Graphic Language in the Classroom: Integrating Graphic Design with Interior Design Studio and Graphics Coursework

Presented by: Roberto Ventura and Susie Tibbitts

Evolving interior design practices like those of Eva Maddox, Ghislaine Viñas, and the Rockwell Group demonstrate how graphic design increasingly influences interior space conceptually, technically, and experientially. Equipping interior designers with basic graphic design fundamentals supports this demand for graduates who can critically engage with these interdisciplinary collaborations.

Historic examples from Margaret Macdonald to Rem Koolhaas reinforce the traditional connections between interior design and graphic design. Surveying CIDA accredited undergraduate programs revealed that less than half have a graphic design department or program in the same division or institution. Searching the Journal of Interior Design for scholarship on the integration of interior design and graphic design yields only one result (Budd, 2011), but it advocates to study graphic design only to strengthen imagery. Scant evidence exists that interior design education values the integration of graphic design into its body of knowledge.

Lacking access to faculty or scholarship emphasizing graphic design fundamentals, interior design students base two-dimensional design decisions on uninformed rationales. With an explicit foundation in graphic design, interior design students could more critically engage the increasingly prevalent intersection of these two disciplines common in contemporary interiors practice.

Educators at two schools sought to address this schism by integrating graphic design content into existing interior design studio and visual communication classes because of the synthetic and applied nature of those courses. 

Instructors identified significant overlaps between graphic and interior design fundamentals as articulated by Ballast (2010) and Lupton, et al (2008) and augmented it with graphic design-specific exercises elaborating on typography, compositional studies, and communication. 

Typography studies introduced students to typeface anatomy, pairing strategies, and type’s expressive potential. Compositional studies introduced analytical methods for understanding spatial zones (Carter, 1990) in two-dimensional layouts. These exercises informed graphic design-intensive assignments on visual presentation and dossier assembly. Graphic design academics and practitioners provided feedback to the students on these projects. Learning activities addressed CIDA student learning expectations for Professional Standard 6: Communication via the application of varied communication means and methods and the ability to develop clearly integrated oral and graphic presentations (2014).

After introducing graphic design learning activities into interior design studio and visual communication courses, instructors noted changes in student work. Heightened awareness of typography resulted in more sophisticated hierarchical and ordered applications. Spatial zones and their coordination across compositions informed two-dimensional work and suggested parallel analyses of three-dimensional space. Requiring layout drafts early in the design process strengthened compositional decisions on presentations and dossiers and suggested additional content. This planning also improved oral presentations, as graphic compositions informed speaking outlines. Graphic design practitioners and academics provided critique, reinforcing instruction and providing additional learning opportunities for students and faculty.

Instructors found the integration of graphic design principles into studio and visual communication coursework to be effective and efficient. Student confidence with graphic communication, especially with portfolio development, bolstered their post-graduation employment search. Without explicit prompts, students integrated graphic design into studio work via graphics and imagery. Additionally, students explored professional paths that bridged both disciplines, like environmental graphics and web design.


  • Ballast, D.K. (2010). Interior Design Reference Manual: Everything You Need to Know to Pass the NCIDQ Exam. Professional Publications, Inc.
  • Budd, Christopher. (2011). Valuing the Intuitive: Reintroducing Design Into Interior Design Education. Journal of Interior Design.  36(3), v–xi.
  • Carter, Rob (1990). "Creating Typographic Pathways," Step-by- Step Graphics Designer's Guide 1990, pp. 172-176.
  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation Professional Standards. 2014
  • Lupton, E. & J. C. Phillips (2008). Graphic Design: The New Basics. Princeton Architectural Press.


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