Course Syllabus

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SYLLABUS – Winter 2020

DGMD E-23 Website Planning and Strategy

Last Updated: 10/30/19, including Christene Fair as TA

Course Description

With all the coding courses available online, its not hard to learn the technical tools and languages needed to build a website. However, what is less clear is how to go about the process—what information belongs on the website, for whom does the website exist, and how should the website be organized are just a few of the questions that still need to be answered before coding can begin. In this course, students learn to plan and design a website, including choosing a target audience, defining site goals and reconciling these with user and business goals, establishing a brand and a tone of voice, and designing a page architecture. By the end of the course, students are able to plan and design a website or application, so when they are ready to code, they have a clear specification for the final product. This course is not a coding course—it focuses on the other aspects of web creation.

Course Prerequisite

Students are required to bring a laptop to every class.


Jen Kramer, Instructor
Twitter: @jen4web 

Christene Fair, Teaching Assistant

Contacting the instructor

Please email Jen with any personal issues that are affecting your class experience or with any information you do not wish to share with the rest of the class. Example: death in the family, severe illness, grading issues, etc.

Please do NOT email Jen with questions about class material. It is better to ask these questions in the forum for the class, where others can benefit from the answer as well. (See “How Class Works” below.)

Class Objectives

  • Learn proper planning of a website project, including strategy, content, branding, site organization, and user testing.
  • Understand the importance of planning a website before beginning a project.
  • Learn skills applicable to the Digital Media capstone.

Lecture Time

On campus
Mondays-Thursdays, 9 am-noon
One Brattle Square, room 203
Jan 6-9, 13-16, 21-23

No class on January 20 

Please note: We have some flexibility to make up any class time cancelled due to snow. All class time will be made up!

It is expected that you will attend all classes. Missed classes will result in a diminished participation grade, described below.

How Class works

  1. This class is strictly in person. It is designed to fulfill residency requirements for the degree programs at Harvard Extension.
  2. Since an entire semester’s worth of material is crammed into 11 3-hour lectures, be prepared to drink from the fire hose and learn quickly!
  3. It is expected you will attend each class for the full 3-hour period. Class cannot be recorded by Harvard Extension staff. If you do not attend class, you will miss the equivalent of more than a week’s worth of lecture material. It’s very difficult to make up these classes.
  4. I will use Canvas to post assignments, areas to ask questions outside of class via discussion, files and links from the lecture, and more. Please post your questions here, so we can all benefit from the questions and answers.
  5. This having been said, please email if you have personal issues that will prevent you from completing assignments, pertain to your grade, or contain other personal information you don't wish to share with the class. 

Jen's email is

  1. Be warned: each lecture builds on the last one. If you're late turning in an assignment, catch up as fast as you can. If you don't understand something, be sure to ask in the forum. DO NOT GET BEHIND. 

If you have any questions on expectations for this class, please ask!


Below 60

Graded assignments

There will be three projects in this course, as described below in the course outline. A detailed description of each project will be distributed by Wednesday each week, with the project due on the following Sunday at noon. (Sorry, can’t give you the whole weekend, as time is required for grading these assignments in a timely manner.) Each project is worth 30% of your grade. This includes the last project, which is considered the “final” project.

You will be working on planning a website for a single client through the class. You'll apply all of the class material to this single website you'll be planning. There is a pre-class assignment to get you started.

The remaining 10% of your grade is class participation. This includes coming to class, being on time, staying the full class, and participating in all class activities.

Graduate students will have enhanced requirements for all projects.

Homework assignments

There are no official homework assignments for this course. I will suggest additional videos, readings, and problems to work on. None of these are required to complete, and none will be graded.

Grading procedures

Projects are due on the dates specified in the course outline by 12:00 PM Eastern time on Sunday. It is expected that you will turn the assignment in on time.

You may turn in assignments 1 or 2 late. (Assignment 3 cannot be late as it is the end of the term.)

"Late" means 1 days late. All assignments are due on Sundays, so the "late" date would be Monday at 12 PM.

When your assignment is late, we note it in Canvas. There is no penalty for your grade for this late assignment. However, you may only turn in one assignment late. If another assignment is late, it will receive a zero.

Grades will be posted online in Canvas.

Regrading of assignments

If you are dissatisfied with a grade you receive on assignments 1 or 2, you may resubmit the assignment for review. This resubmission must occur within 1 day of receiving your grade.

You may have one regraded assignment per term. Generally, regrades occur because students do not follow directions about how to turn in the assignment. 

Regraded assignments are recorded in Canvas. There is no penalty for your regrade. However, you may only have one per term. 

Regrading is not available for the third (“final”) project due to grade submission timing.

Turning in assignments

Detailed instructions will be provided in each assignment.

Academic Honesty

Once again, the purpose of this course is to teach you the fundamentals of digital media design and development. This means that copying the files of other students and submitting them as your own work is not only a violation of school academic policies but a real shortchange to your ability to learn what you need to learn.

We fully expect that there will be no issues in this area. We ask that you help keep us out of situations where we might need to take action regarding plagiarism, cheating and other acts of poor academic integrity. 

