DESIGN: Steve Mehallo Offers A Refreshing Spin On Design History

After recently reading this post on a design colleagues Ayana Baltrip blog, DESIGNSPEAKS, I decided this essay was definitely worthy to share, with my design friends too. Steve Mehallo, teaches at American River College and he decided to share his views on the best ways to teach and research Graphic Design History. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about Mehallo’s essay, on how design history should be taught.

Read about Mehallo’s refreshing methods on, how he teaches Design History. His essay offers you a thorough review on many of the key design history books considered the best by lots of design educators. I’m not going to mention any of the design history books, since you’ll get to read all about them in Mehallo’s essay. Although Mehallo’s does give you his aesthetic reasons on which books are worthy, and which ones need to skipped. In addition, his essay offers a solid rationale why anyone who teaches design history should not solely depend upon one book, but develop their own research methodology to make this subject engaging. Otherwise once you start lecturing and showing slides, you might just get a lot of students sitting in your class with their heads bowed once you turn down the lights. Last fall, I started my second Master’s in the Design Criticism program at School of Visual Arts in NYC. As a design educator, who also loves teaching Design History, I must confess that teaching this topic is an arduous task. However, my design history instructor in the program, Russell Flinchum, taught our class with the rigor of a southern baptist minister on Sunday morning. All to say, none of my classmates dared to bow their heads once the lights were turned down. As for me I left Russell’s class with a more varied knowledge on the history of design, and a lot of new books to add to my already overloaded bookcases at home. (above photograph; by Steve Melhallo student Samantha Costanilla).

Read more about Mehallo on his blog:

So I’ve been teaching my version of ‘a history of graphic design’ for several years now. Just finished up my 9th session.

As a text, Philip B. Meggs’ landmark research book – History of Graphic Design, first released in 1984 – is the bible on the subject. Even the ‘making of’ has its own edition.

It’s the most thorough analysis, and one of the best graphic design reference books I own. But as Meggs points out in his introduction, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to discover, find, research and incorporate into one’s own view.

Finally, there is another book that just hit the market – The Story of Graphic Design by Patrick Cramsie. It tackles similar ground, but from another angle. A refreshing find. And from what I could tell so far, it syncs with my own classroom take on ‘The Story’ . . .

About The Author

Michele Washington

I am a designer, design critic and educator, I love doodling and tinkering with objects that I collect from my global travels.

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4 Comments Add Yours ↓

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  1. 1

    Thank you for the write up! (But to clarify, I don’t teach at CSUS. I actually teach at a community college nearby.) 🙂

    • Michele #

      Steve thanks for sharing this correction to your teaching status. I find your research and style of teaching design history more in-depth than most other design history programs I’ve experienced. It’s true some of the books only have great visuals but not much content. I do have an essay, Souls on Fire, in Steve Hellers Design History Book, I’d love to get your feedback.

  2. 3

    Thanks again Michele. The history class has been a blast for me. I will dig up the Design History book and let you know what I think! (my copy vanished into one of a few piles here; but I did mine it for lots of info, as with everything else.

    Here’s another great edition I forgot to link back to in my blurb – Simon Loxley’s Type: The Secret History of Letters – excellent storytelling book:


    • Michele #

      I love the type book you suggested, made me think of a book by Donald Jackson. Sounds like you have a wonderful knack for pushing the boundaries when it comes to teaching design history, and the fact that you make the class exciting adds more punch on the topic. Michele


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