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3035 - Technical Communication & Design Course Descriptions

The following list is alphabetical, by instructor last name. The course offerings below are for the Fall 2017 semester. Check the current Course Schedule.


The dominant perspective of this class is that the processes of writing and design are indistinguishable. In other words, this class will make the argument that creating good, well-functioning, human centered design comes as the result of a process that can also create effective texts. We will also make the argument that text is always designed, even if it’s with the rather boring convention of, say, this syllabus. And that means that all texts and design products are also fundamentally collaborative and rhetorical.

Linking writing and design means that an effective document always goes through some process. The idea that great texts—the great American novel, poems, sets of instructions, anything—are ever created sui generis from some genius’s mind is dead wrong. Formal documents always go through some process of invention, composition, and revision. Of course, this process can be more or less formal, more or less mental, and more or less linear. The process that I’ll ask you to try on will be a weak approximation of the mysterious creation of text, but will include the research, multiple drafts, peer review, individual revision, usability testing, editing, and reflecting continually and recursively.

CLIENT PROJECTS, Dr. Rolf Norgaard
A rhetorically informed introduction to technical writing that hones communication skills in the context of multidisciplinary design activities. The course treats design as a collaborative, user-oriented, problem-based activity, and technical communication as a rhetorical and persuasive design art. Taught as a writing workshop emphasizing critical thinking, revision, and oral presentation skills, the course focuses on a semester-long design project for real campus or community clients, and on effective communication with multiple stakeholders. Whereas other writing courses might ask you to “write about X,” this course asks you to draw on writing and speaking “to do X.”


This course isn’t just about words. It’s also about images, information structures, real-world problem solving, and the user experience. It’s about maximizing the efficiency, the effectiveness, and the beauty of the communications you’ll produce in your professional career.

In this class we will focus on writing as a design skill. As Don Norman wrote, “writing something that other people will understand and find easy to read [is] the same problem [as] designing something that people will find understandable and easy to use.” Just as the iterative process of design moves from ideas to plans to prototypes to products–refining those products at each step with user feedback–so we will practice the iterative process of writing, producing multiple drafts and improving each one with reader feedback.

In addition to producing alphabetic text, we will also learn key skills in graphic design, document design, and data visualization. We will write and design in several key genres of professional and technical communication, including job application cover letter, résumé, infographic, usability test report, and instruction manual. We will lay out each of our major assignments in Adobe InDesign, the industry standard software for graphic design and publishing.

We will also study the processes and genres of professional project management. We will generate professional documentation for each stage of a project, including project charters, project plans, time logs, project closing documents, and client satisfaction surveys.


Technical Communication and Design is a workshop in professional communication that hones writing and speaking skills in the context of functional design. Our approach to design will be collaborative, problem-based, and user-oriented. We will treat communication itself as a design art. As a workshop, the course centers on user-driven design projects that require ongoing communication with multiple stakeholders.

The course is designed for juniors and seniors in the College of Engineering, in science- and design-related degree programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, in Architecture and Planning, and in the Technology, Arts, and Media (TAM) certificate program. Business students also find the course relevant, given the focus on organizational communication and project management.

As in any writing endeavor, effective technical and professional communication grows out of sound, incisive critical thinking. For the professional, such thinking must be grounded in an understanding of not only the immediate rhetorical situation as it is driven by the work environment and the needs of clients, but also the professional and societal contexts that shape the field. As writers analyze issues within this interplay of contexts, they learn to exercise their abilities and responsibilities as individuals within the profession, and more broadly as citizens within a community.

Technical Communication and Design is a rhetorically informed introduction to technical writing that hones communication skills in the context of technical design activities. Students will be treating Design as a collaborative, user-oriented, problem-based activity, and Technical Communication as a rhetorically informed, persuasive skill. Taught as a writing seminar emphasizing critical thinking, revision, and oral presentation skills, the course focuses on client-driven design projects and effective communication with multiple stakeholders.