Project 2: Interrogate the Interface

Worth 20% of your final grade

Important Dates

  • Feb 11: BEFORE CLASS, sign up for the tool you will interrogate
  • Feb 18: Draft site for class discussion (draft and providing feedback counts as the in-class writing for that day)
  • Feb 20: Sign up for a presentation time slot in class
  • Feb 25: Due date for Project #2 Essays (no in-class writing for that day)
  • Feb 26 or Mar 3: Email me the URL to your Google Slides by midnight on the day before your presentation (no grace period)
  • Mar 4: Deadline for Project #2 (the last day you can submit your essay)

The Project Assignment


An interface, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is a “point of interaction or communication between a computer and any other entity, such as a printer or human operator.” As a “human operator,” you encounter “user interfaces” every day: your cell phone, your laptop computer, the CD player in your car, an ATM machine — all of these devices have interfaces that have been carefully designed to facilitate specific technical functions and guide you, the user, through the range of available tasks within the system.

The word interface has become so common in our vocabulary that we now use it as a verb. Most of us “interface” with so many different systems on such a regular basis that the design and functionality of these interfaces becomes invisible. This assignment asks you to step back and critically examine the interface of a web-based service or mobile app, document your findings in an analytical essay, and present your conclusions to your classmates in a short, rapid-fire oral presentation.


Step 1. Choose an application
To help us become familiar with as many applications as possible, each student in the class will analyze a different application. The following applications are pre-approved for this assignment:

  1. Canva
  2. CodePen
  3. Cowbird
  4. Creatavist
  5. Dipity
  6. Draft
  8. Editorially
  9. EWC Presenter
  10. Froont
  11. Haiku Deck
  12. Infogram
  13. Markable
  14. Mondrian
  15. Onword
  16. Paper
  17. Piktochart
  18. Pixlr
  19. Pixton
  20. PopcornMaker
  21. PowToon
  23. Prezi
  24. SoundCloud
  25. Storify
  26. Storybird
  27. Sumopaint
  28. Tridiv
  29. Video Star
  30. WeVideo

In addition to considering the applications on this list, you can seek out additional applications designed to support writers, photographers, filmmakers, storytellers, public speakers, programmers, etc. As you begin thinking about which application you would like to study,  I encourage you to select an application you have never used before but which you would like to explore.

Before class on February 11, go to the Project 2 Sign-up and make your selection. If you would like to choose a tool that is not on the list, email me the name of the tool by 8 AM on February 11 (to give me a chance to make sure it will work for the project). Assignments will be finalized in class on Tuesday, February 11.

Step 2. Conduct the analysis
Once you have been assigned an application, you will begin analyzing its user interface. Exploring the basic functionality of the application is a good place to start, but your analysis should not merely describe what the application does; it should investigate how the application controls or influences your interaction with it and/or other users of the application.

Considering two broad questions might help you get started:

  1. What are the affordances of the application?
    In other words, what does the application allow or encourage you do? What does it make easy for you?
  2. What are the constraints of the application?
    In other words, how does the application limit your ability to do things you want to do? What does it make difficult for you? Think about which features of the application are intuitive and which features are “hidden” or only available to advanced users. If the site has a mobile version, visit it in your phone’s web browser or download the official app. What shortcomings do you notice when you use the mobile version? Does the mobile version have any advantages?

Rather than thinking abstractly about these questions, create an account on the site and begin exploring the user interface of your application, taking notes and screenshots as you do so. The answers to these questions will form the basis of your essay, which is the primary component of this assignment.

Step 3. Draft your essay
The parameters for this essay are intentionally broad, which should allow you to focus on the aspects of your application you find most relevant and interesting. Keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Remember that your essay should analyze and evaluate the application, not just describe or summarize it. You’re the analyst, not the play-by-play announcer.
  • Using first-person voice (“I”) may be appropriate in places, but your essay should not merely express your personal opinion about whether or not you like the application. Rather, it should thoughtfully critique the application’s interface and the company (or group of people) that designed it.
  • You will publish your finished essay on your WordPress site. Because it is a webtext, you may break it up over more than one page on your site. Make wise design decisions to help your audience (everyone in the class) understand the application you are interrogating.
  • Your essay should be 1200–1600 words and should include screenshots of your application that enhance and reinforce your written text.

Step 4. Present your findings
You will present your findings to the class in a five-minute presentation, which will include a slideshow that focuses primarily on visual elements (that is, the use of linguistic elements on the slides should be limited to a title slide, image credits, and only occasional highlights).

PACE: You can structure your analysis as an Ingite-style presentation. This presentation format consists of 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds; hence, every presentation will be exactly five minutes long. (Download the 20-slide Google Slides template.) If you want a slower pace, you can create a slideshow of 15 slides that auto-advances every 20 seconds or a slideshow of 10 slides that auto-advances every 30 seconds. 

CONTENT: Your presentation shouldn’t be just a cheerleading routine (“This application is great! Look what it can do!”) or a smear campaign (“This application is evil! You shouldn’t use it!”). Rather, you should briefly describe what the application does, then discuss how the interface improves the user experience (its affordances) and how it limits the user experience (its constraints). You may also want to include some type of recommendation (which will help your classmates decide whether or not they should use this application) or comparison (which will help us place your application on a continuum of other applications that perform similar functions).

Example Projects

Grading Criteria

  • Deliverables: Does the essay include linguistic text and screenshots? Does the slideshow include the required number of slides and focus primarily on visual elements? Does the project show effort?
  • Essay:

    • Organization: Does the essay exhibit a logical structure and organization? Does it introduce the application to readers who may not be familiar with it before analyzing and critiquing the application?
    • Analysis: How effectively does the essay analyze (not summarize) the affordances and constraints of the interface?
    • Critique: Does the essay draw conclusions and provide recommendations that would help users of the application make informed decisions about their computer habits?
    • Multimodality: Does the essay incorporate visual elements (screenshots) in ways that strengthen and extend the written arguments? 
      • Are all images clear? Are they correctly shaped, cropped, and sized? Are they placed effectively in the project?
      • Are font, text sizes, and color schemes implemented consistently throughout the project?
      • Are “white” space, graphic elements, and alignment used effectively?
      • Is the overall design clear, appropriate to the audience and purpose, and easy to use?
      • Does the design and the design elements add to (rather than distract from) the information?
  • Presentation:
    • Content: Does the presentation effectively explain the application to a general audience? Is it obvious that the presenter knows the subject?
    • Delivery: Does the presenter speak clearly and confidently? Is it obvious that the presentation has been carefully planned and rehearsed?
    • Multimodality: Does the presentation effectively blend images and spoken text? Does the presentation maintain a consistent visual appearance?
      • Are all images clear? Are they correctly shaped, cropped, and sized? Are they placed effectively in the project?
      • Are font, text sizes, and color schemes implemented consistently throughout the project?
      • Are “white” space, graphic elements, and alignment used effectively?
      • Is the overall design clear, appropriate to the audience and purpose, and easy to use?
  • Correctness in Essay and Presentation:
    • Does everything work (e.g., no broken links, the images load properly)?
    • Has all content been finalized and proofread?
    • Are sources cited accurately?
    • Are effective alt tags used for images?
    • Are spelling, grammar, and punctuation correct (or if relevant, appropriate for the situation)?


This assignment was adapted from Quinn Warnick’s Writing and Digital Media, English 3844: Fall 2013: Unit #3: Interrogating the Interface, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License.