CTIN 541 Course Website

Note: This information is supplemental to the full course syllabus, which can be found here.


Course Description

This course introduces students to core skills in interactive design, including conceptualizing interactive systems, prototyping, playtesting, and managing an iterative design process to meet specific and meaningful experience goals for users.  The overarching themes of the class are:

Preparation – Developing a vocabulary of interactive design concepts and formal elements of interactivity, deep analysis of interactive systems, focusing on the player/user experience, study of prior art.

Process – Setting experience goals, ideation techniques, brainstorming, prototyping methods, playtesting, iterative design, specification, presentation.

Practice – Developing & exercising skills, initiating projects, follow through, giving and taking critique.

Partnership – Developing a collaborative mindset, communication skills, sharing authorship, managing yourself and others. 

The course approaches interactivity as a participatory art form, with the designer’s goal to provide a specific and meaningful experience for the users and to respond quickly and creatively to feedback during the design process.  During the course of the semester, the exercises and assignments primarily focus on developing low- and non-technical prototypes of interactive concepts, experimenting with games, improvisational theater, fine arts, toys, interactive narrative, and real and virtual play spaces.

A central purpose of this course is to give students the opportunity to explore various types of design strategies, to discover their own strengths and interests, and to provide them with a wide repertoire of techniques upon which to draw in the future.  In addition, the course will introduce students to the “playcentric” design methodology practiced in the Interactive Media and Games Division, encouraging them to develop a focus on the central user experience that anchors their design process. 

This is a studio class and a large part of the class content will focus on in-class discussion, critique, and problem solving for individual projects.  As such, it is imperative that students treat the development of their design projects professionally and bring requested milestones to class on time, ready to present.  Students will be expected to participate actively in all discussions and critique sessions, giving and receiving feedback of the highest quality.

Throughout this class, students are encouraged to take risks and to look beyond prior art, in-class examples and common wisdom to explore new and different design ideas.  In many cases, students will be assigned to work in partnerships or teams and the quality of students’ participation within these groups is of great importance – perhaps as important as the final project.  Interactive media in all forms is a collaborative discipline and learning to communicate, share workload, learn from and help others excel is a core value in this field.


Overview of Assignments

Written Analysis & Ideation Assignments

  • Simple system analysis 1-2 pgs, due week 2

  • Board game system analysis 3-5 pgs, due week 3

  • System treatment 3-5 pgs, due week 5

Prototype Projects

  • Up the River variation, due week 7

  • Meaningful play prototype, due week 10

  • Narrative play 1st prototype, due week 12

  • Digital prototype (co-assigned as 534 final project), testable version due week 14 and final build and post-mortem due at final exam

Collaboration Assignment

  • Skill sharing, due week 15


WEek 1 - Lecture PDF

Overview of the class – introduction to each other, discussion of course goals and themes: preparation, process, practice and partnership, assign collaboration partners for skill sharing assignment, intro to systems thinking, analysis of simple systems.

Analysis Assignment 1:  Written analysis of simple system – due week 2

Collaboration Assignment:  Choose someone from whom to learn a skill, someone to whom to teach a skill (presentation of skills is due week 15)


week 2 - LEcture PDF

Formal elements of interactive systems – discuss outcome of simple system analysis, deconstructing Set, Connect 4, Tic Tac Toe, looking at more complex interactive systems, discovering the “play” in a system, assign play groups for board game analysis.

Reading due Week 2:  GDW Chapters 1 – 3, 5, Moggridge Foreword, Introduction

Analysis Assignment 2: Board game analysis – due week 3


week 3

Labor Day – University holiday, no class meeting or office hours

Board game analysis due on Tuesday of this week..


Week 4 - Lecture PDF

Experience goals and ideation techniques – discuss outcomes of board game analysis, dramatic and dynamic elements of games, intro to brainstorming techniques, in-class practice, discuss turning ideas into designs. (Guest Professor Sean Bouchard, no office hours this week)

Reading due Week 4:  Rules of Play Ironclad essay, GDW Chapter 4, 6, 14

Analysis Assignment 3:  System treatment – due week 5


Week 5 - lecture pdf

Prototyping strategies – discuss outcomes of system treatments, intro to prototyping techniques, asking design questions, getting the most out of prototypes, playing and analyzing Up the River, assign design teams for Up the River variation assignment.

Reading due Week 5:  GDW Chapter 7, Moggridge Chapter 10 - People and Prototypes

Prototype #1:  Up the River variation – due week 7


Week 6 - lecture pdf

Team building, planning, communication – discuss agile development, collaboration skills.

Reading due Week 6:  GDW Chapter 12, 13


Week 7 - Lecture PDF

Playtesting and the iterative process -- playtest & critiques of Up the River variations, guest critique.

Reading due Week 7:  GDW Chapters 9-11, Moggridge Chapter 1 – Tim Mott interview


Week 8 - Lecture PDF

Meaningful play – expressive elements of interactive systems, levels of engagement, serious games, values in play mechanics, Grow-a-Game exercises, ideation for meaningful play prototype.

Reading due Week 8:  DeKoven The Well Played Game, Forward - Chapter 1; Bogost “Persuasive Games;” Norman, Emotional Design – Three Teapots

Prototype #2:  Meaningful play – due week 10


Mid-term conferences (by appointment)

Attend IndieCade!


Week 9 - Lecture PDF

Public play – pervasive games, “big” games, theater games, and improvisation exercises.

Reading due Week 9: New Games Book, “It Began with WWIV;” “Sustainable Play” in Games and Culture, Fullerton, Pearce, Fron and Morie


Week 10

Playtest & critique meaningful play prototypes, guest critique.

Reading due Week 9: Moggridge Chapter 4 - David Liddle interview, David Kelley interview


Week 11- Lecture PDF

Narrative play – systems of storytelling, “narrative toys”, recombinant narrative exercises, in-class brainstorming for narrative play prototypes, design groups assigned for prototypes.

Reading due Week 11: Moggridge Chapter 5 – Will Wright interview, Rules of Play Chapter 26 – Games as Narrative Play

Prototype #3: Narrative play project 1st prototype – due week 12


Week 12

Playtest & critique of narrative prototypes, discuss iterating from paper to digital prototypes.

Reading due Week 12: GDW Chapter 8, Swink, Game Feel Chapter 1, “Defining Game Feel”

Prototype #4:  Digital prototype (534 projects) – due week 14


Week 13 - LEcture PDF

Agency and affordance – designing for a range of player agency, affordances of platforms and controls, in-class play experiments with imagining unique play experiences, discussion of progress on narrative play prototypes.

Reading due Week 13: Moggridge Chapter 8 – Hiroshi Ishii interview, Bill Gaver interview; Swink, Game Feel Chapter 6, “Input Metrics”


Week 14

Formal playtesting – usability process, playtest & critique of digital prototypes (534 final projects), discuss post-mortems.


Week 15

Working as a designer – discussion of areas of opportunity for designers, presentation of skill sharing assignment outcomes, class wrap-up.

Reading due Week 15: GDW Chapters 15-16


Final Exam:

Final game builds, playtesting notes and semester post-mortems due.