Syllabus v3.0 20210127

ADS 560 / VISC 525, Designing Digital Products, Spring 2021
Tuesday / Thursday @ 3:20-5:50pm
Matt Kirkland / / Zoom Link

Designing Digital Products

This studio course is an introduction to designing digital products for the screen. We'll follow a human-centered iterative design process that includes research, concepting, prototyping, testing, visualization, and refinement.

Over the course of the semester we'll tackle two projects with step-by-step guided processes, and then we will each create a single independent project. Along the way you'll post your work to a single website, and by the end of the semester you'll have a good document showing everything you accomplished.

This syllabus will be updated with more information throughout the semester. I'll let you know in class about updates.

Course Components


Over the semester, we'll tackle three larger projects, which will be made of smaller, discrete tasks. As the semester progresses, you'll have more flexibilty to use the tools appropriate to your project.

Fearless Inventory

In this intro project, you will design a tool for warehouse or store inventory. Your solution will assist a user in reconciling a putative inventory quantity with actual in-person inventory in a physical location. You will design the tool for an imaginary brand of your choice. We'll flesh out the details together.

We will: research the problem and propose solutions. Create workflows and wireframes. Do some lightweight user testing. Develop mockup proposals and prototypes. Test and refine those prototypes.

Desk Reservations

In this project, we will design a tool for on-demand desk assignments at a large company. Your solution will need to accomodate desk reservations, travel, in-person searches, and other user requests. The solution will have two user levels with different functional requirements. Your design will need to complement a large existing brand.

We will follow the same general process as the Inventory project, but this time you'll know what you're doing.

Niche, Please

You will propose and define a software tool that targets a niche audience or subject matter, which you will pitch to the class. If you can't settle on a niche for yourself, I'll have a few projects you can choose from.

We will follow the same general process as above, but with more freedom and flexibility. We will regularly show our work.


About once per week you will have an assigned 'text'. Some of these texts are actual readings, others will be videos and other interactive activities. They will be online and easily accessible. For each text, you'll write a short response, and post it to your site. Consult the reading list below.

Project Submission

You're going to turn everything in by posting it on your own website.

You'll be maintaining your site throughout the semester, and making choices about information architecture, design, and layout. It will be a daily tool that you use to submit work, but also a final document showing your work for the semester.

This means: you will need to find a website tool! We'll walk you through some options. You can use an off-the-shelf website builder or you can code your own.

Don't be afraid.

Teach an Old Person Something

Once per class meeting, I'll randomly select one person to tell me something they think an old person doesn't know. You'll need to have this prepared in advance, so figure out your thing now.

Take a couple of minutes and explain something to me that you think I - a 40-year-old white dude, married, kids, full-time job, mortgage, etc - doesn't know or understand. A niche subculture on instagram? Some weird piece of slang? Some kind of technology? Music? Art? You don't need to prepare anything besides your idea, just have something ready when you walk in the door. You'll need to do this about twice per semester.

Consider this an exercise in designing for an audience. You'll get better at this as we go.


I'm very convinced that you need to be good writers and readers if you're going be good designers - because that's how design happens in the real world. You'll always need to explain why your solution works, and show us how.

I'll assign some things to read or watch or listen to throughout the semester. They'll all be online. For each 'text', you'll need to write a short response, and post it on your website. Your response can be short or long, but needs to include:

  • NEW: something in the text that was new to you.
  • RIGHT: something in the text that you agreed with.
  • WRONG: something in the text that you disagreed with.

This shouldn't take you more than say, 30 minutes.

List of Texts »

Spring 2021 Schedule

This is a rough plan; we'll go faster if possible! This schedule will be updated as we progress through the semester.

Wk Dates Target
1 Feb 2 / 4 Intro, syllabus, etc. Show & tell. Kick off Inventory Project
2 Feb 9 / 11 Inventory sketches, first round of feedback
3 Feb 16 / 18 Inventory Wireframes & Prototypes
4 Feb 23 / 25 Wireframe Prototype & User Testing
5 Mar 2 / 4 Getting Visual
6 Mar 9 / 11 Wrap up Inventory
7 Mar 16 / 18 Start Desk Reservations
8 Mar 23 / 25 Desk Reservations
9 Mar 30 / Apr 1 No Class. Use this week to work on Desk Reservations!
10 Apr 6 / 8 Reservations Async reviews only, no class meetings
11 Apr 13 / 15 Wrap up Reservations!
12 Apr 20 / 22 Niche project!
13 Apr 27 / 29 Niche project
14 May 4 / 6 Last Week of Classes. Niche Project.
15 Thursday May 13, 1:30pm FINAL Meeting Final Niche Project due.


House Rules

We're all adults here, let's act like it. Put your phones down unless we're using them for something in class.

Zoom Stuff

This is a studio course, which means we're learning by doing, and experiencing that all together. So turn on your web cam, look us all in the eye. We've got a fairly small group, so this should be pretty manageable.


KU has rules about attendance and we'll follow them. We're all working together here so it's important that you actually show up. Don't be late, it's rude to everybody.


We'll follow the regular KU Design departmental policies: You can reference them here.


Grades will be based on performance and participation. Show us all that you're working hard and you'll be fine. Turning things in on time is important; we're going to move along with deadlines, so if your work falls behind you'll lose points for this.

  • 15% inventory project
  • 25% hotdesk project
  • 30% final niche project
  • 10% your site's final state
  • 20% class participation / readings / stuff is turned in on time

Getting Started

On our first day, we'll walk through our objectives for the class and do these set up exercises:

  • Show us your sketchbook
  • Show us a past project - something that's most like a digital product. An app design? A website?
  • Get an account with Figma, if you don't have one already. With the Educational discount, you get a free pro account, you'll just need to use your KU address to sign up. Sign up for a new account at Figma with your address, and then apply for education status here
  • Get / talk about your website options.