Category Archives: Teacher Responses to Student Writing

Response to Final Project Drafts

You will receive individual comments via email.

Some general things to think about as you work to complete your final projects

  1. Progress, not perfection: the goal of having you create your own grading criteria via the grading criteria questions, besides encouraging you to own your learning process, is to get away from a one-size-fits-all approach. Different projects will have different strengths and weaknesses. The goal is that I see progress from where you individually started in the course, and an attention to conventions you articulate through grading criteria.
  2. That being said, push hard: I do expect strong drafts of final projects, however. They don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to even be finished in the sense of their final iteration, but I want to see evidence that you accomplished what you set out to accomplish.
  3. Ask questions: this may seem a given, but I always like to remind learners that if you are stuck, ask. Ask your peers. Ask me. Ask someone.

Returning your content to you after the class ends

In general, you should save all web files, code, and content you create when you’re designing, but as all of you are tied up in my personal hosting space, I will of course return all your content to you at the end of the class. To make sure none of it is lost, I will leave the sites you have built up for a while.

Those of you using WordPress will receive an exported XML file that you can import into any WordPress installation (even a to retrieve all your content. You’ll need to save all custom code as well as record every setting you changed, however, because those will not be preserved. Again, I’ll err on the side of leaving things up for the meantime, so don’t worry too much.

For those (one) of you who went the RPK route: you should have access to everything you built, because you created all your own files. I will leave your site up, too, for the time being, though, just to be safe.

If for any reason you want me to take your site you built for this class down, that’s perfectly fine. I’ll just need about a week’s notice.

Response to Module #3

Grades on Blackboard, along with individual responses.

Mostly, these individual responses emphasize the things I mentioned in my response to Module #2 post, and in my individual comments on your Module #2s, but you should still read them as there are some other things I mention for each of your individual projects.

Looking forward to seeing these as final projects! Be sure to ask questions as you work to complete a draft.

One last thing to think about: microinteractions

The only other term I’m going to throw at you is one of the most neglected elements in design: the tiny details that make the difference between a good design and a great design, the microinteractions users have with a given design.

These can be anything from whether you use a dropdown menu or just add that extra category to the main navigation, what happens when users click search. The best way to understand microinteractions, besides going to that link, is to test, test, test, either by going through your site and putting yourself in your users’ shoes or actually getting some people to try out your design.

Not sure about something? Email someone who matches your target user type and ask them to try it. Not sure what font is the most readable? Ask someone to read five different fonts and pick their favorite one.

These are the things we tend not to think about until the last minute, but they are very important, because they make the difference between, well, as I said: a good design and a great one.

Looking forward to seeing these evolve!

Response to Module #2

Grades on Blackboard, along with individual responses.

These are particularly important responses as I mention some things about your individual final projects that I’d like to see.

Stuff about Module #2 to keep in mind as you move forward

  • Don’t forget the principles of style vs. content that you have learned in these first two modules. They still apply even when using a CMS.
  • Especially don’t forget the content strategy you have developed, which should govern the way you build your final project (who’s it for? what content types does your audience want? what content rules should govern those content types?).
  • Don’t forget to look for models online for both code and content strategy when you’re struggling. Other people who have succeeded where you are trying to succeed are often the best teachers.
  • I’d like to see some customized code in your final project, which is important for branding purposes whether you’re using a CMS or not. For those of you using WordPress, there is a place built into the user interface for custom CSS (Appearance>Editor>Stylesheet.css). My workflow for editing a WordPress theme in this way is to identify selectors using Firefox’s Firebug add-on, which allows you to highlight any element of a webpage with the Inspect tool and see the code behind that element.
  • For those (one) of you going the RPK path, and for future custom coding: you might want to explore the jQuery chapters in the textbook, which is a powerful language for beginning to create your own custom CMS.

Response to Homework #3: Much You Have Learned, And Much You Have Yet To Learn

Yoda 320 by 320

(image via)

Well, this class has been a whirlwind and we’ve got less than two weeks left!! At this point in every web design class I teach, I try to go all Yoda on the students and remind you that web design, like any other skill, just takes time and practice. I feel like in the short time we’ve spent together, I’ve reoriented you guys somewhat onto the path of doing good, sustainable design.

Now you just need to spend the rest of your lives perfecting your techniques ;-).

Here are some things to think about as you do that:

Always Remember that Modern Web Design = Content Strategy + User Experience Design (UX) + User Interface Design (UI) + Web Development/Programming

If you didn’t believe me when the class started out that modern day web design has gotten a bit more complex, I’m sure you do now ;-). And as I pointed out in an earlier post, though, almost no one does it alone, at least not well. It’s fine to practice this stuff on your own, and there have even been recent calls for design generalists, but as you have learned: for most of us mortals, specialization is important.

Really, we’ve been dwelling in this class on UI and Content Strategy, and a little big on Dev. Personally, I’m pretty comfortable in UI, CS, and UX, but realistically I know next to nothing about Dev, and that’s a whole different class, anyway.

Web development is also where you arguably bridge into a variety of different disciplines outside our own (computer science, information design, etc.). Some people in TPC (not our program per se, the field-at-large) would disagree with me there, but: you just don’t see much scholarship or practice in our field in true web development, meaning total fluency in languages like JavaScript and PHP, designing custom CMS’s from scratch, etc. There are exceptions, but that’s the rule.

Is that a bad thing? Maybe, but I’m not so sure. Programming is hard, but so is every part of that equation. UX, as those of you who just finished a class with me on that topic know, is inCREDibly difficult, and requires a bunch of distinct skill sets all on its own.

