Visual Communications for Sustainability

About the MA Program

Have you ever really considered the impacts of the shipping of products you purchase? Dirty fuels, ocean and air pollution – regardless, our global society demands the movement of goods. Enter the Smart Green Shipping Alliance (SGSA) an organization committed to disrupting the shipping industry by introducing carbon-free ship designs. Recently, a group of MCAD MA in Sustainable Design students were paired with SGSA to tackle the sticky problem of turning this industry on its head.

In this fall’s Visual Communication for Sustainability course, taught by MCAD alumnist and instructor Deann Garcia, students were paired up with Diane Gilpin, founder of the SGSA, to create data-driven visuals to communicate key benefits of Gilpin’s wind-powered ship designs to stakeholders in the industry and beyond.

This exercise did not only challenge students to apply the concepts for info design that they had been learning during the previous 9 weeks. The project also demanded that they work virtually with each other and with Gilpin, who was located in the UK. “The challenges of collaborating over oceans and timezones are real,” commented one student. “And this was a good taste of how that works.”

The final graphics the class produced integrated data visualization with storytelling, and the formats ranged from presentation decks, to large scale infographics, branding updates, and animation storyboards. Said one student, “It was amazing working with [a client]! Especially one as kind and inspiring as Diane. I felt this experience was extremely rewarding and I’m really proud of the final product.”

Too often academic work feels just that – academic. It’s crucial to success beyond the [virtual] walls of MCAD for students to experience real-world application of course work topics. By working on authentic, material projects, students are given the opportunity to overcome the complexities of a global sustainability system through engaging collaborative projects.

For Gilpin’s part, she was impressed by how the groups prodded and challenged her to consider her messaging. There was “great engagement prior to presentations. Forensic questioning!” The final designs can be applied to campaigns for funding and awareness building. “I’d work with any of these people again,” said Diane. “All showed good design capabilities.”

Public Facing Crowdfunding Campaign Graphics
created by: Ashley French, Thongminh Nguyen, Whitley Mike


Convincing the Industry
created by: Bianca Iacopelli, Mark Chamberlain, Stephanie Wyler


Mapping out the Incumbent System
Created by: Mason Santos, Anabel Sinn, Brenna Kelly


We are increasingly surrounded by data, and information is collected and categorized in the smallest of increments. Data on sustainability is no exception. How do we use and present data in a way that is relevant for consumers? In our MA in Sustainable Design course Visual Communications for Sustainability students learn about the growing field of information design and critically evaluate how it relates to communicating sustainability. Customized project-based assignments take students deeper into real-life situations.


Deann Garcia

Deann Garcia is a graphic designer by training but she’s always felt that term is a bit limiting for her taste. She’s a multifaceted designer with an obsession with cycling and a curiosity towards nature. Deann seeks to connect her love for the bike to her passion for a sustainable future, and use it to influence her work as an instructor in graphic design at Oregon State University. She’s also a descendant of pioneers and tries to live with that same independent spirit that inspired her ancestors: respect for resources, community-based self-sufficiency and simple living. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design from Oregon State University where she graduated with Cum Laude honors. Deann completed her MA in Sustainable Design at MCAD in 2015. Deann is based in Oregon.