GDES-315 fall 2023 / David Ramos, American University Design


Digital and Emerging Media Design II

This course explores ways of conveying information, organizing experiences, and creating meaning in interactive systems.

Learning outcomes

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

You will learn to:

  • Design meaningful and usable type and interfaces
  • Understand user behavior by applying interaction design concepts
  • Discuss the social and ethical obligations of interaction designers
  • Communicate and test design ideas using prototypes, documentation, and code
  • Work within and benefitting from constraints
  • Use research and usability testing to inform design decisions

Catalog description

This course prepares students for the world of professional web design. Through creative hands-on projects, exercises, and lectures, students learn to conceptualize, design, and deploy successful web sites for clients. Course topics include intermediate web design concepts such as interface design, usability principles, web typography, information architecture, compliant front-end HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code. Usually Offered: fall and spring. Prerequisite: GDES-200, GDES-210, GDES-220, and COMM-330.

Structure and time

This course is organized around a series of projects. Everything we do—reading, demonstrations, discussion, critiques, and studio work—enables, supports, or responds to those larger projects.

This course will meet in-person. This class meets for 5 hours a week, but about half of that time is studio/lab. In addition, you should budget at least eight hours a week outside of class for homework and reading.

Most of details of technical, software issues, you will need to learn from the reading. In-class demonstrations and lectures focus on tying together the reading and on offering insights that aren’t readily available offline.

The pandemic

The ongoing public health emergency may force us to shift to move to an online, synchronous format. If that happens, we’ll meet using a combination of Zoom (for video chat) and Miro (as an online whiteboard).

Dates and times

All dates and times are Washington, D.C. local time.

Tools, materials, and reading


There are two required textbooks. Both are available in electronic form through the AU Library.

Santa Maria, Jason. On Web Typography. New York, N.Y.: A Book Apart, 2011. (Issued in print and as an ebook. On reserve at Bender Library, and available through the library as an ebook.)

Marquis, Lisa Maria. Everyday Information Architecture. New York, N.Y.: A Book Apart, 2019. (Issued in print and as an ebook. On reserve at Bender Library, and available through the library as an ebook.)


  • Figma (a free account will serve your needs)
  • Firefox or Safari
  • Visual Studio Code or another text editor (there are editors installed in the labs)
  • Access to Photoshop (installed in labs)

Lab machines are available, but you must not expect to save work on their hard drives.

Software tutorials at LinkedIn Learning

The AU Library provides access to LinkedIn Learning, formerly We’ll be using the site’s tutorials to cover basic technology skills. (The AU Library provides instructions on how to set up your LinkedIn Learning account.)

Collaboration and communication tools

  • This website is your main source for information. The schedule, assignments, and most course information will be published here. Bookmark this site.
  • You’ll turn in work and receive grades on Canvas . Some copyrighted reading will be posted there.
  • We’ll use Miro for visual comments during discussions and critiques. Accounts are free for students, but you won’t need to sign up. (Invite link is on Canvas .)
  • I’ll send any critical, all-class messages as announcements within Canvas. Make sure that Canvas will notify you when you receive a message. (How to set Canvas notifications settings.)


You’ll need some other supplies:

  • Paper or sketchbook, for sketching and for taking notes
  • Technical pens, drawing pencils, and markers (please don’t struggle through sketching with a ballpoint pen)
  • Colored pencils or colored markers, at least a few
  • Straightedge or ruler
  • Tracing paper
  • Graph paper (or a printout of graph paper)
  • USB thumb drive, portable hard drive, or cloud storage account for backup and moving files

Good places to purchase:

  • Plaza Artist Materials, 1120 19th St. NW, Washington, DC (Metro to Farragut North; N busses from Ward Circle)
  • Plaza Artist Materials, 7825 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, MD (Metro to Bethesda)
  • Dick Blick Art Supplies, 1250 I St. NW, Washington, DC (Metro to McPherson Square or Metro Center)

Projects and grading

Project list

name learning objectives % of final grade

Small projects

Communicating design typography, prototypes/documentation 5%
Travel typography, interaction, prototypes/documentation 5%

Major projects

Publishing systems type/interface, interaction, prototypes/documentation, constraints 30%
Field guide type/interface, interaction, ethics, prototypes/documentation 40%


Weekly process 20%

The assignment sheets posted at the beginning of the semester are preliminary and may change. Grade percentages might need to shift as schedules and assignments shift.

Exemplary participation will increase the semester grade by up to half a letter.

Process and due dates

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.

Projects are due at the beginning of class, if you want to stay on schedule. You may turn in or resubmit projects through the final deadline (during exam period—see the class schedule), without penalty.

Grading scale

  • A/A- (excellent) Work that is clearly superior.
  • B+/B/B- (good) Work that reflects a strong understanding of the material.
  • C+/C/C- (fair) Work that shows basic competence and fulfills the requirements of the assignment.
  • D (poor) Work that is unsatisfactory or inadequate.
  • F (failing) This grade is assigned for failure to complete work in a timely and competent manner, or for non-attendance.

Citations and academic integrity

You’ll need to provide citations for every piece of work that you didn’t make yourself. This includes text, images, ideas, and code. It includes images that you edited, images that you traced, and even images that you merely used as references for your own illustrations.

If you use AI tools for any part of a project or for advice, add a note to your citations that describes what you did and what software you used.

When you turn in a project, include a list of citations. Use MLA or Chicago format.

Standards of academic conduct are set forth in the university’s Academic Integrity Code. See your instructor if you have questions about academic violations described in the code, as they apply in this course.

Attendance, the classroom, and Covid–19 precautions

Plan to come to class. That said, you can miss one class, for any reason, without penalty. Additional unexcused absences or missed class time will count against your course grade, which drops by 4% for each unexcused absence.

If you feel sick, stay home. Do not come to class. Get in touch with me about how to make up missed work. I’d prefer that you miss class, get well soon, and keep everyone else safe.

Your absence is excused if you’re sick, have religious observances, encounter family emergencies, or are called for military or jury service. You do not need to provide a note, but let me know by email.

In the classroom, conduct yourself professionally. Do not record audio or video; if you need a recording, your instructor will arrange for one.

We will follow university policies and District of Columbia orders about virus protection measures, including masking.



The best way to reach me is through email (; I typically check email on weekday mornings. I’d be glad to meet with you during my office hours, or at another time, by appointment. (As of the start of semester, office hours will be online.)

University services

American University offers an array of support services.