Communication Design:

Interaction Foundations

Spring 2021

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts
Washington University

Class: Wednesday 8:30am CST/CDT
Lab: Monday 6:00pm CST/CDT

Abram Siemsen


Course Description

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.

Course Goals

  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.

Required Texts, Materials, Software or Equipment

Work will likely be (but not required to be) accomplished with tools and software you already have (Adobe Creative Suite) or can download and/or use for free (VS Code, Sublime Text, GitHub). Web browsers on desktop computers will also be used extensively, and other devices as your work warrants.

While you will likely use paper for your own purposes (sketches, notes, etc.), this course does not require any paper deliverables. As such, printing costs should be minimal/nonexistent.

Course Fee

$0. Hurray for the cloud!

Daily Work/Homework

Class sessions: Wednesday mornings, 8:30am–11:20am CDT/CST

Lab sessions: Monday evenings, 6:00pm–9:00pm CDT/CST

All class and lab sessions will be held remotely via Zoom. The Zoom link is available in Canvas, and will also be emailed to you.

Class time will be include instruction, discussions, and critiques — but will mostly be about providing sufficient context and direction for independent exercises and projects. For most sessions, we expect to spend less than 30 minutes 'meeting', leaving the vast majority of time for self-instruction, research, and assignment work. Many exercises will be easily accomplished within the 3-hour timeframe of a class session, but you should also expect homework assignments and projects that will require a time commitment above and beyond class sessions. All class Zoom sessions will be recorded and made available after-the-fact for students unable to attend synchronously. Attendence to class sessions is therefore not required, but is certainly encouraged.

Lab sessions are primarily intended to provide additional real-time access to instructors for assistance and feedback related to assignments and project work. Lab sessions are optional, think of them as office hours. They are an excellent time to work through problems you've had with assignments before the assignment is due.

Assignments will typically be provided on Wednesdays (when class meets), and be due by 5pm the following Tuesday, in order to allow time for instructor review before the following class.

Assignments and Class Participation

The class website ( will act as clearinghouse for assignments, project information and deliverables. The work you produce will live on GitHub (see below), but to get credit for it, you must follow the directions for each project/deliverable in order to successfully link your work to the class website.

You will create an account on GitHub to store your work, and use GitHub Pages to host it. GitHub is an online platform for sharing Git repositories. A Git repository is a collection of files that is version-managed, which means it maintains a complete history of each file. In concept, a Git repository, or 'repo', provides unlimited undo for entire collections of files. In practice, using Git can be extremely technical, so we'll stick with the basics. You'll only be expected to use file-uploading through the GitHub web interface, but if you are familiar with Git (or want to learn), you are welcome to use a Git client for managing your files locally and pushing updates to GitHub.

Understand that your work will be public, and hosted on your own account. When the semester is over, you'll retain full control over what you've made.

Everyone learns more when critiques occur as a discussion rather than a one-sided evaluation. Expect not only to receive constructive feedback, but to provide it to your peers. This may occur in class discussions, one-on-one discussions with peers, or in the form of written notes.

Course Grading

Grades will be determined by a combination of objective and subjective factors:

Grading Philosophy

Grades will not be assigned on a curve, nor is any other particularly mathematical device applied. If you have an expectation of a strictly numbers-based grade, now is the time to let go of that expectation. We're talking about art here! At a high-level, final letter grades attempt to reflect the following standards:

  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.

Support and Supplementary Instruction


The best learning environment — whether in the classroom, studio, laboratory, or fieldwork site — is one in which all members feel respected while being productively challenged. At Washington University in St. Louis, we are dedicated to fostering an inclusive atmosphere, in which all participants can contribute, explore, and challenge their own ideas as well as those of others. Every participant has an active responsibility to foster a climate of intellectual stimulation, openness, and respect for diverse perspectives, questions, personal backgrounds, abilities, and experiences, although instructors bear primary responsibility for its maintenance.

A range of resources is available to those who perceive a learning environment as lacking inclusivity, as defined in the preceding paragraph. If possible, we encourage students to speak directly with their instructor about any suggestions or concerns they have regarding a particular instructional space or situation. Alternatively, students may bring concerns to another trusted advisor or administrator (such as an academic advisor, mentor, department chair, or dean). All classroom participants — including faculty, staff, and students — who observe a bias incident affecting a student may also file a report (whether personally or anonymously) utilizing the online Bias Report and Support System.


The following information applies to in-person classes, but parts may not be applicable for all-virtual classes like this one. For instance, we will not need to see your 'green check' in our zoom sessions.

Exceptions to course policies, expectations, and requirements (including attendance and assignment deadlines) because of COVID-19 diagnosis, symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or exposure to a person with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 diagnosis will be made in collaboration between the student and instructor. In these cases, please notify your instructor as soon as possible to discuss appropriate accommodations.

All Danforth Campus students, faculty & staff must complete and pass a daily health self-screening prior coming onto campus or leaving their residence hall room each day. If an individual does not pass the daily self-screening, they must not leave their room or come to campus and must immediately contact Habif Health and Wellness Center at 314-935-6666 (students) or Occupational Health at 314-362-5056 (faculty and staff). Go to screening at

While on campus, it is imperative that students follow all public health guidelines established to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission within our community. The full set of University protocols can be found at This includes:


Acknowledging that timezone differences can make synchronous virtual class sessions unworkable fort some students, we've elected to forego the normal attendance expectation for this class. As noted above, we will hold class sessions as scheduled, and look forward to working with you in real-time during class, but we will also be recording and posting all sessions as video. Your grade will not have an attendance component, which means the quality and timeliness of your assignment work will become that much more important. Engagement with the course material will also be factor, and participating in class discussions, asking questions, working with peers, getting feedback are all great ways to engage, so think carefully about the tradeoffs involved in working asynchronously. We'll look much more favorably on a student who enlists assistance for their challenges than one who flies under the radar and delivers sub-par work.

