Web Thesis Project

Introduction

Course code : DESI1052
Course co-ordinator : David Watson
Course tutors : Cole Henley and others
Course weighting : 60 credits

This course integrates the work of the MA Web Design and Content Planning programme and gives students the opportunity to produce a major item of independent work. Students will conceptualise, research, develop and implement a live website as a practical illustration of the skills and ideas learned on the programme.

The course begins with a project proposal/concept, which becomes a firm brief, developed by each student and then progresses through research, planning and design development before moving through to implementation, monitoring, analysis and (finally) a report. The course runs for just over a year, starting in October and ending in October the following year. This gives students a reasonable amount of time in which to produce an effective and (hopefully) successful and lasting website.

At each stage, the project will be reviewed by staff and students and additional guidance and criticism given where appropriate. Dates for the staged crits are given in the course schedule.

The success of the project will be determined by how well it satisfies the original brief or how well students have coped with required changes to the original brief should that be necessary. The project will be judged by various relevant qualities including; the commercial logic, innovation of concept, the aesthetic qualities of the finished design, the appropriateness of the "look-and-feel", the user experience, the accessibility, the SEO success (PageRank and site traffic etc.), the clarity, logic and structure of coding, standards compliance, the appropriate use of web applications (CMS) and other technical aspects of the site.

A thesis sets out your "position" in the sense of your conclusions on a topic which has been investigated. At the end of the project, this will include an account of the research and case studies which support your conclusions.

Students will produce a written and illustrated report to document their examination of all the aspects mentioned and any others which may be specific to the project. Projects will inevitably vary widely from one student to another and there is therefore no pro-forma for the report. It is up to each student to formulate a structure which best suits their own project.

In some cases, the student's effort will be balanced between all aspects of the work (technical, graphic, content, functions, business plan etc). In other cases (e.g. when working on an existing website or when using a CMS) the student's productive effort will be less balanced. In every case, it is necessary to take an "architectural overview" of all aspects of the project. The word "architectural" is used because architectural design is a useful analogy for web design in that on small projects, building architects do everything but on large projects they work with structural engineers, services engineers, interior designers, landscape architects etc. For larger projects, the Web Thesis Project can take the form of a Prototype or students may elect to work with a specialist partner in order to deliver a working website.

Students will require their own commercial hosting and domain names as the resulting website will be independent of the University and will hopefully continue beyond the duration on the programme. In previous years, students have created a wide range of websites and this is an opportunity for students to develop a major web project that could become a successful and potentially lucrative website beyond the end of the MA programme.

Aims and Outcomes

The course aims to give students an opportunity to plan, design, produce and publish a website and to document the process. The project website can be related to a personal, professional or cultural interest.

On completing the course students will:

  • be able to carry out web-related research
  • be familiar with relevant software and professional practice matters relating to web consultancy
  • be able to assemble web content
  • be able to research, plan, design, publish, manage and maintain a website for a well-defined purpose
  • be able to explain and justify the web project in relation to its precedents (books, articles, electronic publications etc.)
  • be able to generate an innovative project

Project Outline

The project has 5 main phases:

  • Autumn 2014 - Concept: develop concept, brief and business logic.
  • Spring 2015 - Planning: project planning using Vitruvian principles and cultural context.
  • Easter 2015 - Prototype: present full draft of website (working prototype).
  • Summer 2015 - Implementation: complete a full implemention of website.
  • Autumn 2015 - Analysis: analyse traffic, site performance and other data.

Analytical Approach

The structure of the Web Thesis Project takes it's lead from the Vitruvian principles of Commodity, Firmness and Delight, to which we add the non-Vitruvian principles of Business and Cultural Context. These principles apply to websites as follows:

  • Business - A website need not be commercial but there must be a set of clearly defined aims, explaining the reason for being "busy" on the website and for someone (you or a client) providing the necessary resources of time and money for its production and maintenance. It must have a purpose, even if that does not involve creating a revenue stream.
  • Commodity - These considerations relate to the benefits, content, information architecture, accessibility and functionality a user will experience (UX) when visiting and using the website.
  • Firmness - These considerations relate to the technology (hardware, software and standards compliance) used to create, operate and manage the website. In many cases this may involve the choice of an appropriate content management system or a specific way of coding a website.
  • Delight - These considerations relate to the aesthetic design of the site: colour, line, font, pattern, symbolism, associations etc. The graphic design of websites is important but only as important as the other aspects of web design.
  • Cultural Context - A website is not an independent entity, it is a part of a world wide web of websites and its existance can be rationalised with respect to trends in contemporary culture and society. It is important for students on this programme to examine the "bigger picture" in order to understand the place their own work in a wider cultural context.

