The Sorry State of Web Design Education | December 2, 2009

A couple of weeks ago Wired Sussex invited me to a debate on the standard of design education in the UK. Being a topic incredibly close to my heart I literally jumped at the chance to participate. In order to create a sense of drama, the event pitted three designers against three educators in a heated and passionate discussion on the quality of design education in our industry.

I started by citing the recent ALA survey which showed that only half of the people polled felt that education was relevant to their work. For such a highly skilled profession, this is pretty shocking. However it’s understandable when you consider that most mid-to-senior level practitioners don’t hold a relevant degree as such things didn’t exist when they entered the profession. What really struck me was the response from those aged 19 and younger, 75% of whom felt education had little or no value. The statistics would seem to indicate that the education system is failing people at the point of their lives when it matters the most. From my own anecdotal experience I’d have to agree.

For the last 18 months Clearleft has been running an internship program to give young designers the practical experience they need. During that time I’ve interviewed dozens of people and the stories are almost always the same. Passionate designers and developers trapped in outdated courses where they often end up knowing more than their lecturers. One such student writes…

“The course is mainly just covering everything I have already taught myself. I’ve talked to my lecturers about this but none of them have worked in the industry, (worryingly) some are teaching themselves the stuff we are meant to be learning as they go so that they can teach us. “

Sadly, rather than being an anomaly, these type of comments have become par for the course. Consequently I’m seeing more and more young people eschew higher education in favour of the workplace. As somebody who understands the value of good education and looks back on their University times fondly, I think this is a sorry state of affairs.

So what has gone wrong? Well, for a start I see a lot of generic “web design” courses placing too much attention on tools and technology. Rather than teaching people Flash, Photoshop and Dreamweaver, we need to teach design fundamentals like grid layouts, typography and colour theory. We need to create students that are connected to the medium and have an understanding of the provenance of their craft; students who are schooled in critical thinking, who can deconstruct ideas, analyse briefs, solve problems and critique solutions. Just because you’re a digital designer doesn’t mean everything has to be digital, so we need people who can sketch out concepts, articulate their reasoning and defend their decisions both written and verbally.

In short we need to create good, well rounded designers.

Now I know we can do this as I’ve seen it happen in other areas. The UK has some of the top fashion schools in the world, producing graduates of outstanding calibre. We’ve got graphic design schools staffed by some of the top names in the industry, and product design schools creating our next generation of innovators. So why don’t we seem able to do the same for the world of interaction design?

More on this and other subjects soon.

Posted at December 2, 2009 2:45 AM

Comments

jgarcia said on December 2, 2009 4:06 AM

It’s quite ironic that I just happened to be part of a panel reviewing final projects today for the “Intro to Web Design Software” class at the institution where I work as the sole web administrator. To be quite honest, I went in with rather low expectations - based on what I had already heard from students who had previously taken the class. Disappointingly it was worse than I expected. I could go on for quite a while at the lack of understanding the students have of what web design is truly about.

However, the problem was not with the students - it was with the instruction they received. They weren’t taught appropriately.

I say all these basically to echo what you have already stated. You don’t make good web designers by helping them learn how to use Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Those are certainly helpful tools, but knowing how use a tool won’t help if you don’t understand the foundational concepts in the first place.

Justin Carmony said on December 2, 2009 6:04 AM

Andy,

I can say I feel the exact same things over here in the United States. I’ve been appalled at what I’ve seen taught in universities on the subject of “Web Design.” I have seen classes taught still using table based layouts, the use of font tags, and the requirement for an animated gif for a background image.

While I been thinking about it, I believe one of the hardest things about teaching web design is that it is really a hybrid of skills you need to learn. Web Designers can’t “just be a designer” and ignore the engineer side of web development, and vice versa. A good web designer & developer needs to be able to not only design great layouts & styles, but apply them in HTML/CSS, and work with scripting tools such as PHP/Java/ASP.NET.

Typically I’ve seen classes approach the subject from a technology stand point, since they can get away without really teaching any principles behind what you’re doing. Educators talk about HTML, the syntax for making a page, and talk about the different tags. That is honestly where I’ve seen most web design classes stop.

I think for web design to really be effective in education, they need to do the topic justice. They need to teach the basics of making a HTML page, but then dedicate a class to design principles, concepts on how to cleanly present information, usability techniques and how to improve it.

I look forward to reading more from you on this topic. Hopefully I can get some ideas for when our company starts our intern program to help them get a much more effective education.

Thanks for the post. :)

Tommy said on December 2, 2009 9:23 AM

I completely agree with the students in that survey and being a student in a web design degree I can see where they are coming from.

I was at Build and saw you speak, so you’ve probably met Nik Persson and Chris Murphy. These guys are two of the tutors in the design portion and are some of the best teaching staff I have ever had.

The degree is split into two parts, computing and design, the design staff have all worked within the industry and all know their stuff. The computing staff however have little experience and teach some useless subjects (Visual Basic, Director, etc).

There isn’t one thing that is wrong with the course, there are multiple things wrong with it. The good news is though that the years below me (I am a 3rd year and currently on a year placement) are getting taught a lot better material than what we got so hopefully the Standardistas show how it’s done.

