This website contains all information connected to the Spring 2014 ENGL/JOUR 4850/8856 Information Design course. Course documents are also available in dropbox.

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Course Description

Information design is concerned with the presentation of print or digital content. This course is designed to help you develop a professional sensibility for making stylistic choices appropriate for particular situations and audiences and the skills to implement those choices.

My perspective of information design is informed by Saul Carliner's Information and Document Design (2006), who says that he defines information design as:

preparing communication products so that they achieve the performance objectives established for them. . . . Information design differs from document design in that information design addresses the issue of whether readers can understand a text, not merely whether they can find information on it.
(pp. 2-3)

This definition shows, I think, the complex, problem-solving process involved in the design process. In short, information design is the presentation of content for a specific purpose, situation, and audience.

This course will introduce you to a variety of strategies for designing and integrating visual and textual elements in ways that not only make a document more accessible to readers but also demonstrates the ability to address design problems. Course discussion and readings will focus on analysis of the design problem, principles of effective design, and visual conventions. We will use software from the Adobe Creative Suite 6 (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, InDesign, and Acrobat). I will demo some features of this software, but it is your responsibility to take the initiative for your own learning of this software (see "Learning Software" below).

Course Objectives

In this class, you will learn...

  • to become familiar with and use design language
  • to understand design as a problem-solving process
  • to analyze audience, purpose, and situation as they pertain to the design situation
  • to apply principles of design effectively
  • to develop a design sensibility through standards, style sheets, and practice
  • to develop technical skills with design software
Required Books & Materials


Document Design: A Guide for Technical Communicators, Miles Kimball and Ann Hawkins

Document Design: A Guide for Technical Communicators


The Non-Designer's Photoshop Book, Robin Williams and John Tollett

Non-Designer's Photoshop Book

The Non-Designer's InDesign Book, Robin Williams

Non-Designer's InDesign Book

Dreamweaver CS5 for Windows and Macintosh: Visual Quick Start Guide, Tom Negrino and Don Smith

Dreamweaver Visual Quick Start Guide

The PC is Not Typewriter, Robin Williams

The PC Is Not a TypewriterPartial List from this book

Course Particulars

All assignments should be submitted through You will need to create an account at in order to submit your assignments. This account is free and comes with 2 GB of storage. You will receive an invitation to join the shared folder from me shortly before the semester begins or by the first night of class.

I have created a course folder called Information Design Spring 2014 with a subfolder called Students, which includes a subfolder for each of you. Within your student folder are several folders, one for each of the individual deliverables. Inside each of those folders is another folder called Ready for Grading. I will assume that any documents placed in this folder are ready to be graded.

You can use dropbox in two ways: 1) Access it through the website or 2) download and install the dropbox client, which creates a drive on your computer like any other drive. You will not be able to download the dropbox client if you are not using your own computer.

Because I need to provide you all access to the course dropbox folder (Information Design Spring 2012), which will include multiple folders with materials necessary for the class (e.g., worksheets, readings, and so on) and which includes students' folders, everyone will have access to everyone else's folder. We will work on the honor system and agree that no one will go into someone else's folder without permission.

In Class Atmosphere

I like to run my classes mostly as workshops, which means that there tends to be quite a bit of chaos. I prefer this method because I believe that we learn by doing and from each other. If I'm helping a student at one computer, other students will be able to hear and learn as well. I know that this can lend itself to a chaotic atmosphere, but I hope that you all will be able to find a way to work in this environment.

I tend to critique right in class because it's likely that whatever difficulty you might be having, other students are also experiencing it.

Critiquing Design

Like writing, design is subjective and seems to be based on personal preference. Although that perspective may work for works of art (paintings, sculptures, and so on), when creating technical documents, design is a question of usability and readability.

When creating any kind of symbolic work (writing, editing, design), we can sometimes become very attached to the work we've done. The more married you are to your design, the less able you'll be to hear constructive criticism. When you are married to your design, it generally means that you are designing for yourself and not for what the audience needs.

Design decisions must be supported by a justification that supports the needs of the audience, purpose, and situation of the document.

Learning Software

There is no one way to learn software applications. Everyone learns software differently and at different paces. Some people prefer to have a book to consult, some rely on help menus, and some search the web for tutorials. I do not require any one way to learn the software used in class. But whichever method you choose, working with the software takes a lot of practice. Working with the software only once a week during class is likely to leave you frustrated and feeling inadequate.

It is up to individual students to find their own best method for learning and to seek out appropriate resources. One of the best ways I've found to learn a software application is to try to recreate a design I've seen.

Although I will provide some short demos during class time, I do expect students to seek out the resources they are most comfortable with and learn most of what they need to on their own. What I can offer are recommendations:

  1. Adobe offers a magazine called Inspire, which provides mini-Flash movies of various techniques for learning most of its software.
  2. Adobe also offers tutorials for its Creative Suite software at this site.
  3. The UNO library offers access to Safari Books Online, an online instructional resource favored by many designers today.
  4. I have found the Peachpit Press' Visual Quick Start books (such as the Dreamweaver book I've ordered) to be well written and easy to follow. Generally, they cost anywhere from $20-$35, but I have seen quite a few used copies on Peachpit press offers PDF versions of their books for a lower price. I've also used the Bible series.
  5. The Non-Designer's software books that I recommended are excellent instructional books.
  6. offers a variety of instructional videos, some of which are free.
  7. Many instructional videos are available on the web.

If you are unfamiliar with the programs in the Adobe Creative Suite, you need to think about how best to go about learning them.

