Course Syllabus (PDF)
Assignment Brief (PDF)


Course Title: Verbal and Visual: Information Graphics
Course No.: PLAN601E
School: Architecture
Department: Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment
Program: City and Regional Planning
Meeting Time: Monday, 8:00 – 10:50 pm
Place of Class Meetings: Higgins North 205
Credit Hours: 1


Name: Raj Kottamasu
Academic Title: Visiting Assistant Professor
Office Hours: By Appointment


This five-week Verbal and Visual module introduces urban planning students to methods and tools for visual storytelling using information graphics, while reflecting on the roles of planners in communicating information. Each week’s lesson will split focus between discussing key components of design practice and introducing a format for representing information. In-class exercises will demonstrate techniques for creating information graphics using Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. Students will present on selected case studies of information design projects and publications of relevance to the course goals. Through the course, students will complete a five-part assignment to generate a visual narrative using information graphics.


Class presentations, demonstrations, course readings, and assignment and syllabus materials are available on the course blog: Materials for case studies are available on reserve in the Pratt Institute Library (Brooklyn Campus), except when noted in the Course Plan on the following pages. Assignments are explained in detail in a separate brief.

Course Goals

The primary goal of this module is to develop the ability to visually communicate narratives about urban planning effectively. The course focuses on three interrelated skill sets:

1. Critical: Develop capacities to evaluate and discuss the effectiveness and suitability of different approaches to representing information.

2. Communication: Develop the ability to use information graphics to synthesize various sources of information and to formulate argumentative narratives about the built environment.

3. Technical: Develop a design process incorporating some advanced methods and tools for making graphics, and integrating the tools of Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign.


Before Session 1

Read for Session 1: “Visualizing Information for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design,” Open Society Institute, January 2008.

Pre-assignment: Submit via email to the instructor a jpeg of an information graphic you think is effective or interesting (it should be high enough resolution for any text to be legible on-screen)


Session 1 – Course Principles / Introduction

An introductory discussion about information graphics and visual storytelling; a demonstration of data collection from the U.S. Census American FactFinder; a course and assignment review; a demo of techniques for editing and formatting photo-documentation, as well as exporting PDFs and JPEGs, in InDesign and Photoshop.

Case Studies: Previous student work

Lesson: Overview of visual storytelling and key graphic principles


• Utilizing American FactFinder to gather U.S. Census data
• Photoshop and InDesign techniques for formatting photo-documentation

Assignment # 1:
• Visit an assigned census tract/area and document a countable phenomenon related to your narrative
• Format photo-documentation of this phenomenon for presentation in a slide deck

Session 2 – Design tools / Single-dimension comparisons

An introduction to the basic principles of graphic design; an introduction to information graphics used for single-dimension comparisons—charts, graphs, and icons; and an introduction to techniques for generating these graphic types with Illustrator and InDesign.

Case Studies / Student Presentations:

•  Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
•  Florence Nightingale, “Worth a Thousand Words,” The Economist, December 2007 (Online)
•  Otto Neurath, The Language of the Global Polis

Lesson: Principles of graphic design; Single-dimension comparison

Demonstration: Illustrator techniques for creating charts, graphs, and icons

Assignment # 2: Create two sets of charts or graphs, at least one using an existing institutional data set and at least one using information you collected in your assigned area, to support your ongoing narrative

Session 3 – Design process / Sequence, flow and connection

A deeper look at design process; an introduction to information graphics used to communicate ideas about process, change or linkage; and a demonstration of techniques for generating flow charts and small multiples in Illustrator.

Case Studies / Student Presentations:

•  Kate Ascher, The Works
•  Lawrence Halprin, The RSVP Cycles
•  Mark Lombardi, Global Networks

Lesson: Design process; Sequence, flow and connection

Demonstration: Illustrator techniques for creating flow charts and small multiples

Assignment #3: Create a diagram that visualizes sequence, flow or connection in your ongoing narrative

Session 4 – Design direction / Evaluative and synthetic graphics

A discussion about considering audience, context and narrative when making design choices; an introduction to information graphics used to evaluate the built environment; and a survey of format and layout of information graphics across print and digital media.

