Fall 2020 // Thursday 10:30–1:10 // Online

Intro to Web Design



This is the syllabus for the Fall 2020 class of AVT 217: Intro to Web Design (3 credits). The instructor is Michael McDermott, can be reached by email at mmcderm8 at gmu dot edu, and can be met with at his virtual office hours on Mondays from 12–2, Wednesdays from 10–12, and Fridays from 12–2.

Delivery and Timing

This is a synchronous online course. That means we will meet once a week on Thursdays from 10:30 to 1:10. These meetings are required and will also be recorded for later review. The class is currently scheduled to run for 15 weeks and you can expect to work for 6 hours outside of class each week.


AVT 180: New Media in the Creative Arts, AVT 110: Digital Design Studio, or permission of instructor.

Course Description

An introduction to contemporary web design. Students gain hands-on experience with design issues specific to web-based forms as well as begin to write and understand the languages that make the web work.


Building a website or web application is a multi-disciplinary design process that encompasses visual design, interface design, interaction design, content development, as well as business strategy. Exceptional web design is attentive to these different facets whether it is viewed from the perspective of product design, graphic design, or industrial design. Every student stretches themselves in this course.

This hands-on course teaches students how to conceive, prototype, design, and program websites. In order to better understand the possibilities and constraints of browser-based design, participants of this course learn how to build websites using modern web standards. This is not a course that will teach students about building websites that use a CMS or framework like Wordpress, Squarespace, Bootstrap, or any others. All projects in this course will be coded from scratch.

Participants should finish the course with a working knowledge of HTML and CSS, improved web imaging, layout, and typography skills, and familiarity with more technical facets like jQuery and responsive design.



The textbook for this course is available for purchase/rent on Amazon and other online retailers but is also available as a digital copy through the Mason library. Instructions on how to access the digital copy are on Blackboard. There is also an associated website for the book at learningwebdesign.com

Learning Web Design: A Beginner’s Guide to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Web Graphics 5th edition by Jennifer Niederst Robbins ISBN: 978-1-491-96020-2


There are many different programs available to use for the work in this class. The programs I will be using are highlighted but alternatives are also listed.


Adobe XD, Figma, Sketch, Illustrator, Lunacy. We will not be using Photoshop for design work in this course.


Atom, Sublime Text, Brackets. We will not be using Dreamweaver, Notepad, or TextEdit in this course.


Zoom (holding class sessions), Slack (communication platform), Github Desktop (updating your website), Chrome, Safari, or Firefox (viewing your website, Internet Explorer is not an acceptable browser for this class)


This course consists of many shorter exercises, a few projects, quizzes, and discussion board requirements. The exercises begin to familiarize students with specific concepts and ideas and the projects are a synthesis of the concepts and ideas we will cover. Quizzes will review information from the lessons and the discussion board posts will be used for critiques and analysis of relevant topics.

project 1: linking narrative

The structure of a website is equally as important as the design of a website. Getting from page X to page Y needs to be intuitive and simple. This structure also needs to be reflected on the back end. Create a site that takes the user through a narrative using text, links, and multiple pages. More information here.

project 2: website for a [blank]

Students will conceptualize, plan, design, and code a multipage website using one of several provided topics. The project will build off of the lessons each week and be a synthesis of the concepts and skills learned over the course of the semester. Each students project will be unique in content and form but be based on the same set of requirements. More information here.

project 3: single serve


The schedule on this site is an outline of what we will be covering this fall with due dates. It is subject to additions and subtractions.

Virtual Meeting Guide

A few points to guide our virtual meetings. These are not demands but a guide to help us have a more engaging and productive meeting.

  1. Treat this as much like coming to class on campus as as you can.
  2. Join early. We are most likely at home so you shouldn’t have any extra traffic, long lines at the coffee shop, etc. Joining early will also help you work out any technical issues you might be experiencing with audio and/or video.
  3. Mute yourself upon entering the room unless, of course, you are talking. Remember when you start to talk to unmute yourself. Different platforms have different methods for muting and unmuting but it is typically easy to find in the main set of buttons in the bottom middle of the window.
  4. Have your video turned on with you in the frame. It is nice to see faces in a time where we do not get to see a lot of faces. Having your video on also helps you stay focused and engaged.
  5. Wear clothes appropriate for a meeting with me and with your classmates. Again, treat this like you were coming to class physically.
  6. Headphones with a microphone can make it easier to hear others and for us to hear you.
  7. Try to be in a well lit space.
  8. Find a quiet place to join the meeting. I understand we might be sharing the space with others but try to find a space that is away from distractions and other interruptions.
  9. If you live with roommates or family, make sure they know that you will be in an online session and that you should not be interrupted.
  10. Feel free to use the chat but keep it relevant to what we are discussing.
  11. Pay attention to the meeting. Avoid multitasking.
  12. If you have a question or something to say, use the raise hand option and I’ll call on you. This will help us avoid talking over each other and make sure everyone gets to say what they want to say. You can also type your question in the chat.
  13. If your internet connection drops, re-join the session using the same link.
  14. Online meetings can sometimes be frustrating. If you encounter technical problems, try to stay calm. Don’t panic. We are all trying to do this together and we understand that sometimes it can be difficult to connect online. Don’t give up and keep trying. Use the chat window to communicate.

