, Art, Craft, and Design, 2008. (book + documentary)

Wray, Anna. Handmade Graphics: Tools and Techniques Beyond the Mouse. RotoVision, 2009.

Alfondy, Sandra (ed). NeoCraft: Modernity and the Crafts. The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 2008.

  • Harrod, Tanya. “Otherwise Unobtainable: The Applied Arts and the Politics and Poetics of Digital Technology”.
  • Jonsson, Love. “Rethinking Dichotomies: Crafts and the Digital”.
  • Press, Mike. “Handmade Futures: The Emerging Role of Craft Knowledge in Our Digital Culture”.

McCullough, Malcolm. Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand. The MIT Press, 1998.
Chen Design Associates. Fingerprint: The Art of Using Hand-Made Elements in Graphic Design, 2006.
Yoshimura, Maki (ed). By Hand: Handmade Elements in Graphics Design. PIE Books, 2010.

Jury, David. Letterpress: The Allure of the Handmade. RotoVision, 2011.
Hedley, Gwen. Drawn to Stitch: Line, Drawing, and Mark-Making in Textile Art. Interweave Press, 2010.

*Additional short readings and handouts will also be provided on various topics.


1. Introductory Class
// Introductions/go over syllabus (include in introduction your interest/experience with handmade art/craft)
// Overview of handmade items in culture
// Showcase of current implementations of handmade artifacts in both analog and digital design
// Give out assignment: 1. What handmade items mean to you and/or your personal related interests (written or visual “self-portrait’) // 2. Find examples of handmade artifacts that inspire you

MODULE 1: Illustration (drawing, painting, hand lettering)

2. Handmade Imagery at its Most Basic: Illustration/Drawing by Hand
// Due: Visual Self-Portrait, Examples of design work using handmade elements posted to blog
// Critique
// Illustration Overview: background, styles, techniques, tools (drawing {rendering, sketching, pen and ink, contour, pastel} //painting {photorealistic, abstract, impressionistic, oil/acrylic vs. watercolor})
// Give out assignment: 5 quick sketches + 2 more polished compositions using some form of illustration (drawing, painting, etc) scanned and posted on class blog

3. Typography by Hand: Hand Lettering + Letterpress
// Due: Illustration
// Critique
// Overview: Letterpress + Hand Lettering
// Activity: Write out name in hand-lettered typeface that reflects your personality
// Give out assignment: Create two compositions using hand lettering. The first must be a purely typographic treatment, the second may include optional additional drawn illustration(s), either new or integrated from last week. Students who happen to be taking a printmaking class are welcome to use letterpress, but for only one of the two compositions. Both compositions must be scanned and posted to class blog.

MODULE 2: Digital/Analog Integration Techniques

4. Integrating Hand Drawn Imagery within a Digital Composition
// Due: Hand Lettering Compositions
// Critique
// Overview of methods for integrating 2-D compositions (simple scans, integrating as layer in more complex digital composition, using as an accent in an inherently digital space like a website/application)
// Give out assignment: Take compositions from last two assignments and create a digital composition using one of the techniques discussed in class. Can be a composition for its own sake or you can create a design for a hypothetical client/event/use (your choice).

5. Integrating 3-Dimensional Artifacts: Basic Photographing Techniques
// Due: Digital Compositions
// Critique
// Overview of easy ways to achieve more professional looking photos of 3-D objects (using the camera’s manual settings, quick and easy DIY lighting solutions, general tips)
// Give out assignment: 1. Second iteration of digital compositions incorporating teacher and classmates’ comments from critique // 2. Spend an hour shooting objects that appeal to you (can be handmade or otherwise, just choose things that interest you) and post your favorite 10 images to the blog. You must shoot at least 4 different objects, and you should spend time shooting both outdoors and in a “studio” setting.

MODULE 3: Sewing/Craft + Collage/Mixed Media/Layering

6. Breaking Into the Third Dimension: Collage, Mixed Media/Layering
// Due: Second iteration of digital composition, 10 photos posted to blog. Bring magazines, scissors, and glue sticks.
// Critique
// Overview of collage work being done and the use of mixed media and layering in art, craft and culture
// Activity: 1. Use magazine clippings to create a collage. Document this composition (phone camera is fine). 2. Add your own illustrations to the collage to add depth to the composition. Document this iteration.
// Give out assignment: 1. Post documentation from activity to class blog // 2. Create collage using any combination of photography, hand-drawn imagery, painted imagery, hand lettering, letterpress, etc that inspires you. Can be either flat or more three-dimensional. The composition must include at least three different techniques (ex: photo collage, hand lettering and line drawing). Photograph the collage and post to blog.