Each of the five principles above will be the subject of a crit or presentation, where students will explain how their proposed website satisfies the various requirements of each principle. Dates for the themed crits are given on the course schedule. Each principle will also be the subject of a report, delivered after the crit. These reports will ultimately form a part of the final Web Thesis Project report.

Course Schedule

The course schedule gives an overview of the timetable, weekly topics and submission dates for this course. There may be occasional changes, so check back frequently.

Completing students

2014-15 Session
DateRoomTitle
25th Sep 2014OnlineSubmit site analysis report (PDF)**
2nd Oct 2014 (all day)1021 (crit pit)Final presentations
9th Oct 2014OnlineSubmit final project report (PDF) ***
Oct 2014TBCExternal examiner
Oct 2014TBCAward board - students do not attend

On 2nd October, both student groups will meet. This will allow new students to see the final thesis projects of completing students and completing students to comment on the proposals of new students.

Full-time & part-time, second year students

2014-15 & 2015-16 Sessions
DateRoomTitle
2nd Oct 2014 (all day)1021 (crit pit)Final presentations
9th Oct 2014 (am/pm)1014/1016Applied Art for the Web
16th Oct 2014 (am/pm)1014/1016Applied Art for the Web
23rd Oct 2014 (am/pm)1014/1015Introduction
30th Oct 2014 (am/pm)1014/1016Applied Art for the Web
6th Nov 2014 (am/pm)1014/1016Applied Art for the Web
13th Nov 2014 (am/pm)1014/1016Applied Art for the Web
20th Nov 2014 (am/pm)1014/1015Concept
27th Nov 2014 (am/pm)1014/1016Applied Art for the Web
4th Dec 2014 (am/pm)1014/1016Applied Art for the Web
11th Dec 2014 (am/pm)1014/1015Crit #1 - Business
18th Dec 2014 Self Study
Winter Vacation (2 weeks)
8th Jan 2015 Self Study
15th Jan 2015 (am/pm)2007/2008Applied Art for the Web
22nd Jan 2015 (am/pm)2007/3003Applied Art for the Web *
29th Jan 2015 (am/pm)2007/3003Applied Art for the Web
5th Feb 2015 (am/pm)2007/3003Crit #2 - Commodity
12th Feb 2015 (am/pm)2007/2008Applied Art for the Web
19th Feb 2015 (am/pm)2007/3003Design insights
26th Feb 2015 (am/pm)2007/2008Cultural Context
5th Mar 2015 (am/pm)2007/3003Crit #3 - Firmness
12th Mar 2015 (am/pm)2007/2008Applied Art for the Web
19th Mar 2015 (am/pm)2007/2008Applied Art for the Web
26th Mar 2015 (am/pm)2007/2008Crit #4 - Delight
2nd Apr 2015 (am/pm)2007/2008Applied Art for the Web
9th Apr 2015 Self Study
16th Apr 2015 Self Study
Spring Vacation (1 week)
30th Apr 2015 (am/pm)TBCCrit #5 - Prototype
Summer Period ††
24th Sep 2015OnlineSubmit site analysis report (PDF)**
7th Oct 2015 (all day)TBCFinal presentations
15th Oct 2015OnlineSubmit final project report (PDF) ***
17th Nov 2015TBCExternal examiner
25th Nov 2015TBCAward board - students do not attend

All face-to-face sessions are 3 hours long and take place on Thursday mornings (am); beginning at 10.00am or afternoons (pm); beginning at 2.00pm unless otherwise indicated.

See the programme teaching schedule for an overview of all courses.

Project sub-reports are required one week after each presentation except as follows:

* Submit research report (PDF online).
** Submit analysis report (PDF online).
*** Submit final project report (PDF online).

