document design| writ 4220

comp4220 | document design & graphics | sec 001
spring 2009
6:00 pm-8:30 pm tuesdays | humanities 470
course home page:

rob wittig | 726-7545
office: VKH 131A | hours: M 10-11 W 10-12
or by appointment


For the first time in history the tools for the creation of authoritative documents have passed from a professional elite into the hands of everyday communicators. The desktop computing revolution of the last 20 years has unfolded so quickly that the culture of writing has barely begun to catch up.

Traditional principles of communication design cultivated in the West for centuries have, for the most part, not accompanied these tools. Even design professionals are hard-pressed to keep up with new capabilities of the machines, and exciting new cultural styles springing from e-mail, chat, and the web.

Design is now fundamental to written communicators' toolsets, whether they realize it or not.

Learning to think holistically about visual/verbal communication is what this course is about.

The practical goal of this course is to enable you to gain practice and expertise in the following areas:
1. Applying principles of rhetoric, design, cultural theory and creative thinking to your document design;
2. Discussing your work in critically informed ways;
3. Learning how to learn new software through self-guided study, and peer assistance.
4. Learning how to conduct design research and find design inspiration in the current media environment;
5. Conceiving and carrying out writing/design projects that engage potential audiences on a variety of levels, especially by means of visual/verbal strategies;
6. Participating in and contributing to a community of writer/designers;
7. Learning to develop successful working relationships with clients and support teams, which are especially necessary in the creation of documents for institutions, businesses, and civic organizations;

Exercises and projects are the heart of this course.

The exercises we'll do together in class to learn particular skills or techniques.

The projects are larger pieces of work that you'll complete individually over a period of two or three weeks using the skills you learned from the exercises and insights from your self-directed study and class activities.

There is a three-point penalty per day for late projects, including the annotations that are explained below.

Due dates for all requirements are included in the online schedule, which will be updated throughout the semester.
Outside-of-class research resulting in in-class presentations will also be required as needed. On days when you are presenting, please have your presentations prepped, rehearsed, and ready to go. Missing a scheduled presentation will result in a 2-grade drop in the maximum grade, and the presentation will have to be made later.

This class has two pedagogical tracks, one for students already specializing in design and one for students specializing in other fields. The non-designer track will concentrate on basic concepts in design and allow time for learning graphics software. The designer track assumes a working knowledge of the software and will require the writing and design of an additional communication strategy documents for each project. These "behind-the-scenes" documents are universal in the professional design world and often are among the first assignments of entry-level designers.
The designers' project documents (10 pages) must include:
__Audience analysis
__Competitive analysis (direct and indirect)
__Design strategy (including call-to-action)
__Design tactics (including choice of font, visual, format etc.)
__How this design fits into, reflects, or breaks with design history
__Information Hierarchy
__Use pattern
The non-designers project documents (1 page) must include:
__Information Hierarchy
__Use pattern
Designers will do a full, formal presentation of each project, using their document as a guide.
Non-designers will do an informal presentation of their projects.

Other design work and team work, in addition to the minor and major projects, is required, including:
__ Peer critiques for workshops
__ Plans, sketching and preliminary writings or designs for your projects,
__ Special research into the function of specific computer programs
__ Peer support from designers to non-designers in all aspects of design: technical, creative, and strategic
__Comparable peer support from specialists in other fields to the design specialists

Your regular attendance is absolutely necessary, since this class will function as a community of writer-designers. This is especially important since we only meet once a week
__ Absences in excess of 1 (with excused tardiness, see below, over 10% of the class meetings) will deduct 3 percent each from your overall grade.
__ This 1 possible absence can be spent however you wish and so there are no "excused" or "unexcused" absences. Save your "free" absence for a rainy (or snowy) day.
__ If you are absent, you are responsible for all material covered in class.
__ In the case of absence or lateness, some requirements like quizzes and guided in-class activities cannot be made up when timeliness or group interaction is critical.
__ In addition to your allowed absence, you also have 3 instances of arriving late or leaving early to use (with or without an excuse) if necessary. Instances in excess of 3 will decrease your overall grade by 2 percentage points each. If on some occasion during the semester you need to leave class early, even if it's one of your three allowed instances, please arrange it with me in advance.

Participation is key. A larger goal of this course is to establish a community or network of writer-designers--with a wide variety of backgrounds, expertise, and interests--to enhance your learning and enjoyment during the next sixteen weeks.

The class is designed to provide a number of avenues for this community building, including peer workshopping and critiquing, in-class production work, support groups, and various communications and collaborations.

Your sincere and regular contributions to maintaining this collaborative environment will count in your grade, and of course will greatly benefit your final products in the course. Because your work is the subject matter for this course, turning in all projects and writings on time is critical; work turned in late will be assessed a 3% penalty per day.  
Grades in this class will be given according to the following criteria:
__ Your work on the six projects and various exercises (weighed according to the size and complexity of the project): 75% total
__ Participation in class generally, including in-class activities and contributions, online discussions, attendance, conferences, quizzes, peer workshop responses, class discussion, promptness: 25%

Incompletes for the semester will be given only in the following very limited circumstances:
__ you must contact me in advance of the semester's end to make a request for an incomplete;
__ no more than one or two weeks of class, or one or two assignments, can have been missed;
__ you must be in good standing in the class (not already behind, in other words);
__ you must have a documented family or medical emergency, as required by university policy;
__ you must arrange a time table with me for completing the missed work that is acceptable for both of us.  

This course adheres strictly to UMD's Student Academic Integrity Policy, which can be found at The instructor will enforce and students are expected to follow the University's Student Conduct Code

Special needs: if you have any limitation which affects your ability to perform in the class, please see me at your earliest convenience to arrange for equitable participation.

Resources needed:
__ Required purchase of an 8.5x11" unlined, bound sketchbook (available in the art supply department of the UMD bookstore) for class drawing and planning activities

__Required purchase, by non-designers, of Before and After, Page Design, by John McWade. This is currently not available in the UMD stores. We will discuss availability in class

__ Required purchase, by designers, of Mirrors in the Brain , by Giacomo Rizzolatti, et al.

__ Required purchase of two (2) current design magazines or annuals, bought at two specified times during the semester; acceptable magazines include: Step, How, CA (Communication Arts), Graphis, Juxtapoz, Eye, Print, I.D., Adbusters, Colors, Emigré

_Recommended purchase of two books:
InDesign for Windows & Macintosh Visual Quickstart Guide (Paperback)
Illustrator for Windows and Macintosh (Visual QuickStart Guide) (Paperback)
NOTE: Confirm the version of InDesign and Illustrator running in the labs and on your own machine before buying book.

__ a UMD e-mail account
__ An electronic storage device for saving and transporting your work (at least 100 Mg.)
__ Access to a digital camera
__ Access to a printer, and/or funds for printing in UMD labs