University of Technology Sydney

88871 VC Global Studio: Visual Communication A

Warning: The information on this page is indicative. The subject outline for a particular session, location and mode of offering is the authoritative source of all information about the subject for that offering. Required texts, recommended texts and references in particular are likely to change. Students will be provided with a subject outline once they enrol in the subject.

Subject handbook information prior to 2020 is available in the Archives.

UTS: Design, Architecture and Building: Design
Credit points: 6 cp
Result type: Grade and marks


The study tour in Japan aims to provide students with the opportunity to experience a culture that has a deep and embedded engagement with design and aesthetics. It explores traditional and contemporary culture in Tokyo, Kyoto and Naoshima. While this is a visual communication subject, the tour encompasses all aspects of design: fashion, architecture, interiors, performance, etc. In addition to visiting museums, galleries and special exhibitions, there is an emphasis on tours of contemporary and traditional artisanal studios and experiencing the general cultural fabric of Japan. Design at a very high level is incorporated into many everyday aspects of life in Japan and for this reason experiencing daily life is in itself a design education.

Subject learning objectives (SLOs)

On successful completion of this subject, students should be able to:

1. Develop a sensitivity to cultural contexts, both in their personal behaviour, and in ethical design and research practices
2. Develop effective visual presentation skills
3. Demonstrate a capacity to apply design craft in communicating experiences and concepts
4. Develop well-supported arguments and rationales
5. Undertake secondary design research to inform understandings of design in differing cultural contexts

Course intended learning outcomes (CILOs)

This subject also contributes to the following Course Intended Learning Outcomes:

  • Apply sensitive and respectful behaviours in diverse social and cultural contexts (A.1)
  • Professional and academic visual, oral and written presentation skills (C.1)
  • Independent development of high level technical and craft skills for the production, presentation and documentation of your work (P.1)
  • Understanding of academic and professional ethics, copyright and appropriate acknowledgement of intellectual property (P.3)
  • Development of relevant insights and arguments from research (R.1)
  • Employ a range of qualitative research approaches including practice-led visual and material exploration and social and participatory methods (R.2)

Teaching and learning strategies

Teaching and learning strategies include readings, tour briefings, discussion-based studios where students present ideas and receive low-stakes formative feedback, and a 12-day study tour to Japan? that includes workshops, visits to museums, galleries and design studios. Attendance on the global studio study tour is mandatory.

Content (topics)

Content for this subject covers the following areas
1. Historical and Contemporary Japanese design
2. Japanese design and material culture within the larger framework of Japanese culture and aesthetics
3. Japanese design in context


Assessment task 1: Presentation


Select an example of Japanese material culture. This may be something we conventionally think of as ‘design’—posters, fashion, architecture, ceramics—but can also be any piece of material culture: a bonsai tree, workman’s shoes, a wooden bucket, a grain of rice. Please select a single object, rather than a category of object (eg a specific Muji product rather than the brand Muji). Prepare a 5-6 minute presentation on your example explaining how it expresses an aspect, or aspects, of Japanese culture. You will need to support your argument with appropriately referenced research.

The structure of your presentation will depend on your chosen example. It may be necessary to provide some larger context (for example, historical, information on the designer), however please avoid presenting a biography of a designer. While the presentations should educate us about particular objects, the primary aim of this task is to use these objects as a lens through which to understand Japanese culture. If you are presenting on an object which illuminates a contemporary phenomenon, it will likely be worth considering its historical origins.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

2, 4 and 5

This task also addresses the following course intended learning outcomes that are linked with a code to indicate one of the five CAPRI graduate attribute categories (e.g. C.1, A.3, P.4, etc.):

C.1, R.1 and R.2

Type: Presentation
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 30%
Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Thoughtfully structured and visually engaging presentation 30 2 C.1
Demonstration of a nuanced understanding of how your chosen example manifests an aspect of Japanese culture 40 5 R.1
Evidence of high quality research (not just websites) to support arguments made 30 4 R.2
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 2: Readings Summaries


Produce a report in PDF format summarising the key arguments of the three required readings as listed in this document. The first two books address single themes: wabi-sabi, and the significance of shadows in Japanese architecture. The third book is more expansive covering a range of topics across its chapters. Rather than summarise this whole book, please choose two of its chapters for your report (each chapter is a distinct theme).

This may seem like a significant undertaking but the first two books are very concise and can be read in a couple of hours. As you read the books make notes as to the author’s key argument and the evidence that the author provides to support this.