We will be using the following Adobe Creative Suite 6 programs: Photoshop (image manipulation), Dreamweaver (website creation and editing), InDesign (layout and design), and Acrobat (print). You are welcome to use other programs, but I may not be able to help you troubleshoot

Adobe Creative Suite Software at UNO

The Adobe Creative Suite is available in ASH 145 and 300 and at the Criss Library.

ASH 145

Our classroom computers have the Adobe Creative Suite 6.0 version, which includes Photoshop, InDesign, Dreamweaver, Acrobat, and other applications.

ASH 300

The Arts & Sciences lab is located in ASH 300. It includes the same software as in ASH 145, but on limited machines.

Criss Library

The library has the Adobe Creative Suite 6 in a lab in the basement.

Purchasing the Creative Suite

If you intend to take all the technical communication courses, you may want to consider purchasing the Creative Suite 6. As a student, you can purchase it for the education price somewhere between $359.88-$599 depending on the suite you purchase from the UN system (see The $399 version is the Creative Cloud version, which requires a yearly subscribption.

Course Policies

Attendance & Participation

As in the professional workplace, much of the work we will be doing in this class depends on your interaction with others; therefore attendance is an essential component of your grade. If you must miss a class, please let me know ahead of time and be prepared to offer a plausible excuse. Missed classes do have a bearing on your grade: if you miss more than one class, you can expect a deduction in your grade. Keep in mind that a miss is still a miss, whether you have a good excuse or not. Students are required to attend ALL workshops and presentations.

Additionally, if you must miss a class, please find out from someone else in class what happened that day and the details of any assignments. I simply and honestly do not have the time to re-present what we've done in class—but if you ever want to discuss something that came up in class or look at versions of the work you are doing for class, I'll be more than happy to meet with you.



Every class meeting will involve some type of assignment. Out-of-class assignments are due to dropbox BEFORE class begins and in-class assignments are due at the end of class. All assignment descriptions are available under the Deliverables tab.

Students should submit all assignment to Do not email assignments to the instructor unless instructed to do so.

Assignments and readings are due on the day they appear on the weekly schedule. Note, however, that

  • Students should submit all assignments to dropbox unless otherwise instructed.
  • Assignments and readings are due on the day they appear on the weekly schedule.
  • I reserve the right to make changes to the weekly schedule when necessary.
  • Late assignments risk losing points.

Assignments should be submitted in both the native format version (e.g., InDesign, Photoshop) and a PDF version.

Students with Disabilities

Accommodations are provided for students with registered disabilities.

For more information contact
Services for Students with disabilities

Kate Clark, Disability Services Coordinator
UNO Disability Services
6001 Dodge Street, EAB 117
Omaha, NE 68182
Phone (402) 554-2872, TTY (402) 554-3799, Fax (402) 554-6015

About Grading

What I hear at the end of the term from almost everyone is "I put more time into this class than I have into any other class"—with the implication that time alone should earn you an A. I do believe students work hard, but working hard does not equal excellence.

Although this class (or any Technical Communication class) does require a lot of time, time alone does not make for excellent work; time alone does not make for work that gives you shivers of pride when you see it and gives others the sense that attentive thought went into the work.

As you work in this class, you need to be attentive to what you are doing. You need to be focused on this work and nothing else—for the time that you are working on it. You need to look at your work continually and ask yourself if it gives you pleasure and pride, if it is an expression of all you are capable.

The list that follows includes observations of the kinds of activities and attentions I have seen in others who have performed A-level work in this class:

Developing and sustaining lively intellectual engagement with the ideas and concepts of class

  • You come to class prepared to discuss the readings, with questions and opinions and considerations of consequences.
  • You actively seek feedback on your own work from others, before it is due.
  • Your work is on time and complete.
  • Your work shows that you think about and respond to the feedback you receive from me and from others.
  • You discover new resources for helping you do the work of class and share them with your instructor and classmates

Making steady and questioning application of the concepts and discussions in class

  • You continually look around to see how people interact with the world (both natural and virtual) and other people, and ask yourself which interactions seem to support the kind of world in which you want to live—and then you work consciously at making your work encourage those kinds of interactions.
  • You are continually attentive to how you and others learn and work to have the software you develop encourage others in their learning.

Taking personal responsibility for developing the technical skills you need in this field.

  • You recognize that the technologies of our time are changing rapidly (with consequences for the pocketbooks and attentiveness of all of us), and that there is therefore no way this class can be your only source for learning all the technical skills or critical abilities or all the computer applications you need or want.
  • You therefore work consciously to develop a questioning and personal relation with the technologies you use in your work, being carefully attentive to what *you* need to learn and the approaches by which you learn best.
  • You are continually on the lookout for designs that use the technology (including non-computer technologies) differently from how you do, so that you learn not only that your way is not the only way but you also learn to turn to others for support and assistance.
  • You make use of the considerable technical resources of the class and the lab. You ask others for assistance, you look through the materials provided, and you come to office hours with questions about how to do something.
  • You share that knowledge with others in your community of practice, whether it is the class itself as a community, or the various collaborative groups you may work with while taking Technical Communication courses.

Contribute to a final project that shows all of us—including yourself—that you are engaged, learning, and applying what we discuss in class.

  • Your final project may not be as complete as you would like, but what it does have is the result of much experimentation on your part: you have tested out different possible interactions and approaches, and have found one (or more...) that seems to you to encourage people to learn what you intended and to learn it richly.
  • Your final project is engaging: you have used experimentation and testing to redesign your project so that people *want* to use it and *do* learn from it.
  • Your final project is designed fully to achieve your goals: its buttons and interactions and screens have the appropriate level of polish, cohesion, and color for your audience and intention; its structure and interactions support the overall intentions of the piece.



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