GDES-315 spring 2018 (David Ramos American University Design) · office hours · interaction design resources

This course explores ways of telling stories, organizing experiences, and creating meaning through interaction. Using hands-on projects, exercises, and lectures, students learn to design and develop successful projects for the web and interactive media. Subjects include user-centered design, information architecture, design documentation, prototyping and testing, graphic design for screens, and front-end web development.

Students learn how to produce designs that respond to user needs and social context. Interaction design theory provides a foundation for understanding users and their behavior. The class introduces research and usability testing as tools to inform design decisions. Projects take the form of documentation, prototypes, and HTML/CSS.

Topics include graphic design for the web, screen typography, documentation and prototyping, user centered design methods, HTML/CSS development, and responsive/mobile design. Students will test these concepts with several projects that require strong process and independent research.

We discuss how design and technology help shape society, and reflect on the responsibilities that designers and technologists face. The course examines the place of interaction design within the larger design profession.

Learning objectives

“We are designing verbs, not nouns.” (Bill Moggridge)

Students will gain fluency in:

Students will also become proficient at:


This course builds on skills students gain in GDES-220 Digital & Emerging Media Design I.


Class meetings will be a mix of demonstrations, discussion, critiques, and studio working sessions. There will be extensive self-scheduled project work outside of the classroom. The class schedule and assignments are provisional and subject to change.

Contact and office hours

An office hours schedule is published elsewhere on my site. The best way to reach me outside of office hours is through email ( Please allow one weekday for an email response. It is department policy not to do critiques over email.

Projects and grading

20% Type/Codes
20% Signup
35% Watershed
20% Voice
5% Collecting

The portfolio is not a graded project. Th graphic design program asks that all graphic design majors have an online portfolio by the conclusion of this class.

Expect quizzes on any reading material at any time; if you do the reading, you should do well on the quizzes. Participation modifies grade as necessary. These percentages will change if assignments and schedules change.

Tools and sources


There is one required textbook (on reserve in the library).

Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0465067107. (Please obtain the 2013 edition, not the 1988/2002 ones.)

Additional resources

See a compilation of reference material on the separate Resources for IxD students site.

The AU Library provides access to online tutorials, which are especially useful for technical topics.

On reserve in the library:

Brown, Dan M. Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning. Berkeley, Calif.: New Riders P., 2011.

Walter, Aaron. Designing for Emotion. New York, N.Y.: A Book Apart, 2011. (Available in print and as an ebook.)

Required software + tools

Hosted services

Sign up for a free account with GitHub. You will need to run GitHub Desktop (available on lab machines).

You will need a website hosting or portfolio hosting account (cost, about $5/month). You will also need to register a domain name (cost, about $10/year).

Text editor for HTML/CSS

This class’ technical exercises focus on handcoding, which is the best way to understand how the web works. You will have access to a text editor in the Katzen labs. If you are working on your own machine, you will need your own software. Good editors include:

Do not use a visual editor. Do not use Dreamweaver.

Backup strategy

Loss of data is not an excuse. Back up your work. An adequate backup plan involves duplicating your work across three different storage devices, kept in two separate locations.

Process and submitting work

This course seeks to help students to develop their own working processes. Good final projects come as the result of diligent, structured work earlier in the semester. Do not leave work for the last few weeks. You will need to turn in your process work as part of your projects, so keep versions of your files and paper sketches as they progress. Projects not seen in progress during previous classes will receive a failing grade.

Late work will be marked down.

See instructions for submitting work.

In the interest of efficiency and equity, HTML-based projects will be evaluated using a current build of Safari on a Mac and on an iPhone.



Students are expected to attend scheduled class sessions. Grounds for excused absences are illness, family emergencies, jury or military service, and religious obligations. One unjustified absence is allowed for the semester. Each additional absence will lower the course grade by one step (i.e. from A to A-).

Come to class on time and do not leave early. Excessive tardiness, early departures, excessive break time, and lack of participation in assigned class activities will count as equivalent to half an absence (2=1 absence). Tardiness over a half hour will be counted as an absence.

Grading scale

This course is modeled on the rigor of the graphic design curriculum at American University, which is in turn based on the standards of the graphic design industry. As such, students often find this to be a challenging course in which a significant amount of work must take place in the studio outside of class time. Your instructor will use the following grade scale when evaluating projects, with plusses and minuses.

In the classroom

Academic integrity

Standards of academic conduct are set forth in the University’s Academic Integrity Code. Please see me or consult the student handbook if you have questions about academic violations described in the Code or as they relate to particular requirements for this course.

Image and code citations: If you use any (including images and source code) from a source outside of the textbook and class demonstrations, insert a comment describing the material that you used, along with a URL for the original code. See class policy on citations and copyright.

Support services

American University offers an array of support services.