Designing Digital Scholarship Projects: CAT design principles

Design principles & entry-level tools to begin developing digital scholarship projects
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CAT design principles

DesignLab (UW-Madison) uses the acronym CAT to help folks learn about design.

  • Conceptual
  • Aesthetic
  • Technical


What kind of project are you making? What do you need to know about the particular medium/genre?

  • What is your project about? — What is the main idea, argument, or information you are trying to convey?
  • Who is your audience? — Is it your instructor? Your classmates? A community group? A high school class?
  • What is your purpose? – To convince? To persuade? To inform? To call to action?


What is the look or style or tone of your work?

  • Do the font, spacing, alignment, layout, color, illustrations, and other visuals support your ideas?
  • Are your design choices consistent and coherent?
  • Or, when your design choices aren't consistent and coherent, why aren't they?
  • Do your design choices connect with your intended audience(s)?
  • How do your design choices convey your meaning or purpose?

Think about your rhetorical situation

  • What's your attitude toward your topic, and how do you want to present yourself to your audience?
  • How do you want to come across to your audience?
  • Does your overall look or style or tone suit your rhetorical situation—and does it reflect your stance?


Did you use software and other tools competently?

  • If you used images — are they clear and properly scaled? (not pixelated, etc.)
  • If you used text — is it written at the appropriate level for the intended audience? Is it legible (both size and font)? Does it contrast with any backgrounds?
  • If you used sound — Is the audio clear and crisp? Are the sound levels balanced? Are the transitions unnoticeable?
  • If you used video — Is the orientation appropriate for the venue/viewing device? Is the picture clear?


DesignLab, "CAT Principles" (University of Wisconsin–Madison):

Andrea Lunsford, Let's Talk: A Pocket Rhetoric (Norton, 2021).