Art of the Web (DSGN 234)

Art of the Web (DSGN 234)

In this introductory digital design class, we’ll unpack the history of the internet and develop a framework for crafting memorable interactive experiences. We’ll start with a close study of the evolution of the internet – its origins as a read-only experience to the highly visual and expansive network of today. We’ll dissect the social conditions and cultures created online and consider the changing responsibilities of the online space. The idea of “scrolling too far” (Video credit: @whistlegraph) and research are important aspects of the class and we’ll facilitate an environment that encourages outside interests, experimentation, and learning to teach yourself. We’ll continually address the metaphor web design as architecture.

While we’ll explore developing content and tools for publishing online, it’s important to note that this is not a computer science course. Everything we explore will be done through the lens of graphic design, visual culture, and critical thinking.

Class Homepage


Nika Simovich Fisher


This course aims to familiarize students with the practice of graphic design across digital platforms, to develop an understanding of the evolution of the internet and its impact on visual culture, to understand the process of completing a project from research to presentation, and to acquaint them with the necessary design tools for a modern workflow. In this class, you’ll learn to think critically about your own work and the world it exists in. You’ll learn to develop your own research interests and a methodology of making graphic design.

Learning Outcomes

  • Learn to give and receive feedback effectively
  • Present your ideas clearly and visually
  • Use interaction to extend a narrative
  • Develop your perspective and visual style
  • Curate and create original content
  • Contextualize your work with the past and present
  • Develop a professional skillset
  • Begin to develop and understand a fluid and personal process


Past – Community & Self Expression (Weeks 1–8)

  • Net artists
  • Early social networks
  • Browser as canvas
  • Self publishing
  • Digital images

In weeks 1-8 we will focus on:

  • Early net history
  • Setting up and starting a new project
  • Tools (code editor, inspector)
  • HTML/CSS basics
  • Digital design software
  • Digital images
  • Typography with HTML
  • CSS animations and selectors
  • Layouts, positioning
  • Presenting our Work

Present – Systems & Responsibility (Weeks 9–15)

  • Systems and tools that already exist (Learning from them, differences and benefits of creating your own system vs using an existing one.)
  • Interfaces & prototypes
  • Shareable content, clickbait
  • Censorship and regulation. Free speech?
  • Accessibility — what does this mean and how can you maintain a visual point of view without isolating audiences? When do you choose who the audience is?
  • Decentralized web

In weeks 9–15 we will focus on:

  • Digital design process
  • Research
  • Multi-page systems
  • Programming using basic user interaction
  • Animations
  • Putting a website online
  • Creating custom content (videos, illustrations, etc.)
  • Documenting work (digital, print)

Students Will Be Assessed On Three Primary Items:

  1. Research and process: Students are expected to develop their projects through research and experimentation. Students should develop an independent habit of organizing themes and visual references and develop a personal library. Rather than landing on one idea right away, students are encouraged to experiment through form, typography, and content.
  2. Presentation: Each project will end in a final critique and have presentation check ins throughout. Students should always be prepared to discuss their ideas and have an organized and visual presentation ready to go at the start of class.
  3. Critique: Attendance to critiques is mandatory, and students are expected to actively contribute during their and their peers’ presentations.

Code of Conduct + Group Agreement

As a class, we will draft a communal agreement that sets guidelines for respect and etiquette in the classroom. Students are responsible for maintaining this standard throughout the semester. The University of Pennsylvania has a unique, representative group of students with different backgrounds and cultures. With this comes varying amounts of privilege and awareness, so it is important that we practice patience and empathy in the classroom. We must all continuously learn, be open to criticism, develop a consciousness about these discrepancies, and actively seeking equity and allyship in and outside of the classroom.

Distanced Learning Guidelines

Due to the COVID-19 situation, this class will be online for the entire duration of the Fall 2020 semester. We will incorporate both synchronous and asynchronous learning methods and utilize a variety of tools to help create a community in the virtual classroom. Aside from group critiques and guest lectures, we will typically avoid Zoom sessions that last over an hour. That being said, we should adopt a few rules for when we do meet on Zoom:

  • When possible, aim to be in a quiet, well lit room.
  • Utilize Zoom backgrounds if that makes you more comfortable.
  • Keep your video on unless we’re having a work session, in which case you should follow directions provided at that session.
  • Come to class as though you would in person (I.E wear appropriate clothing)
  • Use the “Mute” button when you’re not presenting and remember to unmute yourself when you want to speak.
  • Use “Do Not Disturb” when presenting to avoid sharing your text messages

Project Critiques

Every project will end in a critique. All students in class are required to participate in these reviews and discussions and missing a critique for any reason prevents you from getting full credit on the project. During the critique, two student peers will have active roles in each critique:

  • The First Responder – The first responder will kick off our discussion and respond to the presenter’s work.
  • The Note Taker – The note taker will summarize the group’s comments and write a digestible overview, which will be shared on a public document as a class resource. All students should participate in each discussion and provide feedback in the form of a neutral observation or value judgment. Please be respectful — our full attention will be given to the presenter.

Reading Responses

Throughout the semester we’ll have assigned readings to compliment themes and projects in the class. For each reading, we’ll have an assigned discussion leader who will create a short presentation on the themes of the reading – please note, this is a design class, and the presentation should be both visual and informative. All other students are assigned the task of discussion participants and will provide a question or comment on a shared Dropbox Paper document prior to the start of class.

If you’re the discussion leader you’ll

  • Prepare a presentation (PDF, Google Slides, Dropbox paper) that:
  • highlights the main themes of the reading
  • Explains the author’s background and highlights their contribution to art, design, and/or the internet
  • contextualizes the reading. What else was going on in the world at the time of its writing?
  • Presents a discussion question to kick off our meeting

Tools + Materials

  • Adobe Suite
  • Sketch or Figma
  • A text editor (I use Sublime Text)


Attendance is required. Students are expected to be on time and remain in class for the entire period scheduled. Work missed due to any type of absence is the student’s responsibility. Three or more absences will result in a failing grade. Three late arrivals equals an absence. If you absolutely must miss class, email me in advance.

Late Work

  • Project: Projects that are not presented at the critique can not receive full credit. If you miss the critique, your project will be one full letter grade down from its deserved score.
  • Reading questions: Late reading questions will not be accepted.


Final grades will be based on in-class participation, the originality and timely completion of projects, and the quality of in-class presentations:

  • A — exceptional work that reaches beyond the expectations of the course, a high level of participation, lucid articulation of concept and process, and zero unexcused absences
  • B — strong work and participation, competent presentations, some absences or room for improvement
  • C — acceptable fulfillment of the course expectations without any evidence of exceptional effort
  • D — failure to complete all assignments, weak participation or in-class presentations, unexcused absences

Project Revision

Participation in group critiques is an essential part of the class. Even if you’re not happy with your project, present it to the best of your ability and describe what your next steps are. As long as your project was turned in on time, you can resubmit it by the end of the semester for a different grade. To get an upgrade you should keep working on your project after the deadline and presentation and email me as soon as you have an update. All project revisions are due during the final reading week of the semester.

Academic Integrity

Please familiarize yourself with the University Code of Academic Integrity.