GDES-220 spring 2019 (David Ramos, American University Design) · office hours · interaction design resources

This course introduces the practice of interaction design and frontend web development. It proposes that websites must be usable, compelling, interoperable, accessible, and ethical.

Catalog description

Students develop applied creative projects and acquire technical skills to become adept at essential software, design principles and practices for screen-based digital and emerging media. Students also learn foundations of front-end web coding such as HTML and CSS, and develop technical problem solving and organizational skills. Course lectures address the cultural backdrop of the Internet as it applies to design.


Topics covered include the fundamentals of website structure and navigation; writing HTML and CSS; application programming; working with images; accessibility and usability; web typography, and graphic design for the web. Students will experiment with self-publishing, creating projects driven by their own responses to class materials. The course examines the designer’s ethical obligations to clients, the public, and society as a whole.

“The arts of taking things in—seeing, reading, drawing —assume a central role as do those of communicating what has been seen with power and economy. Rhetoric, the art of organizing the world of words to have maximum effect, re-emerges as fundamental; design, the art of organizing the world of things so that structures are compatible with the purposes they are meant to serve, assumes an equal importance.” (Elizabeth Coleman)

In the interest of gaining a strong command of the medium, the course focuses on writing HTML/CSS code by hand. It takes a typographical, content-centered approach to building sites. The class does not take up JavaScript and programming languages; successful projects will take approaches that do not rely on browser scripting.

Students need not have any coding background. This class will be a mix of demonstrations, discussion, critiques, and studio working sessions. It requires extensive self-scheduled project work outside of the classroom.

“Designers who only focus on “delighting the user” without considering the surrounding system risk putting lipstick on a truncheon.” (Erika Hall)

Critiques, discussions, and lectures generally take place at the beginning of class, with studio/lab time later. Be ready to present your work when class starts, with your files uploaded and documents printed.

Learning objectives

You will learn to:


This class will be a mix of demonstrations, discussion, critiques, and studio working sessions. It requires extensive self-scheduled project work outside of the classroom. Projects are student-driven, using prompts as the starting points for more extensive research, asking students to create their own content and to supply their own point of view.

The class schedule and assignments are provisional and subject to change.

About code

“A special thing happens when designers open up to code, or when coders gain a deeper grasp of design. Suddenly function and beauty starts to blend naturally. This is where interaction design shines both as a creative pursuit and a craft.” (Amit Pitaru)

Find a balance between your technical skill and your design ambitions. If you can’t make something work in the browser, consider simplifying your design.

You will learn more in this course if you refrain from borrowing code from outside sources. Never use code that you can’t explain, and always cite any code that you take from elsewhere.

Office hours and contact

An office hours schedule is published elsewhere on your instructor’s site. The best way to reach me outside of office hours is through email ( It is department policy not to do critiques over email; plan ahead and take advantage of class time and office hours.

Projects and grading

These percentages will change if assignments and schedules change.

Projects are due at the beginning of class. You may turn in projects at any point up to one week after the due date, without penalty. Grades will drop by one letter (i.e., A- to B-) for every additional week that the project is late.

Tools and reading


There is one required textbook, along with assigned reading from other sources.

Duckett, Jon. HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-1118008188.

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.


Marcotte, Ethan. Responsive Design: Patterns and Principles. New York, N.Y.: A Book Apart, 2015. (On reserve at the library. An ebook/PDF edition is available for $11.)

Andrew, Rachel. The New CSS Layout. New York, N.Y.: A Book Apart, 2017. (An ebook/PDF edition is available for $11.)

Required software + supplies

Lab machines are available, but you must not expect to save work on their hard drives. If you work on a laptop for lab/studio time, the computer must be able to run a text editor and Firefox.

You are responsible for knowing how to manage files and folders on a Mac, and on whatever machine you use for homework.

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 (i.e., no Dreamweaver).

Keep backups and save versions

Back up your work! and save versions of your projects as you make progress. (More advice on backups and versioning.) Loss of data is not an excuse.

Process and submitting work

Projects in this class build through iterations; start early and work consistently. You will need to turn in evidence of your process, 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 Firefox on a Mac and, sometimes, Safari 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

Your instructor will use the following grade scale when evaluating projects, with plusses and minuses.

In the classroom

Academic integrity and citations

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: You must provide a citation for any material (including text, images, and source code) from a source outside of the textbook or class demonstrations. See class policy on citations and copyright.

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