2D Design

Departmental Philosophy
2D Design (Graphic Design)

The 2D Department is the graduate graphic design department of Cranbrook Academy of Art. The department is actively pursuing work at the intersection of design and art. Traditional forms of design, activities where the designer acts as a conduit for the communication of a third-party message, and non-traditional forms of design, activities where the designer’s agency is foregrounded, are explored in the program. In both of these approaches to design, the emphasis in the department is placed on the experimental. Work being produced in the department falls on a continuum from book, poster and letterform design, through installation, social practices and contemporary art. The results of these investigations often exist at the threshold between design and art. In our conception, the designer is a powerful cultural agent able to seamlessly engage in many forms of cultural production.


Departmental Philosophy Diagram 1


Issues systematically pursued in the department:

  1. Work situated at the intersection of design and art.
  2. An exploration of the relationship between writing, criticism and production.
  3. The process of critique as a generative tool.
  4. An interdisciplinary approach to design.
  5. Objects first: theory, language, and writing all in support of the object.



The Academic Focus of the Department
Nearly all departmental activities are designed to support the act of making. Whether it is in critique, reading group, critical studies or individual desk critiques, our departmental focus is on the notion that design is idea objectified and meaning embodied. Theory, writing and criticism all play critically important roles in the department; however, they are in place primarily to support the process of objectification and making. This focus is articulated in our weekly structure, where the lion’s share of our time is dedicated to studio practice. Simply put, this means we make work (together), discuss this work and consider its cultural implications.


The Designer-In-Residence, His Work and Your Relationship to Both
Cranbrook Academy of Art as an institution is based on a model unique in American education. Each of the ten departments at the Academy is led by an Artist-in-Residence. The Artist-in-Residence is charged with mentoring each of the members in his or her studio. In the 2D department, Elliott Earls works intimately with each student to craft a course of study unique to the individual. In addition to the larger Cranbrook studio each student is deeply involved in Elliott’s professional practice. An important and programmed part of the curriculum involves a sustained dialog between student and mentor concerning both parties’ work. The mentoring process in the 2D department is developed further through biweekly mentoring dinners held at Elliott Earls’s home.


Our basic weekly schedule


  1. In Studio Work Time.
  2. GroupCritique.
  3. Departmental Reading Group.
  4. Desk Critique.
  5. Biweekly mentoring dinners at Elliott Earls’s home.
  6. Lecture and meeting with visiting designers, critics or artist.
  7. Critical studies lectures and reading groups.


Weekly Schedule: Distribution of Time

2D Departmental Weekly Distribution of Time


Mapping the Cultural Terrain of the Department and its Work
As a graduate graphic design department there are certain fundamental issues that permeate our discourse – Efficacy of communication, typographic expression and the cultural role of the designer are chief among them. However the department is also acutely interested in an expanded and enlarged definition of the field. Effectively this means that issues germane to the other ten disciplines at Cranbrook are fair game in the department. Our departmental discourse owes more to El Lissitzky than Paul Rand. We are intellectually indebted to John Heartfield and Kurt Schwitters, Richard Prince and Ed Ruscha. We are as interested in Takeshi Murakami as we are Herb Lubalin.