7. Adding More Texture to your Compositions: Sewing/Craft as a “Drawing Tool”
// Due: Collage composition (bring both physical collage and have images ready to present on the blog).
// Critique
// Overview of traditional craft and sewing/needlework/textile arts
// Showcase of more recent designs incorporation craft and needlework into contemporary designs (both digital and analog)
// Give out assignment: 1. Create a composition that in some way incorporates needlework/textile arts in its creation. It can be entirely based in this medium or a mixed media collage that uses smaller textile/needlework elements alongside other techniques we’ve learned so far, your choice. Photograph/document and post to blog // 2. Take first crack at incorporating either this or last week’s assignment into a digital design through quick sketches and concept notes.

8. Incorporating 3-D Elements into Digital Designs
// Due: Textile/needlework composition (bring both physical piece and have images ready to present on the blog).
// Critique
// Overview of techniques (simple photography, used as layer in digital composition, using printed digital designs as elements in an analog collage/sculpture/composition, animation in AfterEffects/Flash/other preferred software)
// Showcase of projects that have used 3-D/textured elements (both analog and digital)
// Give out assignment: Continue to transform one of the assignments from Module 3 into a noticeably digital/digitally-influenced design using one of the techniques discussed in class incorporating comments from in-class critique. (Feel free to use any techniques or assignments from earlier in the semester as well.) This will be the basis for your midterm presentation next week.


9. Midterm Presentations with Guest Critics
// Due: Midterm Presentations on Module 3—Process and final iteration of digital design incorporating techniques from Module 3 + documentation. Bring in any new or important handmade elements for the presentation. (Should have at least one handmade artifact as part of your presentation.)
// Critique
// Q&A with Guest Critics (time permitting)
// Give out assignment: Start thinking generally about final project ideas, using the project description as reference. (You can use any of the techniques we’ve used throughout the semester.) Post any notes or sketches you have to the blog.

FINAL PROJECT: Digging Deeper (Student’s Choice)

10. In-Class Brainstorming: Final Project Concepts
// Due: Quick sketches and notes/thoughts posted on blog.
// Q&A on Final Project Parameters (go over description more closely and clarify any points of confusion)
// Discuss ideas in class/group brainstorming on each student’s concept
// Establish individual goals for next week.

11. Progress Checkpoint: Concept and Precedent Research
// Due: Progress to date + writing checkpoint
// Class discussion/feedback
// Establish individual goals for next week.

12. Progress Checkpoint: Concept Development and Early Prototypes
// Due: Progress to date + writing checkpoint
// Class discussion/feedback
// Establish individual goals for next week.

13. Progress Checkpoint: Prototype Development
// Due: Progress to date + writing checkpoint
// Class discussion/feedback
// Establish individual goals for next week.

14. Progress Checkpoint: Prototype Testing and Refinement
// Due: Progress to date + writing checkpoint
// Class discussion/feedback
// Prepare for final presentations.

// Presentations
// Guest Critiques

*Final documentation papers due at 9am on the last day of classes.




//Many designers, both in this department (where technology is put on a lofty pedestal) and out in the real world, are losing touch with visual art and design’s tactile roots. In addition, many students in the department come from some sort of fine arts or craft background that is not fully exploited in the current design-and-computation-heavy class offerings. This class attempts to allow students to build up the technical and conceptual skills necessary to integrate these two worlds, resulting in unique projects that allow the students to both flex their artistic/craft muscles and create refreshing designs that stand out from the ever-growing sea of sleek digital minimalism.


//Each module begins by showcasing examples of the particular topic’s presence in their lives, allowing them to pull from their own experiences to enrich their understanding.


//Readings, short lectures, and in-class discussions each week will demonstrate ways in which the current topic can be used effectively in design creation.


//In-class activities and homework assignments will call on the student to apply the concepts and techniques learned through class demonstrations and readings.


//The end of each module in essence contains its own mini-integration phase as the student is asked to complete an assignment that integrates the techniques and concepts discussed into a digital project that more closely reflects the design work they will ultimately be creating after the class is completed. In addition, at the end of the course the student is asked to fully integrate the concepts learned throughout the semester into a project of their own choosing, allowing them to fully tie the material into their own body of work and personal interests.

Category : Design & Education | Spring 2011 | Blog

We were asked to create a mind map of how education and design intersect in our lives and what they mean to us. This is my response.

Mind Map

Category : Design & Education | Spring 2011 | Blog