GD3990A fall 2014 · GW Corcoran School of the Arts and Design
Instructor: David Ramos (

Interaction offers a model for design work across the entire range of outcomes, from screens to social events. Students will gain a thorough understanding of interaction design concepts, broadly framed. We examine interaction design methods, including prototyping and user testing. We will consider what it means to design for systems, on the dialogue between designers and users, and how designers might create possibilities rather than fixed artifacts.

Students will test these concepts with several projects that require strong process and independent research. Defining problems is a large part of the interaction field, and students will have leeway in their responses.

“People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” (Steve Jobs in the New York Times, 2003)

We discuss how networks shape society, and reflect on the responsibilities that designers and technologists face, as the custodians of data and the makers of tools.

Students will learn how to communicate design. In this field, decisions can involve systems that lie far beyond the scope of what a design team can produce. Practitioners need to create documents that explain their intentions, and instruct others on how to implement final products.

The projects emphasize design rather than implementations. This is not a technical course, apart from an introduction to DPS as a publishing/prototyping tool.


Students will gain fluency in:

Students will also become proficient at:

Time, location, and office hours

Georgetown Campus, Room 310
Monday 8:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m.
The instructor is available by appointment.


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.


Assignments ask students to provide much of the intention, content, and context. Some projects will result in working artifacts, while others will aim instead to produce documentation.

“The first rule of user research: never ask anyone what they want.” (Erika Hall)


Reflect on how you and a colleague use some particular digital tool.

Alternate Routes ★

The act of traveling from one point to another is a linear experience. Make repeated trips or stop to examine places along the way, though, and thoughts and memories fold into a non-linear form.

Choose a route that you have followed recently, one that you can readily revisit in the coming weeks. Explore and record the places along your route. Translate your experiences into a digital publication, combining text, images, or time-based media. Organize your publication in a way that encourages readers to move out-of-sequence, not just page-by-page, and create a navigation system that supports that kind of flow.

Build the tablet publication using Adobe DPS for the iPad. Your publication should include text, images, and either sound or motion. Add your own navigation system in addition to the navigational features that are built in to DPS. This project asks “how much technology is enough”: aim for quality work and thoughtful decisions, rather than half-implemented complexity.

Tools for Democracy ★

Bad design harms American democracy. The voting process should be approachable, equitable, trustworthy, and transparent. Today, it is too often stressful, slow-moving, and error-prone. When people make mistakes, their votes do not count. Good design – imaginative, thoughtful, well-tested, tools – can do much to improve the experience, increasing the chance that the system will capture a voter’s intent.

In this project, you will redesign parts of the voting process. Consider how people cast their votes. How will they read information and navigate. How will people add information? How will they confirm their decisions?

Explain your design by creating documentation: prototypes, diagrams, charts, and text. Your documentation must stand alone.

History Presentation

You will be assigned a topic in interaction design, user-centered design, interface, computing, or telecommunications history. Research the topic, gathering source images and quotations. Arrive a position about your topic, and prepare a presentation for the rest of the class.


Study an existing website, piecing apart its organizational structure and conducting usability testing. Produce documents that explain how the website works.


Create a process weblog that is dedicated to this class. Use the weblog to record your process and work as the class progresses. You may also add links and images that relate to your work.

OPEN exhibition

The Undergraduate Design Department holds a yearly exhibition of student work – an opportunity to show and share projects. It forms part of your grade.


5%	Observation
30%	Alternate Routes
40%	Tools for Democracy
5%	History
5%	Analysis
15%	Process weblog and participation

Sources and tools


Reading in this course includes assigned articles and one required textbook.

Required software + tools

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.



This course seeks to help students to develop their own working processes. Good final projects invariably 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 grade. Keep versions of your files and paper sketches as they progress. Never delete the files for anything you show in a critique.

Presenting work

If you are bringing work on paper for critiques – an excellent idea for sketches, wireframes, and design documentation – remember that other people in the class must be able to see your work and size your paper accordingly. You need not mount any work from this course.

In the interest of efficiency and equity, HTML-based projects will be evaluated using a current build of Chrome Canary on a Mac. Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) projects will be evaluated on the iPad.

Submitting work

Follow these steps to submit files. If your instructor cannot readily identify or review your projects, you will not receive a grade.

  1. Put the files into a folder.
  2. Put your name on the folder, along with the project title.
  3. ZIP compress the folder.
  4. Share the files on Dropbox or another filesharing tool. (Please avoid sending email attachments.)

You may send the following file formats: PDF, HTML/CSS/JS, JPG, PNG, GIF (if you must), MOV, MP4, MP3, AAC, MD, and TXT. Your instructor will not grade Photoshop, InDesign, or Illustrator files.

Expectations and evaluation


Students are expected to attend scheduled class sessions and course-related activities. Two unexcused absences will reduce a student’s semester grade by one letter grade. A third unexcused absence is cause for failure of the course. Grounds for excused absences are illness, family emergencies, jury or military service, and religious obligations.

Grading scale

A   4.0  Outstanding work
A-  3.7  

B+  3.3
B   3.0  High-quality work
B-  2.7

C+  2.3
C   2.0  Acceptable work; meets expectations
C-  1.7  

D+  1.3  
D   1.0  Seriously deficient work
D-  0.7  

F   0.0  Failure (no credit)

Resubmitting work

Students may revise and resubmit projects for a new grade before the end of the semester. Late work will be marked down.

In the classroom

Support outside of the classroom

Disability Support Services (DSS)

Any student who may need an accommodation based on the potential impact of a disability should contact the Disability Support Services office at 202-994-8250 in Rome Hall, Suite 102, to establish eligibility and to coordinate reasonable accommodations. For additional information please refer to the Disability Support Services website.

University Counseling Center (UCC)

The University Counseling Center (UCC) offers 24/7 assistance and referral to address students’ personal, social, career, and study skills problems. Services for students include:

Phone: 202-994-5300


University policies

Academic integrity

All examinations, papers, assignments, and graded work products are to be completed in conformance with the George Washington University Code of Academic Integrity.

Observance of religious holidays

In accordance with University policy, students should notify faculty during the first week of the semester of their intention to be absent from class on their day(s) of religious observance.

Department policies

End-of-Semester Reviews, Undergraduate Design Department

Student participation and attendance at End-of-Semester Reviews are mandatory. Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior Undergraduate Design students participate and attend End of Semester Reviews in both the Fall and Spring semesters. Undergraduate Design Department End of Semester Reviews are scheduled for the last day of each core designs studio course. There are grade penalties for students who do not participate and attend End of Semester Reviews. Students who do not participate and attend End-of-Semester Reviews will receive a full-grade deduction from their overall semester grade in their core design studio course.