ENGL 4170/5170: Web Design for Content Writers

Statement and Requirements
Fall 2009 M C Morgan | HS 314 | 755-2814 | mmorgan at bemidjistate dot edu

Texts and Materials

Required Texts
You will also need
You will be online a lot for this course and so will need frequent and stable access to the Internet.

We will be using RapidWeaver on the Mac. It will be available in HS 109. If you want your own copy, RapidWeaver is about $30.00 for students. Mac only, sorry. I've been trying to find a comparable application for Windows, but haven't yet. Information about pricing here.

Sites you create in RapidWeaver can be opened and edited in almost any other web site design software. We are using RapidWeaver because it is substantially easier to learn than Dreamweaver, it lets you focus on essentials of design and information architecture; and it facilitates rapid prototyping: creating a rough site quickly and refining it slowly. It's also 1/10th of the price of Dreamweaver.

If you plan on designing sites professionally, get your hands on both of these.

The course

A Workshop

This course is a workshop in web site design and creation, focused on design for usability and information access rather than on graphic design or self-expression. It proceeds by practice rather than lecture. While I'll present occasionally, we'll spend most of our class time doing workshoppy things: viewing and discussing web sites, practicing with information architecture, working in groups on projects, giving feedback, testing out ideas and concepts... The site design process we're using in this class mirrors site design as it is practiced outside the classroom. So you will be asked to learn by doing: by working through the process of conceptualizing a site, interviewing users, creating personas, drawing up plans, creating site maps and wireframes, developing content, and, along the way, using RapidWeaver to prototype and implement the site.

The course will introduce you to concepts of information architecture, user-centered web site design, visual design, and rhetoric as applied to web site design. You might already by familiar with some of these. Good. Other concepts, other ways of seeing, may be new. That's good too. While you are not expected to master these new concepts, I do expect you to come to understand them and to practice them. Some of these concepts and practices may challenge a few dearly held values about design, communication, and creativity. They certainly challenged mine when I first encountered them. I'll ask you to be open to new ideas and approaches as we encounter them - to try things out rather than rejecting them. I'd like you to bring these challenges into our discussions, get them out in the open so we can consider them.

Web design is about making choices, getting feedback, and reconsidering those first choices. I'm building this recursive process into the course. As appropriate in a workshop, I will ask you to demonstrate a growing mastery of the concepts behind the practice by talking about your work, and the work of others. I may, for instance, ask you to draw on concepts from Wodke to explain some of your choices in a site organization. Or I may ask you to explain how your choice organization ties to the goals you've outlined and the workflow you've planned for the site.

Expect to be asked in class, on the fly, about design choices you and your group have made. When you are asked, don't panic. It doesn't mean you have made poor choices. Take your time, think, consider, and do your best to explain your course of thinking. Ground your choices in the principles we're working with. Ask others to help you out. Let others help you out. Look for alternatives.

In short, I may be calling on you in class. Take notes. Read the book. Be prepared to contribute. And keep repeating to yourself, "Web design is about making choices, getting feedback, and reconsidering those choices."

A Design Process

As appropriate to a workshop, this course is project centered. After a three- to five-week overview of exercises and small projects, you will work in groups of 3 - 5 to design and develop a user-centered, moderately-sized web site from the ground up. On the way, you'll be

Web site design is not like writing an impromptu essay or a weblog post or a journal entry or making a charcoal sketch or a color study. It starts further back than opening a new file and beginning to type. Purpose, content, and structure are intimately connected in web site design. Purposes on the web are different than purposes in print. People come to the web not so much to read but to do things - including reading- but other things as well - and so sites need to be designed for those purposes.

Much of the process of design and redesign proceeds by trail and testing, and trail and testing relies a lot on the impromptu to get moving. This is where RapidWeaver fits in. It allows you to create rapid prototypes of sites and site designs, to experiment with a variety of structures, of ways of addressing purposes. RapidWeaver facilitates design experiments, and lets you draw on impromptu, spontaneous decisions as you do so.


For the course project, you'll work in groups of 3 - 5, and work according to principles drawn from the Wodke text. The design of a web site is not an individual task but a coordinated one. So each of you need to know what each other is doing, both in practice and in principles. Each of you will be able to bring your own expertise in your area to your project. Some will create or select graphic content - and will need to work with principles of graphical design for the web. Some will write content - and so will shape writing to the new situation, again drawing on the common text. All will use RapidWeaver to help each other make page and site design choices. All will be involved in the overall design. To create a successful site, you'll need to work as a group - as a team - in a unified effort.

Attendance and Assignments

After the first few weeks, most class sessions will be group work sessions or group presentations. I will to keep course meetings flexible. Some days, we might meet for ten minutes, then work in groups. We'll decide how to proceed as we go. Attendance at these meetings will count towards your final grade.

Plan on being in class when it is scheduled, and on time, please. Missing four scheduled classes will cut into your final grade. Miss six and I'll ask you to drop.

Assignments and exercises are due on time, please. Materials submitted late will not receive points or feedback. If you don't submit the materials at all, I'll subtract the points from your final total.

You'll also be making group presentations during the course, mainly to get comments and feedback from others. You'll have plenty of time to prepare, and we'll discuss what to prepare in advance.

As you work on your projects, behind the scenes, you'll be making notes and drafts and sketches. How you handle these - the materials you use - is up to you. Designers - like professionals - work with whatever's at hand: scraps of paper, napkins, placemats, notebooks, using pencils, markers, pieces of crayon. At first, spelling, handwriting, and presentation take a back seat to getting the general shape and idea down to be worked on more. But eventually, designers submit project documents for evaluation. You'll submit some documents electronically on the wiki. Others you'll need to submit on paper. In all cases, submit professional-level materials. Work done on paper should be on paper appropriate to the task; work on the wiki should be well-structured and organized. There's no need for formal binders, but the materials should be organized. Use standard spelling, usage, and punctuation.

Grad Student Requirements

Grad students, you are expected to demonstrate more mastery of the concepts we're working with, be more forward in offering your input grounded in those concepts, and take on leadership in groups. We'll discuss further grad requirements for projects and the course as we approach the projects.

The Web Design Wiki

We'll use a wiki to support the practices and procedures in this course.


Here are the breakpoints, subject to change.

If I change anything on this syllabus, I'll let you know.

Privacy and Sharing

This wiki is fishbowl wiki. It can be read and searched by anyone, but it is editable only by those with a password. This means that your work in this class is visible to the world. At the end of the course you may remove or revise material you created on this wiki. I will remind you of this clean up at the end of the semester.

Alternative Formats

This syllabus is available in alternate formats. Talk to me, or contact Kathi Hagen in the Office for Students with Disabilities at 755-3883. Contact the Office for Students with Disabilities if you need accommodations in the class.

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