Assignments

There are four graded components to this course:

  • Participation (20 points).
  • Collection design project #1: individual design (30 points). Due March 11.
  • Collection design project #2: team design in the service of a client (30 points). Due May 6.
  • Final reflective essay (20 points). Due May 6.

The project assignments will be a mix of printed documents and an online prototype. Bring printed versions of the written documents to class; the prototype URL should be included as part of the strategy brief. The reflective essay should be printed and brought to class.

Late assignments are not acceptable. For each day that an assignment is late, ten percent of the possible points will be deducted from the score (that is, if the first, individual project, worth 30 points, is one day late, the maximum number of points for the late assignment is 27). Students who anticipate difficulties with completing assignments on time should consult with the instructor as soon as possible.

Participation

As a studio-based class, our learning is based in reflection upon practice, in using design-focused project work to engage with fundamental concepts and questions regarding what constitutes a digital media collection, what it means to author one, and how to negotiate between the rhetorical goals of an author and the information needs of a defined audience group. We will also interrogate the design process itself: what activities and products best facilitate effective designs? And wait a minute, what is an effective collection design, anyway? How do we know when success has been achieved?

To enable rigorous, sustained exploration of these concepts, it is important to regard the classroom environment as a scholarly community of design researchers, a design laboratory, if you will, where everyone is responsible for contributing to the evolving understanding of the group. In-class conversations and working collaborations, where readings and current design activities are discussed and debated, will form a key aspect of the course.

In class, everyone needs to contribute ideas, questions, and perspectives. Respectful debate is encouraged. However, quantity is not the primary mark of successful participation. Students who make consistently thoughtful contributions, reference appropriate course readings and project activities, propel discussions onward, and listen attentively to the ideas of their colleagues will receive the highest participation grades.

Collection design project #1: individual design

In this project, you will create a design plan, or prototype, for a resource collection of about 20-30 videos on the general subject of sustainability. Your audience for this collection will be adults who live in Austin, who have a general, mild interest in learning more about sustainability and how they might adapt their activities to be more sustainable. They are not, however, making current efforts in this area beyond using services that have been made available within their daily lives and that require minimal adjustment to their typical routines, such as putting household recyclable materials into the city-provided bins, instead of into the trash.

Your mission in this project is to:

  • Determine your rhetorical goals for this collection: that is, what do you want to say about the subject of sustainability, through the digital media collection that you assemble, organize, and make available to the audience?
  • Refine your sense of this target audience and determine their potential information needs for digital media on this subject.
  • Create a design plan that negotiates between your goals as the author and the audience’s perceived need for certain information, producing a digital library prototype that persuasively communicates your authorial point of view to the audience.

Your prototype design will answer the following questions:

  • What kinds of resources make up the collection?
  • How are those resources described and organized?
  • How are those resources made available to users (through, for example, information architecture of the digital library, information design of individual Web pages, proposal of additional access features such as user-generated or expert-provided recommendations, and so on)?
  • How do these design decisions work to accomplish your goals as an author and respond to the information needs of the target audience?

While everyone will create his or her own design, your mission will be structured through a series of activities that we will undertake together through the progression of the class:

  1. Preliminary reflection: a meditation on your goals and assumptions for the project.
  2. Learning: user research, getting more familiar with the subject area (and, indeed, coming to your own “theory” of what the subject encompasses), and looking through the source library from which you will select the video resources for your collection.
  3. Envisioning: creating user personas and scenarios for how members of your potential audience would interact with the collection (which of course doesn’t exist yet!).
  4. Strategizing: defining your goals and your audience’s goals, and determining how the collection, through its composition, structure, and means of access, will facilitate the goals.
  5. Sketching: showing how the envisioned experience and strategy might take form.
  6. Reflecting, revisiting, and refining: returning to the different activities as each reveals more about how the design will work.
  7. Analysis and critique: rigorously and systematically examining your prototype to identify problems and improvements.

In class, we will discuss the goals and tasks for each activity and its associated products. The following week, we will discuss our experiences with the activities and share the progress made on our interim products.

Deliverables

Performing the design activities will lead to the production of the three design documents that will constitute your final prototype:

  • A set of at least two personas and scenarios in which your vision for the collection is articulated through an exploration of the ways that potential users might interact with it.
  • A design strategy brief that describes your communicative goals for the collection, your interpretation of the audience and its needs, and the strategies that you will use to reflect these through the selection of resources for the collection, the collection’s organization and description, and the information design of the digital library environment.
  • A “sketch” of the envisioned collection, showing 20-30 resources, their organization, and access mechanisms, through a prototyping environment, the open video toolkit.

As the project proceeds, you will receive more specific instructions regarding the contents and structure of each of these deliverables.

Grading criteria

A successful assignment will exhibit the following characteristics:

  • The author’s rhetorical goals are clearly and appropriately defined and a strategy to accomplish those goals is articulated (primarily in the brief).
  • The audience’s information needs and values are clearly and appropriately defined, and a strategy to satisfy those needs is clearly articulated (in the personas and scenarios, and in the brief).
  • The design strategy articulated in the brief is cohesively and comprehensively illustrated through the scenarios and sketches.
  • The three design documents sufficiently address the primary design elements of resource selection, resource description and organization, and provision of access to resources (through information architecture and page information design, and other appropriate access mechanisms).
  • The design documents are professionally prepared, with clear document structure, clear and concise writing, correct grammar and spelling, and so forth.

Collection design project #2: team design

In this project, you will work in a team of four people to design a resource collection that supports the city of Austin’s goal to encourage its citizens to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” The target audience is adult Austin residents who do place their recyclable materials in the city-provided bins but who haven’t yet considered other ways to practice the 3Rs; however, they would like to decrease the size of their energy bills. A more detailed scenario will be provided when the project is introduced in class on March 25.

Working in teams, and producing designs to reflect the goals of clients, are both typical realities of professional life. By switching from individual authorship to group collaboration, and from working to express one’s own ideas to working to express a client’s ideas, while designing a prototype collection with a similar structure and subject matter, we will be able to adapt and refine our conceptions about authoring collections. We will also gain additional design practice and be able to reflect upon the changing nature of design activities when collaboration is required.

This project will follow the same design process as project #1, and the same deliverables will be expected, subject to the same grading criteria. As with project #1, considerable class time will be spent in discussing our design experiences and interim products.

In most respects, the deliverables for this project will be the same as project #1, with the following differences:

  • The collection for this project should include approximately 40 resources.
  • You may, if you choose, use another sketching environment (consult with the instructor if you are considering this option).
  • At the critique stage (April 29), each team will prepare a somewhat more formal presentation of their design. These 10-minute presentations will enable a full-class critique session, to which outside guests may be invited.

Final reflection

In this essay, you will ponder what you have read, what you have done, and what you have produced in this course, and you will write a cohesive, 3,000-word paper that uses these thoughts and experiences to critically respond to questions such as:

  • What does it mean to “write” a resource collection and be its author? How does this idea of authorship differ from authoring other types of documents? What kinds of design activities help to facilitate this?
  • How are the goals of an author and those of an audience to be negotiated in the design of collections? What design activities help to facilitate this? How is success to be determined?
  • How are collections, as documents, to be critiqued? What are the document qualities by which such a critique can be made rigorous and systematic?

Note that these are examples of the questions that you might address in your essay. You may choose different questions, based on aspects of the course readings, activities, and products that you found significant. Make sure, though, that the emphasis is on critical examination of a topic, and not a mere report of what you did or a justification for your design decisions. I’m much more interested, for example, in what you might do differently based on what you learned throughout the course than on why your decisions were appropriate.