The aim of this task is not to produce a lengthy document but to demonstrate you have read and understood the readings. Please keep the report concise, using bullet points where necessary: 1-2 pages maximum for each book, or chapter. You may wish to source and include images to illustrate the arguments in your summary. When quoting from the texts, please use appropriate citations. (You can find the Harvard Referencing Guide on the UTS Library website.)


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

4 and 5

This task also addresses the following course intended learning outcomes that are linked with a code to indicate one of the five CAPRI graduate attribute categories (e.g. C.1, A.3, P.4, etc.):

P.3 and R.1

Type: Report
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 20%
Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Capacity to clearly understand and concisely summarise readings 90 5 R.1
Sensitivity to craft in visual outcome 10 4 P.3
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Assessment task 3: Design Outcome


Observation is the act of acquiring information from a primary source. Active observation, or focussed noticing, is a key skill for designers. On this tour you are expected to engage in a close engagement with the aesthetic qualities, both material and experiential, of Japan (this may us putting down ours phones).

You are tasked with documenting an observation or experience of the tour. This can be recorded in photographs, video, drawing or another medium, and assembled into either a print publication, moving image, or digital format such as website. This documentation should focus on a specific aspect of Japan. It may be tangible (the use of bamboo), an aesthetic quality (asymmetry), an experience (the Shibuya crossing), or a phenomenon (the removal and storage of shoes). Some examples: you might photographically document a single street in Kyoto, different uses of water (from gardens, to ‘fire buckets’ to bathhouses), or the aesthetic quality of rusted metal in Japanese design. You might undertake a typographic documentation and analysis of Japanese signage, collect and document an archive of wasteful packaging, or the use of the illustrated mascots across different contexts. You might sketch Showa-era houses in Tokyo’s Shitamachi districts; or the doorstep plantings so common in front of Japanese houses.

You will no doubt gain inspiration on the tour, but you are strongly advised to have developed several ideas before leaving for the tour. This will allow you to arrive prepared (‘Wish I’d brought a sketch book / that lens’ etc) and use your time strategically. Please inform me of your ideas via email before departure. There will be opportunities for discussion and low stakes formative feedback on the tour.

You will be assessed in part on how clearly your project captures or articulates its subject. Doing this effectively may require some contextualisation through accompanying text, either yours or an existing piece of writing.

Working with this as your basis, develop a design outcome that either:

A: articulates an observation of Japan made on the study tour

B: explores a cultural concept that relates to Japan, as discussed in the readings or elsewhere.


This task addresses the following subject learning objectives:

1, 3 and 5

This task also addresses the following course intended learning outcomes that are linked with a code to indicate one of the five CAPRI graduate attribute categories (e.g. C.1, A.3, P.4, etc.):

A.1, P.1 and R.1

Type: Design/drawing/plan/sketch
Groupwork: Individual
Weight: 50%

R3 Demonstrated understanding, supported by research, of an aspect, or aspects, of Japanese culture. Research should include secondary research (texts) and primary research (your own observations, visual research, and reflections on tour experience). Research should be made evident in your reflective statement and project rationale. (50%)

R6 Insightfulness of reflective statement. In particular, how your understanding of design, and your own practice, has been affected by the tour — in which ways and why (50%)

Criteria linkages:
Criteria Weight (%) SLOs CILOs
Appropriateness of behaviour on tour and in collecting material for visual journal (i.e. sensitivity to Japanese etiquette, ethical collection and use of material—for example portraiture photography) (20%) 20 1 A.1
Capacity to identify and sensitively observe document an intriguing observation of Japan (i.e. an original insight artfully documented in a primary form such as photography, sketch etc) 40 5 R.1
Effectiveness of design outcome in assembling observations (i.e. success of publication in assembling visual and other observations into a compelling whole) 40 3 P.1
SLOs: subject learning objectives
CILOs: course intended learning outcomes

Required texts

The following texts are required reading. You can generally purchase them as a bundle at a discounted rate from Amazon.
Tanizaki, Junichiro 1977, In Praise of Shadows, Leete's Island Books, Maine
Koren, Leonard 1994, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Imperfect Publishing, California
Roger J. Davies, Osamu Ikeno, 2002, The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, Tuttle Publishing

Recommended Reading
Richie, Donald 2007, A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, Stone Bridge Press, Berkley California
Alan W. Watts, 1999, The Way of Zen, Vintage?
Please see handout for further references to Japanese designers, films, websites etc.

Recommended texts

See additional handout


See additional handout

Other resources

See additional handout