You are responsible for understanding Harvard Extension School policies on academic integrity ( and how to use sources responsibly. Not knowing the rules, misunderstanding the rules, running out of time, submitting "the wrong draft", or being overwhelmed with multiple demands are not acceptable excuses. There are no excuses for failure to uphold academic integrity. To support your learning about academic citation rules, please visit the Harvard Extension School Tips to Avoid Plagiarism (, where you'll find links to the Harvard Guide to Using Sources and two, free, online 15-minute tutorials to test your knowledge of academic citation policy. The tutorials are anonymous open-learning tools.


The Extension School is committed to providing an accessible academic community. The Disability Services Office offers a variety of accommodations and services to students with documented disabilities. Please visit for more information.


Required textbook:

Before You Code book cover.

Before You Code: Validate Your Idea, Build a Better Product, and Plan Your Way to Success

by Heather O'Neill and Jen Kramer

Available online:


Course Outline (subject to change)

Class number



Basics/Overview/What makes a great website?

  • Basics/Overview
    • Why do you need a plan?
    • What goes into a plan?
    • Where should you start?
    • Who will be responsible for what?
  • Purpose: Why does this site need to exist?
    • Who else is doing this?
    • What makes yours different/better?
    • Is it personal or business? If business, what’s the monetary plan? What are the business goals?
    • What is the goal of the site? What do you want out of it?
  • Reading: Chapters 1-3


Personas: Guest lecture with Heather O'Neill, Pixels for Humans

  • Personas: Who needs this?
    • Why do they need this?
    • What are they doing now to solve this problem?
    • How does the site change/help them do this better?
    • What hurdles will they have to overcome to use the site instead of their current workflow?
    • How personas are created: Ethnographic interviews, ad-hoc personas, research-based personas
  • Reading: Chapter 4


Marketing, Branding, and Design

  • Market: What is the market like?
    • Are there influencing factors in the market that will have an impact?
    • Who has the largest market share?
    • How will this site impact the current market?

Branding and Design

  • Branding/Messaging/Tone of Voice
    • Who are you (the brand)?
    • What qualities do you want people to associate with your brand?
    • How do you want to relate to your customers/users?
      • What do they expect?
      • How do they communicate?
  • Design Principles
    • Which principles are important for your site’s success?
    • Are there any principles to avoid?
    • Note: Avoid overly general principles – these will not help with the design
  • Reading: Chapter 5


Information Architecture 

  • How should the information in your site be laid out?
  • What terminology and groupings are most relevant/expected from your users?
  • Are there terms to avoid?
  • What base expectations are your users coming in with?

Reading: Chapter 7


Assignment 1 due


Writing Website Content (with Martha Nichols)

  • Reference your personas & user flow as well as your brand identity and design principles
  • Use the IA to determine page types and total content needed
  • Use real content samples, not Lorum Ipsum – don’t leave this until the end.
  • Otherwise your content might not fit
  • You wont know what images/videos/icons you'll need if you don’t know about your content.

User Journey Maps

  • User Flows
    • What is the journey that users will take?
      • Where are the breakpoints in the flow?
      • Where are areas of flexibility or deviation?
      • Do any parts of the flow need to be restricted to one path?
      • Do different users have different journeys?
    • How does the flow fit in with the site architecture? Does either need to be adjusted?

Reading: Chapter 6


Martha will lecture and give short writing assignments to illustrate her points.


Workflows & Wireframes

  • Starting with a blank page
    • Design is more than colors: Wireframe first.
    • Use familiar design patterns
    • See what your competitors are doing
    • Steal.
  • Use real content samples, not Lorum Ipsum – don’t leave this until the end.
    • Otherwise your content might not fit
    • You wont know what images/videos/icons you'll need if you don’t know about your content.
  • Developing Content & Wireframes
    • One informs the other
    • Reference your personas & user flow as well as your brand identity and design principles
    • Use the IA to determine page types and total content needed
  • Reading: Chapter 8


Usability testing part 1: Guest lecture with Heather O'Neill, Pixels for Humans

  • Demo test
  • Creating a testing plan
  • Tasks & scenarios
  • Recruiting participants

Tour of Usability Lab, Lamont Library

Reading: Chapter 9, optionally chapter 10


Usability testing part 2

  • Facilitation & Observation
  • Practice!


Assignment 2 due


Analysis and prioritization 

  • KJ Method
  • Other analysis techniques
  • Running an internal analysis
  • What to do with all that feedback

Reading: Chapter 11


What next?

  • Iteration – content and design
    • Get into the details
    • Put on your design hat
  • Choosing colors, fonts, visual imagery, other visual elements
  • Final spacing, layout and branding


Final presentations

  • Business & Site Goals
  • Personas
  • Brand voice & tone/messaging guide
  • Design principles
  • IA
  • User Flows
  • Wireframes
  • Test Plan
  • Test Video (as available)
  • Final designs & content
  • Iteration backlog



Assignment 3 due


Course Summary:

Date Details Due