Communication Design:

Interaction Foundations

Spring 2020

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts
Washington University

James Fawcett
Steinberg 011



This course is a hands-on application of interaction design for digital media (primarily browser-based). We will explore how user-interaction adds bidirectionality to communication, examine the intricacies of seemingly-simple digital interactions, and familiarize ourselves with the attributes of digital device as ‘canvas’. We will work both independently and collaboratively to design interactive solutions for a selection of communication challenges.

Our focus will be to learn by doing: first-hand experience gained while undertaking hands-on exercises and real-world projects will provide the context and framework for discussion and instruction.

Work will likely be (but not required to be) accomplished with tools and software you already have (Adobe Creative Suite) or can download and use for free (Sublime Text, FileZilla). Web browsers on desktop computers and mobile devices will also be used extensively.

Changes Related to Distance Learning

While the challenges of distance learning will impact Interaction Foundations, we are likely to feel that impact much less than in some other classes. Above all things, please communicate openly with me. If you have concerns or questions, I am here to help you. Please feel free to reach me via email, Slack, or by phone.

For the remainder of the semester, we will not be holding realtime class instruction. All lessons will be posted to our class website as resources related to upcoming assignments. These lesson materials may come in the form of text documents, links to screen recording, or links to other online resources.

Each of you must be proactive about communicating with me and with your classmates. You will be responsible for checking the class website, turning in your work on time, and seeking additional help if you need it. This should not intimidate you. I’m committed to working with you collectively and individually in order to make the rest of this semester as seamless and stress-free as possible. We will encounter challenges and problems, but you must be proactive addressing challenges as the pop up – do not ignore them.

In a general sense, the assignments and projects planned for the remainder of the semester will remain unchanged. Some modifications will likely be required, and as the semester unfolds, if we find some tactics are working better than others, we will adjust accordingly. We’re going to be fine, and I’m confident that each of you will finish this semester having learned the same important lessons you would have learned in the classroom.

As we move into this new online learning format, please also use this as an opportunity to reach out to me directly for specific needs you may have, or additional guidance in particular areas of interest around Interaction Design. I’m looking forward working with each of you to make this semester a success!

Homework and Assignments

There will be multiple assignments each week. Each week may include a number of smaller exercises and/or larger multi-day assignments. Assignments are due at 5:00PM CDT on the date specified. Late work will adversely affect your final grade.

In the absence of any realtime instructor led in-class exercises, we will rely on digital communication channels for discussion, including email and Slack (


  1. Learn to make things. Develop the self-knowledge, conceptual and visual methodologies, and technical proficiency necessary to conceive, plan and execute screen-based interactive design projects.
  2. Be able to collaborate effectively. Understand the vocabularies, applications, and production environments associated with interactive design in order to effectively collaborate with people in related disciplines (creative directors, writers, web-developers, programmers, etc.)
  3. Build your portfolio. Produce work that demonstrates successful and effective application of interactive design to accomplish specific communication objectives.


  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April

Means of Instruction

Class time will be divided between discussions, instruction, group exercises, critiques and studio time. Expect to spend time outside of class on self-instruction, research, and assignment/lab work in order to be prepared for each classroom session.

Homework assignments will typically be assigned during class on Tuesdays, and be due on Mondays to allow time for instructor review before the following class.

Attendance and punctuality

Class sessions meet weekly on Wednesday mornings from 8:30AM to 11:20AM. Lab sessions will occur weekly on Monday evenings from 6:00PM to 9:00PM.

Attendence to class sessions is mandatory. Lab sessions are optional, but will serve as your primary opportunity to receive feedback to work and answers to questions, so attendance is highly encouraged.

Absences will negatively affect your final grade, as will tardiness. You are tardy if you are not present when attendence is called at the beginning of the class session. Be on time to each class and stay until class is dismissed, even if class is occurring at your studio desk. If you have a schedule conflict, making prior arrangements with the instructor is advised, but does not exempt you from the responsibility of completing any work that occurred in or out of class, nor does it change the adverse grade impact.

In situations of emergency or extreme illness, contact Georgia Binnington and she will let all of your instructors know. Circumstances of severe illness or other emergencies will be handled on an individual basis.