Attendance and Participation

You must be virtually, mentally, and verbally present and prepared. Punctuality is of prime importance. Since getting to class consists of sitting in front of a computer, there are few good excuses for being late to class, try and be as early as you can. Being early will help work through any technology issues that might come up. Tardiness will also affect your final grade—three late arrivals equals an absence. Please come to class prepared and ready to work for the entire scheduled time. Being prepared includes having all work uploaded and ready to discuss.

You are expected to attend all meetings of the class. I understand that sometimes issues arise that prevent you from making it to class. It is your responsibility to let me know that you will be missing class and to talk to a classmate to go over what you missed. You cannot participate if you are not in class. Attendance is 10% of your grade and will be calculated by your presence in the virtual sessions. Again, attendance and participation in class are extremely important.

Discussion of Work

You will need to take an active role in both the presentation and discussion of your work. We will review projects in a variety of ways and you are expected to be able to talk and type about your own work and give feedback to your peers about their work. The ability to discuss your work and other student’s work is a very important part of your education at Mason. Use this class to improve on those skills too.


Grades will be based on your attendance and quizzes (10%), participation (25%), exercises (25%), and projects (40%).

Attendance and quizzes (10%)

This percentage will be an average between your total quiz grade and your total attendance. If you show up to class and do well on the quizzes you will be fine.

Participation (25%)

This percentage will primarily be based on discussion board assignments and critiques with a smaller portion based on participation in our virtual channels (Slack and Zoom). As long as you are engaged in those channels throughout the semester you will be fine here. A note about this grade in Blackboard &emdash; the grade will start as a 100 and you will lose points for not participating. For example, if you are supposed to give feedback to a classmate by a certain day and you do not give that feedback you will lose points from the participation grade. There is no way to make up these points.

Exercises (25%)

The exercises are graded using two different rubrics depending on the type of exercise. One rubric will be used for an exercise based more on design and one rubric will be used for an exercise based more on coding. The exercise are meant to be quicker skill building assignments.

Projects (40%)

Each project will generate two different grades. One grade will be based on your ability to submit the required weekly work for the project. These weekly submissions use a simple rubric based on your effort, timeliness, and completion. The second grade will be based on the final project you submit and has a more extensive rubric. At the end of the semester you will have 6 total project grades that are all weighted equally for this 40%.

Technology Requirements

Note that this course requires/strongly recommends the use of Adobe Creative Cloud applications. With the suspension of in-person classes, CVPA computer labs will not be available to fulfill this requirement. If you do not already have an Adobe license and are interested in purchasing one or if you already have a license and need to renew it, please visit Adobe. If you cannot afford an Adobe license, you may submit a request for funding to the Student Emergency Assistance Fund. Please visit the Student Emergency Assistance Fund to apply.

Visual Voices Lecture Series

Visual Voices is a year-long series of lectures by artists, art historians and others about contemporary art and art practice. Visual Voices lectures are held on four Thursday evenings from 7:20–9:00 p.m:

For Fall 2020, this lecture series will be held online.


Due to Covid, Fall 2020 dates for Artsbus have been cancelled.

Students with Disabilities and Learning Differences

If you have a diagnosed disability or learning difference and you need academic accommodations, please inform me at the beginning of the semester and contact the Disabilities Resource Center (SUB I room 234, 703-993-2474). You must provide me with a faculty contact sheet from that office outlining the accommodations needed for your disability or learning difference. All academic accommodations must be arranged in advance through the DRC.

Official Communications via Mason E-Mail

Mason uses electronic mail to provide official information to students. Examples include communications from course instructors, notices from the library, notices about academic standing, financial aid information, class materials, assignments, questions, and instructor feedback. Students are responsible for the content of university communication sent to their Mason e-mail account, and are required to activate that account and check it regularly.

Attendance Policies

Students are expected to attend the class periods of the courses for which they register. In-class (including sections that meet online) participation is important not only to the individual student, but also to the class as a whole. Because class participation may be a factor in grading, instructors may use absence, tardiness, or early departure as de facto evidence of non-participation. Students who miss an exam with an acceptable excuse may be penalized according to the individual instructor’s grading policy, as stated in the course syllabus.

