How to succeed in an interaction design or web development class

David Ramos (ramos@american.edu)


  1. Observe the outside world, not just contemporary work but also historical examples. Go beyond design and look at other forms of cultural creation and at nature.
  2. Save examples of work that speak to you, good and bad. Think about why you respond to these pieces.
  3. Care about the details.
  4. Explore variations on ideas. Then do more explorations. You can rarely produce too many sketches.
  5. Get off the computer. Get off the computer and work out your ideas on paper. Bring them back onto the computer. Perhaps keep bouncing between paper and digital spaces.
  6. Rules aren’t particularly important. Making decisions intentionally, rather than by default, matters more.
  7. Avoid making decisions through omission or default.
  8. Read assignment sheets. Ask questions if you need clarification, after you’ve read the sheet.
  9. Read the read-me files (like readme.txt and README.md). Get to know documentation for software.
  10. Learn how to use search engines, and get good at evaluating search results.
  11. Keep your files organized. Find a filing system that works for you and use it.
  12. Until you get years of experience, work out your ideas on paper first, then go to code or software. Odds are that at any point in your career, you’ll be well served by bouncing over to paper.
  13. Photoshop filters are the fastest road to mediocrity.
  14. Save your sketches. Save versions of work in progress.
  15. Pay attention to what your fellow students do. Even more importantly, try to understand how other students approach projects, questions, and problems.
  16. Take a critical attitude toward the tools that you use. All software is a text; every application program embodies a particular worldview and a particular approach. If a tool doesn’t serve your needs, think about using a different one.
  17. Coding is a difficult task. Tools might serve you well, even if they’re hard to learn.
  18. Remember that your work exists in a political, social, and cultural context.
  19. Step outside of your own relationships to software, websites, and applications.
  20. Test websites on many screen and window sizes.
  21. Take notes during critiques—or make an audio recording, or have a colleague take notes for you.
  22. You should probably make the type bigger.
  23. In general, small sketches will do more to advance your design than big sketches.
  24. Never show a sketch that just happens to fill an 8.5×11 in. page. Draw boxes around your sketches.
  25. Seek out quality tools. Invest in pens, pencils, markers, and sketchbooks that you like.

Updated 2017-01-26