Critiques and Assignments

Work will be evaluated on concept, investment (or process), form, and function. All assignments and projects will be turned in electronically as HTML pages uploaded to your GitHub pages.

Due to the large class size and limited time, traditional critiques in class will be limited. Lab sessions will serve as the primary time for hearing feedback from your instructors.

Everyone learns more when critiques occur as a discussion rather than a one-sided evaluation. Expect to provide constructive feedback to your peers, and to receive it. This may occur in class discussions, in the form of written notes, or in meetings between you and your peers outside of class.

Late Work

Assignments are due at 5:00pm on the date specified, whether or not you are in class. Late work will adversely affect your final grade.


Grades will be based on the following:

  1. Superior grasp and application of concepts; high level of exploration, thoughtful presentation of ideas, control and understanding of craft, timely completion of all projects. Serious and consistent effort, commitment, and participation.
  2. Strong grasp and application of concepts; good quality work that meets and often exceeds the basic criteria of assignment; good effort and participation, evidence of growth.
  3. Average comprehension of basic coursework and application of concepts, average level of investigation or initiative; some technical problems or trouble with craft; occasional participation.
  4. Evidence that concepts are not understood and/or not being applied; poor quality work, course or projects criteria is not fulfilled, weak effort or level of investigation; little or no participation; attendance problems.
  1. Failing, not acceptable for progress in curriculum, unacceptable deficiencies in process or final product.

If grades are important to you, be proactive about ensuring they are as you expect them to be.

Health and Safety

While materials, tools, and practices for this class are not likely to be health concerns, it's worth noting the high potential for inadvertent property damage. Take care with the placement and transport your computer. Tripping hazards created by charging cords and backpacks are of particular concern. Use caution, and be aware of your surroundings.

In cases of emergency, call campus Security: x5555 from phones located on every floor (or 935-5555). Security may be called for late-night escort back to on-campus housing.


Your mobile phones / devices are welcome in class, but using them to conduct personal conversations or business is not. Please do not engage in emailing, texting, instant messaging, or social media conversations during class, unless specifically class-related.

Please remove your headphones when you are conversing with the instructor or another student.

Please refrain from working on assignments for unrelated classes while class is in session.

Conduct yourself in accordance with Washington University's academic integrity policy.

Learning through examination of other people's work (peers, online references, viewing source code, etc.) is an expected and welcome part of the educational process, particularly in the web-development community, which tends to recognize the benefit of sharing. Recognizing this does not excuse the outright copying of anybody's work and claiming it as your own, or circumnavigating the learning process by simply dropping somebody elses work in 'under the hood.' Expect dire consequences from such behavior.

There are many free resources available to us, such as open-source code libraries and web-fonts. Use of these resources is often appropriate, but steer clear of digital assets which are not intended for unlicensed use. Easy-to-get does not mean ethical or legal to use. Cite references, provide links to sources, and clearly delineate what is your work and what isn't. This is particularly easy in a digital environment, where links and references can be written directly into your code as comments.

further resources

Accommodations based upon sexual assault

The University is committed to offering reasonable academic accommodations to students who are victims of sexual assault. Students are eligible for accommodation regardless of whether they seek criminal or disciplinary action. Depending on the specific nature of the allegation, such measures may include but are not limited to: implementation of a no-contact order, course/classroom assignment changes, and other academic support services and accommodations. If you need to request such accommodations, please direct your request to Kim Webb (, Director of the Office of Sexual Assault and Community Health Services. Ms. Webb is a confidential resource; however, requests for accommodations will be shared with the appropriate University administration and faculty. The University will maintain as confidential any accommodations or protective measures provided to an individual student so long as it does not impair the ability to provide such measures.

Bias reporting

The University has a process through which students, faculty, staff and community members who have experienced or witnessed incidents of bias, prejudice or discrimination against a student can report their experiences to the University’s Bias Report and Support System (BRSS) team. See:

Mental health

Mental Health Services’ professional staff members work with students to resolve personal and interpersonal difficulties, many of which can affect the academic experience. These include conflicts with or worry about friends or family, concerns about eating or drinking patterns, and feelings of anxiety and depression. See: