William R. Benedict

Photo of Will Benedict

Position Emeritus Associate Professor
Phone 805.756.1316
Email wbenedic@calpoly.edu
Web Page williambenedict.com

Areas of Expertise

Beginning Design
Graphic Design & Visual Communication


Will received a Bachelor of Architecture from Kansas State University in 1967 and a Masters of Architecture from The University of Texas at Austin in 1989. He has over twenty-four years of teaching experience having previously taught in the Department of Architecture at Texas A&M University and the Department of Art and the School of Architecture at The University of Tennessee.

Will’s teaching and writing is focused in the area of beginning design and visual communication with the goals of establishing a clear theoretical structure for beginning design education, integrating computers into teaching, learning and design processes and developing a pedagogy based on cooperative learning. He has presented papers and given seminars and lectures on the principles and teaching of beginning design and visual communication.

In addition to teaching, Will has served as Associate Department Head from 2002 to 2004, as Interim Department Head from 2004 to 2006.

Will is currently designing and implementing the web sites for the CAED and its departments and coordinating the Professional Studio Program for the Architecture Department.

Will has thirteen years of experience as a designer in government, industry and private practice and his work, which has included architectural, interior, graphic and product design, has received awards in the areas of graphic and product design.


Master of Architecture, University of Texas, Austin, 1989
Bachelor of Architecture, Kansas State University, Manhattan, 1967

Teaching Experience

Associate Professor, Architecture Department, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 2000-Present
Assistant Professor, Architecture Department, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 1990-00
Visiting Assistant Professor, College of Architecture, Texas A&M University, College Station, 1989-90
Instructor in Art, Department of Art, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1986-87
Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 1974-80


The following two publications were written to support teaching beginning design and visual communication. Click to download the publications.

Drawing Form: A Primer for creating the illusion of three-dimensional form and space on two-dimensional surfaces (.pdf 4.1MB)

Creating Relationships: A primer for Understanding Formal Design Concepts (.pdf 1,016KB)

The following is from "Creating Relationships."

Formal Concepts

The words we use and the concepts they identify affect how we see and think about the world. Each community of knowledge (e.g., Architecture, Physics, Sociology, etc.) has a language that is specific to that community or discipline. The shared language makes communication within the community more efficient and supports greater discrimination, subtlety and nuance. The following will identify, organize and define the fundamental formal concepts that comprise the language used by all design disciplines.

Community Of Knowledge

Membership in a community of knowledge involves learning the community’s language and developing an understanding of the concepts that it identifies. The community of knowledge that will be addressed is that of Visual Design as it relates to the disciplines of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Design, Industrial Design and Graphic Design.

What we see and think about our perceptual experience of the world would not be an issue if we never talked with others or wished to learn from or create something for someone else. Within our personal world it is only necessary to act in response to what we perceive as positive or negative. Once we extend beyond ourselves, we need the ability to discuss our perceptions and positions with others and understand their perceptions—we need the ability to communicate with each other.

The language we use directly affects the success of our communication. Our level of understanding of a community’s language can either obscure or clarify—it can help or hinder communication. The degree to which we understand the language and concepts of a community of knowledge is directly related to our ability to learn and develop within that community.

The goal is to identify concepts that help us see, think and talk about visual design and organize the concepts to create meaningful relationships in our cognitive schema. In other words, the goal is to learn the concepts and develop an understanding of their interrelationships.

Identifying & Organizing Formal Concepts

A formal concept is a word that identifies the essential qualities shared by a group or class of things or visual phenomena. A concept identifies the essential traits that have infinite permutations and presents an area of exploration for designers.

There have been many books written on visual design in which the author identifies a set of formal concepts and presents their implications and challenges for the designer. In the over two dozen books that I have surveyed I identified over one-hundred terms. In the process I learned that different authors used different terms for the same phenomena and that the authors almost never made an attempt to define hierarchical relationships between the concepts. There are two examples of books in which the author has organized concepts into a hierarchical relationship. The first is Basic Visual Concepts and Principles for Artists, Architects, and Designers (Wallschlaeger & Busic-Snyder, 1992) that is an excellent resource for any beginning design teacher. The second is Archetypes in Architecture (Thiis-Evensen, 1987) that identifies and relates the essential elements of architecture.

The task that I set for myself is to choose an appropriate set of terms and organize them hierarchically. The goal was not to invent new concepts but to choose those that were most meaningful and organize them to support teaching, learning and understanding.

Organizing the concepts requires the identification of the most encompassing concepts—the ones under which others could be organized. One way to approach identifying and organizing the formal concepts is to identify the essential attributes or qualities of things. In examining the list of formal concepts and looking at things, I concluded that there are fundamental concepts that comprise the minimum set of independent variables that are always present in something—they are the essential attributes of things. They are also the essential areas for decision making for any design—they are the means at the disposal of a designer. I further propose that all other formal concepts can be grouped under the fundamental concepts. The fundamental concepts are: Size; Shape; Material: Context; and Relationship.

It is through decisions concerning these concepts that things take specific and perceivable form. For example, until a designer chooses to make four inch (Size) yellow paper (Material) squares (Shape) and place them in a line (Relationship) within a sheet of paper (Context) there is nothing to respond to. There is not one more or one less concept to be addressed.

Expanding & Relating The Concepts

The fundamental concepts seem simple enough however, their extension, understanding and development can easily include over one hundred other concepts. The problem is to make sense of what can easily become an overwhelming number of ideas.

The fundamental concepts are independent in that you can change the size and not the shape, material and not the size, etc. Furthermore, they are interrelated in that changes in one can affect the perception of others. For example, a yellow square in a black context appears more brilliant that the same square in a white context.

Given this as a basic structure, the other formal concepts can be related to the fundamental concepts as indicated in the diagram that follows.

Possibilities & Limitations In Design

Formal concepts are not goals—they are not solutions in and of themselves. Goals set targets for things and formal concepts provide ways of addressing goals—they are the means at the designer’s disposal. Things result from decisions concerning formal concepts in terms of goals. Means are formal concepts that can be employed to meet goals and create things. They are a vocabulary of ideas that may be used when appropriate and useful. Formal concepts are appropriate if they help create things that meet design goals. They are useful if they support our design thinking and aid in communicating design ideas to others.

Formal concepts support the rational and feed the intuitive. In rational terms they help us isolate parts and see the world from a particular point of view. In doing so they open our eyes to possibilities. During the time they are being explored on a conscious level they are helping us build our understanding and knowledge. This understanding is then available to our unconscious thought processes—the intuitive. Our flashes of insight, gut feelings and intuition are the products of our minds ability to see patterns and make connections within our vast store of knowledge.

Formal concepts are essential for design communication. The terms that identify the formal concepts constitute the fundamental vocabulary of design discourse. Each term identifies a key idea that can be used in describing what we see and experience. They allow us to identify specific visual phenomena and attach words whose meanings are shared by those involved in the community of design.

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