At this time, websites should be independently hosted with their own domain name. It is recommended that a hosting solution and domain name registration be organised well ahead of this date.
†† During this period, websites will evolve from prototype to feature-complete. They should be monitored for site traffic, revenue etc. The implementation report will be published. Any additions, adjustments or improvements to the site should be made as required after launch.

Project Brief (what you must deliver)

There are just 2 assessed elements for the Web Thesis Project, the project website, which has a 75% weighting and a written report, which has a 25% weighting. Both elements are assessed at the end of the project. However, in order to guide you through what is quite a complex process, the final report is broken down into a number of components, consistent with the different phases of the project and these sub-reports should be written as the project develops as your record of the development process.

For each phase, you will give a presentation (PowerPoint or similar) that explains your approach and which covers the elements described below. During the presentation, you will be given feedback on your ideas from staff and students. After each presentation, you will write a report based on your presentation and the feedback you have received and this should be made available from your coursework homepage one week after the presentation. See the course schedule for the dates of each presentation/crit.

It is important to note that these reports are not an end in themselves; they form a record of your progress on the development of the project website and we expect to see evidence of development activity during your presentations.

The project phases and reports are as follows:

Phase 1 - Concept

Concept Presentation/Report

The concept report is where you describe your proposal and should include the following elements:

  1. A Twitter description of the project (140 characters maximum).
  2. An elevator pitch, which can be presented in less than 2 minutes and includes a description of the problem and your value proposition (how the problem will be solved).
  3. A longer account of the problem.
  4. A longer account of the value proposition.
  5. An explanation of your USP (unique selling proposition).

You may also wish to include a manifesto which sets out your approach and/or rationale for this website.

Business Presentation/Report

The business report is an explanation of the general business environment in which you are working. It includes an identification of competitors and/or description of the niche your site will fill, a discussion on revenue generation or what alternate value the project will deliver. It may also be beneficial to do a SWOT analysis.

Research Report

This report is primarily an analysis of the existing web landscape within your chosen field. It should include an analysis of cognate websites (those in the same niche, subject area or genre) and an analysis of non-cognate websites (those that provide similar functions but in different subject areas or genres).

You must also undertake a competitor analysis. How popular or successful are your competitors? What is their business model? Can you learn from this? Can you improve on this? What can you do that they are not doing? What problems that they experience can you avoid?

Phase 2 - Planning

Commodity Presentation/Report

The commodity report will describe the website content (text, images and other media), explain what form it will take, how it will be organised and how it can be found within the site. You will need to identify your target audience and explain how you have designed the content for them specifically, taking a user-centred design approach. Commodity is very much to do with user experience (UX) but does not concern itself with visual design.

Cultural Context Discussion/Report

An exploration of the wider context within which your project is set. For example, if your project was to do with blogging, you could explore the history of the blog, the different forms it takes, self-publishing, self-expression, the democratisation of opinion and what effect this has had on culture and on society more broadly.

Firmness Presentation/Report

Firmness is to do with the technical underpinnings of the project. In the context of a website this might include such topics as hosting platform, choice of markup doctype, level of CSS, use of javascript, choice of server-side technologies. In many cases, a CMS (content management system) may be needed. If so, an analysis of available options should be made along with an explanation of the rationale for your choice.

Delight Presentation/Report

Delight is all about the visual design of your proposal and may include an explanation of your logo/brand design, the choice of colour and typeface. You should consider the appropriateness of the look-and-feel of your website with respect to your target audience and the genre/niche you are in. Are you challenging convention with your design or conforming to type?

Phase 3 - Prototype

Prototype Demonstration and Schedule of Works

Immediately before the summer break, you will present a prototype version of your website. It need not be feature or content complete but it should demonstrate the general design principles that you have identified as important in previous presentations. You must also present a schedule of works so that staff can be confident that you understand what is required in order to turn your prototype into a fully-functioning website and that you have the time and expertise to action this. You should include an estimate date for site launch.

Phase 4 - Implementation

Implementation Report

The implementation report will describe how all the previous stages have come together to form a coherent website offering. Any problems encountered and any variations from the initial plan should be detailed. In addition, the implementation report should include a description of your SEO and social media strategies along with any other promotional/marketing efforts you have made or plan to make post-launch. There is no fixed date for publication of this report but it should be made available one week after the site launches.