And CMS’s like WordPress, Drupal, Joomla!, etc. were invented because not everyone is a developer. And maybe that’s okay.

If I know one thing it’s this: it’s much better to trust an open source CMS and design a usable interface and architecture for that CMS than it is to be a great developer who makes things no one will use. And there are very few people who are both incredibly talented developers AND incredibly talented UXers. In fact, maybe:

UX <—————————————> Dev


I don’t know, but the point is you don’t have to be everything to be of use to the web design community. And typically you won’t be everything in a specific job. Just ask anyone in industry.

“Responsive” Design Means Multi-Channel, Not One Size Fits All

I also wanted to give you my two cents on the where the web is going, and that’s toward an “Internet of Things.” This new Internet will largely be composed of objects (code, content, all the same stuff we have now) that are programmable by end users. People will be able to create their own web applications that serve their needs. And those of us who have some kind of web design expertise will just be facilitators who create the basic platforms by which they do this.

In that situation, you won’t be able to just make one website that works for every single user. And it’s highly arguable you can’t do that now. So, remember: as Wachter-Boettcher says, the goal is to be adaptable and flexible. You don’t just design for mobile. You don’t just design for desktop. You don’t just design for handheld.

You design for where the actual people are who will use your design, and what they need. It’s that simple, and that hard.

Response to Module #1

Grades –> Blackboard, as are individual responses to your modules, so please take a moment to read them.

Overall: I am continually impressed by the quality of graduate student we attract here at ECU. I am well aware that I am throwing tough things at you guys, but you always rise to the occasion. Thanks for that. Keep it up.

I know this course is moving fast, but remember that this is supposed to theoretically be 15 weeks of material in 5 weeks. Stay focused. You’re doing good work.

I can’t overemphasize content strategy enough

If I haven’t made this connection explicit enough: content strategy is the rhetorical framework for modern day web design. Without it, you might as well be designing for a much older version of the web, which is what a lot of web designers do, honestly.

Don’t be one of those folks ;-). Learn as much code as you need, but master content strategy. The difference between a beautiful website that no one will ever use and a bland website that is usable is that the latter is actually performing as intended while the former might as well be an art installation that no one sees.

Response to Homework #2: Visual Style Is More Important on the Web

As per the norm, all grades are on Blackboard.

The web is still mostly text, but styled interactive text

One of the big mistakes a lot of first time web designers make is not thinking about style. CRAP is a great way to do that, but Nick’s content chunking article is also important, as are Wachter-Boettcher’s suggestions (geez, that woman’s name is hard to spell).

Take my own website for instance. Here it is with content chunks (or content rules, as Wachter-Boettcher explains):

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 4.58.44 PM

Here it is without loading CSS (via Firefox > View > Page Style > No Style):

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 5.10.11 PM



Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 5.10.27 PM


Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 5.10.48 PM

Looks slightly different, huh? The material difference here is CSS, but the rhetorical difference is that content is not chunked or grouped in any discernible fashion. CSS is the material way you make this happen, but if you can’t conceive of content in a rhetorical way, via content rules or chunks, then you won’t get there no matter how much code you know.

Which is why content strategy is more important than code

I said this in Module 1 and I will say it again now: code is easy; content is hard. Most people think of things in the opposite fashion, but it is simply not true. Code is like the basic math on which the web runs, but content strategy is what makes people care about it.

So maybe content strategy isn’t more important than code, but it is at least equally as important, which is why I picked the dual emphasis for this class. If you can’t build content rules, can’t strategize, and can’t understand the difference between a scannable website and one that no one wants to use, then you’re not of much use to the design community. Because believe me: there are PLENTY of designers out there who don’t understand those things, but who make wonderful code. Who do you think is making all those unusable websites we encounter on a daily basis?

Response to Homework #1: Code is your friend; No really


Will always be on Blackboard. Check there for them.

On code fear

In a class of this nature, the concerns usually center on: will I be able to code?!?! It is only natural to fear things you’re unfamiliar with. Years ago when I first started tinkering with code I remember having the same fears: isn’t it like math?! I was never good at math!

Let me just respond to these concerns with the notion that code is learnable because it is just a notation system. And like any notation system, with a combination of conceptual understanding and practical application, it can become useful to anyone.

You will also not learn everything there is to know about code in this class. No one class can teach you that. And I’m assuming everyone is starting from scratch.

And if you get stuck: just ask questions ;-).

Code is infrastructure; content and experience is what users care about

I think there is also a natural misconception in classes of this nature that every person who designs for the web is a master of all things code. I can guarantee that in fact that is almost never the case.

In fact, the modern day “web designer” is almost never one person. That position is usually occupied by multiple people (typically more than one person in each of these positions):

  1. A user interface designer or front end developer who uses languages like HTML and CSS to create what users see.
  2. A content strategist who is responsible for creating and delivering robust content to users.
  3. A web developer who uses languages like Javascript and PHP to program the basic functions of a web application.
  4. A user experience strategist or information architect who is responsible for the overall shape of information within a web application.

I don’t know anyone that is all of these things, or that is equally good at all of them. Code is complex, but so is user behavior. As a designer, I’ve chosen to focus mostly on the latter, so I know a lot more about content strategy and user experience (UX) than I know about code.

So: some of you will take to code more than others, but I think everyone should know a little code. If you want to become a full-fledged version of any of the above things, though, it takes years of study and practice.

So: relax, try to have fun, experiment, and don’t worry about getting everything exactly right. And when (not if) things don’t work right, turn it into a learning experience. That’s the best way to gain proficiency in this stuff.