Case Studies / Student Presentations:

•  Edward Tufte, “The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint”
•  Edward Tufte, Envisioning Information

Reading: “The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint,” Edward Tufte (Graphics Press, November 2004)

Lesson: Design discretion; Evaluative and synthetic graphics

Demonstration: Integrating Illustrator, Photoshop, & InDesign to generate continuum diagrams & matrices

Assignment #4:  Create an evaluative or synthetic graphic to support your ongoing narrative

Session 5 – Constructing a Visual Narrative

A discussion about planning for a visual story;  presentation materials that synthesize various information graphic types in order to communicate an argument or narrative; and a survey of storytelling approaches and methods for formatting slide presentations and board layout in InDesign.

Case Studies / Student Presentations:

•  Ian McHarg, Design with Nature
•  The Design Trust for Public Space, Taxi07: Roads Forward (Online)
•  NYC Economic Development Corporation, “Fordham Plaza” (Online)

Lesson: Storyboarding

In-class: Story revision; storyboarding; feedback

Assignment #5: Build a slide deck (and, for extra credit, a poster board) that tells a coherent, 3-part story about the phenomenon you are investigating, using your work from Assignments 1-4, as possible



The two assigned readings will be made available as PDFs.

Assignments & Grading

The five-part assignment will be distributed during Session 1. Each week, students will email to the instructor (either by attachment or using WeTransfer) 1) their current slide deck as a 10” x 7.5” PDF, and 2) a JPEG of a single, compelling page from the deck. Assigments are due by 9am the day of class. The instructor will upload all submitted assignments to the course blog by that evening’s session. Students are asked to review submitted assignments and to offer feedback, based in part on the instructor’s prompts, on at least three posted submissions by midnight the Thursday after each session (four weeks out of a possible six—the other two weeks are available as extra credit). The instructor will offer in-depth comments on each assignment by the end of the week.

Also during Session 1, students will be assigned to four groups that will present each of the subsequent four weeks’ case studies. Case study preparation should focus on clarity of presentation, intellectual engagement with design concepts, and facilitation of discussion.

Due dates for the assignments are:
• Pre-assignment: Monday, 4/10/17
• Assignment 1: Monday, 4/17/17
• Assignment 2: Monday, 4/24/17
• Assignment 3: Monday, 5/1/17
• Assignment 4: Monday, 5/8/17
• Assignment 5: Sunday, 5/14/17
(NOTE: this is 6 days after the last course meeting)

Assignments and class participation will be weighted for the final grade as follows:

• Assignment 1: 10 pts
• Assignment 2: 10 pts
• Assignment 3: 10 pts
• Assignment 4: 10 pts
• Assignment 5: 20 pts
• Case Study Presentation: 10 pts
• Online Participation: 10 pts
• In-Class Participation: 20 pts

Evaluation of assignments will be based on clarity and coherence of narratives constructed (4 pts); thoughtfulness, suitability and/or creativity in representation (3pts); engagement with and evaluation of different representational strategies (as evidenced in the slide deck by sketches, precedents, notes and finished work) (2 pt); and deployment of software tools demonstrated in the course, as appropriate (1 pt).

10% of the possible total will be deducted for late submissions each day submitted past due.


Community Standards: All students must adhere to Institute-wide policies in the student handbook and Institute Bulletin under “Community Standards.” These include policies on attendance, computer, and network use.

Academic Integrity: All work must be your own. If it is not, the source should be cited and documented appropriately.

Policy on students with disabilities: Students who require special accommodations for disabilities must register with the Office of Disability Services at the beginning of the semester. They should contact the Disability Services Director, first floor Willoughby Hall, adjacent to Health and Counseling Services, 718.636.3711.

Safety: All students are expected to adhere to the specific Health & Safety and Environmental Protection Guidelines of Pratt Institute.