Phase 5 - Analysis

Analysis Report

Once your site is up and running, you will want to analyse its performance using server logs, Google Analytics and other tools to monitor site traffic, bounce rates, demographics, user journeys etc. The analysis report describes the performance and you should explain whether the results you get are as expected or not. Do they indicate that you are on target to achieve your initial goals?

Final Report

The final report is largely a compilation of all the previous reports, corrected and updated to describe and explain the site as it stands and the process you went through. It should also include a conclusion, which should be used to describe the success (or otherwise) of the project and a reflection on what you might have done differently in the light of what you have learned. The report should also include details of your future plans for the website. The final report will be submitted for assessment one week after the final presentation.

The research which supports and explains your conclusions will contain references to a wide range of media. This must include print publications (e.g. books) and web publications but can also include references to podcasts and broadcasts. References to print publications must be done using the Harvard (parenthetical) system.

Word Count (how much should you write)

There is no fixed word count for these reports and different projects may require more or less explanation of the different phases. However, a typical final report will have a word count of between 10,000 and 15,000 words and therefore, each sub-report will be 1,000—1,500 words on average. There is no penalty for exceeding this word count but final reports should not exceed 20,000 words.

Assessment Criteria

Assessment will be based on the following criteria but, because of the individual character of masters level projects they will relate in different ways to each project. The School's grading is based on the following system:

  1. Distinction 70-100%
  2. Merit 60-69%
  3. Pass 50-59%
  4. Fail <50%

Quality (and quantity) of research

[A= the thesis is fully supported by research and testing, B= good use has been made of research and testing to explain and justify the thesis, C= there is just enough research and testing to justify the thesis].

Quality of business plan and website content

[A= a well-researched and imaginative business/funding plan well supported by evidence from comporable projects, B= a satisfactory business plan with a reasoned funding/business model, C= there is a plausible plan for funding the project].

Quality of technical implementation

[A= a well-researched and convincing technical plan/prototype for implementing the project, B= a satisfactory plan/prototype for implementing the project , C= a 'bare bones' plan/prototype for implementing the project].

Quality of functionality and usability

[A= the prototype/design provides for a high quality user experience, B= the prototype/design provides for a satisfactory user experience , C= the prototype/design satisfies the basic requirements for the user experience].

Quality of graphic design

[A= excellent quality and well-reasoned graphic design, appropriate to the target user group, B= satisfactory graphic design, appropriate to the target user group, C= basic graphic design for the target user group].

Quality of publication and promotion

[A= excellent plan for site publication and promotion, using the most appropriate marketing opportunities, B= satisfactory plan for site publication and promotion, using appropriate marketing opportunities, C= sufficient thought has been given to publication and promotion to launch the project website].

Resources

Delight

Firmness

Commodity

Business

Example Final Reports

The documents listed below are the final reports for thesis project submissions in previous years. Although they may be used as an indication of general form and content, they should not necessarily be used as templates for your own report because thesis projects vary a great deal. You should therefore design your final report to best describe the detail of your own project.

There are currently 4 files in this section

File Listing
  Filename Size (KB) Date Modified
Getting Lippy Final Report.pdf 4,078.1 28th May 2015
Martini Meets Final Report.pdf 9,453.6 28th May 2015
Pro Sports Watches Final Report.pdf 10,767.4 28th May 2015
Urban Foodie Final Report.pdf 2,163.9 28th May 2015

Key Texts

  • The content management handbook by White. MS
  • E-Business and E-Commerce Management: Strategy, Implementation and Practice by Chaffey. D
  • Web Marketing All-in-one Desk Reference for Dummies by Arnold. J et al
  • Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content That Works by Redish. J
  • Get into Bed with Google: Top Ranking Search Optimisation Techniques by Smith. J
  • The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation by Bacon. J
  • Deliver First Class Web Sites: 101 Essential Checklists by Kaiser. S
  • PHP Solutions: Dynamic Web Design Made Easy by Powers. D
  • Web Style Guide (3rd Ed.): Basic Design Principles for Creating Web Sites by Lynch. PJ Horton. S

Recent additions to the reading list (03-02-12)

  • Universal Methods of Design by Bruce Hannington & Bella Martin
  • Change by Design by Tim Brown
  • Design Thinking by Gavin Ambrose

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