Absences: Your priorities are yours, and we expect you to manage them like the adults you are. As such, we don't arbitrate what constitutes an 'excused' absence. Our expectation is that you keep up with scheduled course work. If circumstances dictate missing a deadline, the severity of that impact is largely controlled by you, and how well you make accommodations — making a plan ahead of time, getting assignments from peers, getting caught-up on work, etc. We are happy to help you plan these accommodations ahead of time in order to minimize adverse impact.

Emergencies and Severe Illness: In situations of emergency or extreme illness, please 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. Should you become ill with the COVID-19 virus, informing Georgia is an appropriate course of action. While we hope very much that none of us find ourselves dealing with Covid or any other serious health issue, we will certainly make accommodations as needed should that occur.

Late Work: All deliverables are due at 5pm CDT/CST on the date specified, whether or not you are in class. Late work will adversely affect your final grade.


The instructor reserves the right to make modifications to this information throughout the semester.

The following sections are standardized policies for all classes.

Course Policies and Information for Students


Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Students - Washington University in St. Louis supports the rights of enrolled students to a full and equal educational opportunity and, in compliance with federal, state, and local requirements, is committed to reasonable accommodations for individuals with documented disabilities. Disabled students for whom accommodations may be necessary must be registered with, and provide their faculty official notification through, WUSTL’s Disability Resources ( Once established, responsibility for disability-related accommodations and access is shared by DR, faculty, and the student. Please contact Disability Resources at 314.935.5970 or


The Sam Fox School aims to provide each student with a fair assessment of their academic work and studio. Students have the right to dispute their overall course grade (not individual assignments) if they believe that grade does not accurately reflect the quality of their work. A grade dispute must be submitted to the faculty member who assigned the grade within 30 days of receipt of the grade. The School stresses that every effort to resolve this dispute be made by the faculty and student involved. A student’s eligibility for advancement in sequential coursework requires timely resolution of the grade dispute. For more information visit


The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art recognizes the individual student’s choice in observing religious holidays that occur during periods when classes are scheduled. Students are encouraged to arrange with their instructors to make up work missed as a result of religious observance, and instructors are asked to make every reasonable effort to accommodate such requests. The Office of Religious, Spiritual and Ethical Life maintains a calendar of many religious holidays observed by the WashU community.


Computers or other electronic devices, including “smart pens” (devices with an embedded computer and digital audio recorder that records the classroom lecture/discussion and links that recording to the notes taken by the student), may be used by students at the discretion of the faculty member to support the learning activities in the classroom. These activities include taking notes and accessing course readings under discussion. If a student wishes to use a smart-pen or other electronic device to audio record lectures or class discussions, they must notify the instructor in advance of doing so. Permission to use recording devices is at the discretion of the instructor, unless this use is an accommodation approved by Disability Resources.

Nonacademic use of laptops and other devices and use of laptops or other devices for other coursework is distracting and seriously disrupts the learning process for other people in the classroom. Neither computers nor other electronic devices are to be used in the classroom during class for nonacademic reasons or for work on other coursework. Nonacademic use includes emailing, texting, social networking, playing games, instant messaging, and use of the Internet. Work on other coursework may include, but is not limited to, use of the Internet, writing papers, using statistical software, analyzing data, and working on quizzes or exams. The nonacademic use of cell phones during class time is prohibited, and they should be set on silent before class begins. In the case of an emergency, please step out of the room to take the call. The instructor has the right to hold students accountable for meeting these expectations, and failure to do so may result in a loss of participation or attendance points, a loss of the privilege of device use in the classroom, or being asked to leave the classroom.

The Sam Fox School Information Technology Infrastructure has many services for your benefit. Visit for more information.


James Fawcett and Abram Siemsen have non-exclusive right to reproduce and distribute work produced in this class as part of a publication or body of work, which may include products from this course or other works. Students retain ownership of all rights held under copyright. This permission is revocable for 3 months following the conclusion of this course via notification in writing to James Fawcett and Abram Siemsen.


Ethical behavior is an essential component of learning and scholarship. Students are expected to understand, and adhere to, the University’s academic integrity policy: Students who violate this policy will be referred to the Academic Integrity Policy Committee. Penalties for violating the policy will be determined by the Academic Integrity Policy committee, and can include failure of the assignment, failure of the course, suspension or expulsion from the University. Additionally, students should If you have any doubts about what constitutes a violation of the Academic Integrity policy, or any other issue related to academic integrity, please ask the instructor.

Always cite sources when ideas are presented and/or language that was developed by another individual, including material from class lectures and discussions.

Violation of this policy includes collaborating on assignments where collaboration is not allowed and/or utilizing notes, texts, etc. on any assignment where use of such materials is not allowed.

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 hyperlinks, citations, and comments.


If English language proficiency is such that the student may need special assistance in lectures, reading, written assignments, and/or exam taking, please communicate these needs to the instructor who may refer the student to the English Language Program (ELP). ELP is a University-wide resource that provides classes and academic English language support designed to increase non-native English speaking students' English language proficiency and to facilitate their academic success at Washington University. Other Academic Assistance resources are available through the Office for International Students and Scholars.

Resources for Students

For information on all available student resources, including disability accommodations, campus safety, mental health resources, writing assistance, grievance procedures, and much more, please go to