Honor Code

Students in this class are bound by the Honor Code, as stated in the George Mason University Catalog. The honor code requires that the work you do as an individual be the product of your own individual synthesis or integration of ideas. (This does not prohibit collaborative work when it is approved by your instructor.) As a faculty member, I have an obligation to refer the names of students who may have violated the Honor Code to the Student Honor Council, which treats such cases very seriously. No grade is important enough to justify cheating, for which there are serious consequences that will follow you for the rest of your life. If you feel unusual pressure about your grade in this or any other course, please talk to me or to a member of the GMU Counseling Center staff.

Using someone else’s words or ideas without giving them credit is plagiarism, a very serious Honor Code offense. It is very important to understand how to prevent committing plagiarism when using material from a source. If you wish to quote verbatim, you must use the exact words and punctuation just as the passage appears in the original and must use quotation marks and page numbers in your citation. If you want to paraphrase or summarize ideas from a source, you must put the ideas into your own words, and you must cite the source, using the APA or MLA format. (For assistance with documentation, I recommend Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference.) The exception to this rule is information termed general knowledge—information that is widely known and stated in a number of sources. Determining what is general knowledge can be complicated, so the wise course is, “When in doubt, cite.”

Be especially careful when using the Internet for research. Not all Internet sources are equally reliable; some are just plain wrong. Also, since you can download text, it becomes very easy to inadvertently plagiarize. If you use an Internet source, you must cite the exact URL in your paper and include with it the last date that you successfully accessed the site.

Writing Center and Library Resources

Students who are in need of intensive help with grammar, structure or mechanics in their writing should make use of the services of Writing Center, located in Robinson A116 (703-993-1200). The services of the Writing Center are available by appointment, online and, occasionally, on a walk-in basis.

The Collaborative Learning Hub Located in Johnson Center 311 (703-993-3141), the lab offers in-person one-on-one support for the Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, Blackboard, and a variety of other software. Dual monitor PCs make the lab ideal for collaborating on group projects, Macs are also available; as well as a digital recording space, collaborative tables, and a SMART Board. Free workshops are also available (Adobe and Microsoft) through Training and Certification; visit ittraining.gmu.edu to see the schedule of workshops and to sign up.

Provisions Research Center for Art & Social Change is located in Room L001 of the Art & Design Building. This student resource assists students in exploring and engaging new models for artmaking that lead to a more inclusive, equitable, and connected society. Provisions is also a hub for developing art projects through Mason Exhibitions, the Mural Brigade, and art partners throughout the metropolitan area, and beyond. Feel free to come in and browse the library, study, eat, etc. The University Art Librarian, Stephanie Grimm, will have regular hours in Provisions on Tuesdays at 2pm. Contact Don Russell for more information: drusse10@gmu.edu

Responsible Employee Disclosure

As a faculty member, I am designated as a “Responsible Employee,” and must report all disclosures of sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and stalking to Mason’s Title IX Coordinator per University

Policy 1202. If you wish to speak with someone confidentially, please contact one of Mason’s confidential resources, such as Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC) at 703-380-1434 or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at 703-993-2380. You may also seek assistance from Mason’s Title IX Coordinator by calling 703-993-8730, or emailing titleix@gmu.edu.

Commitment to Diversity

This class will be conducted as an intentionally inclusive community that celebrates diversity and welcomes the participation in the life of the university of faculty, staff and students who reflect the diversity of our plural society. All may feel free to speak and to be heard without fear that the content of the opinions they express will bias the evaluation of their academic performance or hinder their opportunities for participation in class activities. In turn, all are expected to be respectful of each other without regard to race, class, linguistic background, religion, political beliefs, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age, veteran’s status, or physical ability.

Statement on Ethics in Teaching and Practicing Art and Design

As professionals responsible for the education of undergraduate and graduate art and design students, the faculty of the School of Art adheres to the ethical standards and practices incorporated in the professional Code of Ethics of our national accreditation organization, The National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

Important Deadlines:

Once the add and drop deadlines have passed, instructors do not have the authority to approve requests from students to add or drop/withdraw late. Requests for late adds (up until the last day of classes) must be made by the student in the School of Art office (or the office of the department offering the course), and generally are only approved in the case of a documented university error (such as a problem with financial aid being processed) , LATE ADD fee will apply. Requests for non-selective withdrawals and retroactive adds (adds after the last day of classes) must be approved by the academic dean of the college in which the student’s major is located. For AVT majors, that is the CVPA Office of Academic Affairs in College Hall.