writing, research, and technology fall 2008

Course Description

In this course we will continue to challenge the idea of contemporary modes of composition first discussed in Technologies and the Future of Writing. Specifically, we are going to think about composition in terms of designing and analyzing web pages, starting with HTML coding and building to more complex aesthetically intricate, usable, accessible pages according to Web Standards. But it is not just a course in coding and graphic design. Our discussions and work will continuing bring us back to consider this question: how is what we are doing writing?

We will be designing Web pages with the user, not the designer, in mind, which will force us to ask difficult questions: Who is our intended user? Our accidental user? How will they be coming to the page in similar ways? In different ways? Is there ever a way to create a Web page that can be usable for all people, regardless of physical or mental disability? What if the user is blind? What is the importance of Web page usability? What are the characteristics of a usable, accessible Web page? How can we be sure people using versions of Netscape, for example, that are four years old can still view the Web page? How does the fact that Web technology is constantly evolving inform the way we think about Web design?

These are difficult questions, ones we may never satisfactorily answer. But, everything we do in this course—read, write, design, reflect—will bring us closer to answering them, and the questions their answers inspire.

We will be completing three primary design projects, with many design and reading assignments to go with them. Much of the work will be done in groups. It will be important for us to remember that we all come to Web design, technology, and writing from different backgrounds, and with different design skills and tastes. Designing is a very personal experience, and the group work we will be doing will ask each of us to place a great amount of trust in each other. Ultimately, this course—and the projects we will be doing—will challenge us to look at our ideas and worlds in new, complex, and, hopefully, challenging ways.

Brief Description of Major Assignments

Project I
Project I is a collaborative project which involves an imaginative, analytical redesign of a section of a large web site. In groups, students will create a site inventory, an audience analysis, a prototype of the new site, and a final design for the new site. In the process of re-designing the site, we will incorporate many of the skills learned in Project II.

Project II
Project II will build upon the skills gained in web and graphic design honed in Project I, by exploring the possibilities using cascading style sheet (CSS) to control layout and color to create more aesthetically appealing and accessible web sites. The goals of project 2 are to learn about CSS and its open source internet culture, to highlight what you learn about CSS, and to highlight work you have created in this course—all on a professional-looking Web site that you could, if by chance, present to future employers.

Project III
In this project we will be working with the HTML code and style sheets provided for graphic designers at the CSS Zen Garden, a web site that is a stunning “demonstration of what can be accomplished visually through CSS–based design.” Even though the HTML and CSS backbones are provided, we will be designing our own pages and images; indeed, each of the many different designs on the page have the exact same HTML code and CSS backbones. The only difference is the attributes associated with each CSS element. This is an exiting time in web design, and in this project we will be jumping head first into the discussion.

Design Portfolio
The design portfolio is a semester-long project, in which students will create, update, and manage a portfolio of their graphic and Web page designs created in the class. These portfolios will be on the students own Web pages, and will detail the applications used, the context in which the design was placed, and the stages it went through.

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