web design, summer 2008

Course Description

In this course we will learn how to design Web pages, starting with HTML coding and building to more complex layouts, using cascading style sheets and intricate graphic designs. But it is not just a course in coding and graphic design. We will be thinking critically about the important issue of the day: designing aesthetically intricate, usable, accessible pages according to Web Standards.

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 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.

Major Assignments

We will be completing three overlapping projects. This will allow us to constantly re-think and reflect on the work we are doing, adapting and borrowing ideas from each of the projects.

Project I: Professional Web Site and Design Portfolio
The goal of this three-week-long project is to design a professional web site that presents yourself and your skills to colleagues, future employers, the general public, etc. The design portfolio is a portion of the site where you can showcase your work and skills. As such, though you will be required to include work you have completed class, you are are also encouraged to include work that is directly related you your professional goals: artwork, papers, resume, teaching philosophy, and so forth.  A secondary goal of this project is to learn about CSS and its open source internet culture, begin to engage with that culture, and to highlight what you learn in such a way that benefits the course. To help facilitate that will create a collaborative social bookmarking list in which we will post CSS and Photoshop tips, tricks, and hacks that will be beneficial to the course as a whole.

Project II: CSS Zen Garden
In this project we will be working with the XHTML code and style sheet 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 XHTML 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 XHTML 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.

Project III: Web Site Re-design
Project III 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. Students will learn about Web Standards and Access First Design. In the process of re-designing the site, we will incorporate many of the skills learned in Projects I and II.

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