WRT 400: Information Design was inspired by an increasingly fast paced digital world: “Writing no longer means writing only on paper or writing on a word processor; it means writing in digital images and sound, it means writing on the web, with status updates, texting, tweets, and the works. It means communicating information in varied ways to variable audiences,” says Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Krista Kennedy. Kennedy expressed that most students tend to spend most of their time thinking about how to write articles and essays but don’t necessarily focus on ways to present their information visually and in a way that is user friendly. The class was intended to inspire students to broaden their ideas of writing and to teach them how to create accessible text that can guide users through tasks and present clean, clear information.
Kennedy applies her technical communication background to the classroom. Information Design was a follow up to the pilot class she taught last spring entitled WRT 427: Emerging Technologies in Professional and Technical Communication. Both of these hybrid classes introduced students to the concept of effectively communicating information in a broad range of mediums and emphasized digital environments by placing half of the class interaction online. Kennedy’s Information Design class focused on moving away from the general Microsoft Word document default and exploring new mediums to communicate information, such as blogs, videos, instructional note cards, large-format posters, etc. The class was designed to illustrate to students that, while it is possible to be a very good writer stylistically, they can still fall short when it comes to sharing and communicating their ideas. Professor Kennedy reiterates this by explaining, “The prose may be perfect but if it is just not navigable and if it doesn’t reach out to people that learn in different ways then you are not communicating as effectively as you could.”
The students in Kennedy’s class worked on several different ways to display information such as maps, signs, guides, kits, iPhone apps, refrigerator magnets, and even coasters. The course gave students the opportunity to explore and develop ideas and see where these ideas took them. Kennedy has found that her favorite part about teaching the course is to watch the process from proposal to finished product. The students became very enthusiastic about the evolution of their projects in addition to the evolution of their peers’ projects. Each week the students created extensive discussions through blogs and had interchanges about ideas and concepts, feeding off peer feedback. Now students are even considering continuing their education in technical communication and information design.
Kennedy’s goal was that students left this course understanding the importance of design and usability in communicating information. In order to further explore this, several students joined her in an optional visit to the Everson's recent Herman Miller exhibit, where they examined the ways the company communicated the design and rhetoric of their furniture. Kennedy also hopes that all her students will walk away from all her courses with ideas about how rhetorically tailoring their messages to specific media can help them best reach their intended audiences. After all, Kennedy says, “What makes a good status update isn’t the same as what makes a good brochure or a good essay.”
—story by Samantha Paige Stark
Writing Program Intern & WRT 400: Information Design Student