Richard Eskins said on December 2, 2009 10:09 AM

Hi Andy, I’ve read a few articles like this recently and it is good to see some debate. I’m hoping to perhaps get a seminar/short conference on this subject up and running. As you know, Chris Mills at Opera is doing a lot of work in the area and The W3C is moving with the The Open Web Education Alliance.

As someone who has taught web design since 1996 I like to think I have some insight. A key thing to recognise is that ‘web design’ is taught in a variety of ways by a variety of different departments and staff. In my own University we teach it in what was essentially a ‘library school’, catering teach it as part of their marketing strand, our business school teach it, as does are and deaign, as do computing. We all come at it from a variety of angles. As a non-techie mine (and because of who we are) ours has always been about accessibility and usability, about the information. We provide very detailed briefs (acting like a client), if the students deliver they are marked well. If on top of that they can produce professional quality work (expanding their technical skills) the marks go higher.

We teach techie 18 year olds through to middle age mums. Sometimes either end of the scale end up doing this professionally. As for some of the charges, yes a lot of us are guilty. Personally my technical skills have moved little since teaching. I keep up to a certain level, am frustrated to a large extent but that is life. As an academic I have a lot of other pressures that get in the way. There is also a lack of funding for formal training.

As for the courses; Industry will never be fully happy as we will always be behind. In the UK it can take forever to change a course and it’s content. We do it in small increments. Such debates as this will help us make the right changes.

And then there is the students. My good students do fine. Many of the best chose not to go into the industry, getting snapped up elsewhere. Some use the degree to go into teaching. The techies who already knew a lot before they started with us often do well. Some who know less than they think don’t! These techies, if they work with us do still learn a lot of the theories, things they would have ignored (accessibility/usability), and putting it all together they become very employable.

My problem is the middle group. The ones who want to go into the business but don’t put the effort in. They don’t attend guest speakers from industry. An example, last year for Information Architecture, an ex-BBC IA who was involved in the last re-design.. does it get any better? About 10 out of 80 plus students attended. They don’t start building a personal site or blog. They don’t try and get experience. They don’t attend career fairs where we get local companies to come in to meet them. They don’t engage full stop.

That’s MY biggest problem. Anyway, Andy if you read this please drop me a line as I’d like to take this further.

Barry Bloye said on December 2, 2009 10:16 AM

While Web Design/Development is, relatively speaking, an incredibly new field, I don’t think that the lack of up-to-date, practical teaching is unique in University courses.

I spent three years studying for a BSc in Audio & Music Technology (‘99-‘02), and the practical teaching on anything audio- or music-based was simply “Go and get on with it.”

There were plenty of interesting lectures and some good teaching regarding basic electronics, but audio/music instruction was completely lacking. Students need to be able to work on their own initiative, of course, but it helps to be set in the right direction to begin with!

Iman said on December 2, 2009 12:02 PM

As a former academic, I have four coarse points to add to this debate.

(1)I had first hand experience of the expectation of students who sign up to higher education courses and expect to only be taught how to use the tools. They miss out on being receptive to a wealth of knowledge that could be offered to them so the academics naturally avoid this area. Anything that doesn’t show them how to use the latest tools RIGHT NOW isn’t seen as relevant to them. This is true of 80% of the students I ever taught (sadly). They seek quick gratification and haven’t adopted a healthy learning pattern during their further education years before they come to University.

(2) In art schools where they teach design I think you’d find academics who don’t practice design and arent familiar with the latest tools, nor do they have a great depth of knowledge when it comes to teaching design principles, (they often don’t exhibit a great deal of enthusiasm to learn design for teaching) they may intuitively know what kind of design looks good, but they can’t necessarily elucidate on the finer points or adopt an engineering or scientific approach as it doesn’t fit in with their teaching culture experience and desires.

(3) Pedagogy in design education and even something as simple as sharing best practices, is usually imposed by wider HE agendas not through logic or common sense. There’s little chance to discuss or learn how to teach a balanced curriculum. If you have a technical module to teach and your course suffers from modularisation (majority of HE courses) then you have to do your best to teach a balanced diet of Theory / Practice within that module, students don’t often make the jump to applying things they learn in one module to another.

Teaching in modular structures = learning modularity and knowledge compartmentalisation.

(4) poor management of resources and leadership, lack of cross disciplinarity, poor colaboration skills when cross disciplinary work goes on!

Christopher Murphy said on December 2, 2009 12:07 PM

Thanks Andy for some pertinent, albeit worrying, thoughts on this topic. It’s hard to argue against a sea of forcefully expressed opinion - from graduates - that the state of web design education is anything other than sorry.

For an industry as young as web design is it’s imperative that we get this right. Our industry, by definition, moves quickly and we must move quickly to deliver high quality and world class courses. You rightly point out that the UK has a track record for delivering graduates of the highest calibre in other design sectors, so why are we apparently not delivering in interaction design?

Speaking as an academic - who is also a practising designer and the author of a book on this very topic - I feel passionate about this. There are, I believe, pockets of excellence scattered throughout the UK, however, there are also too many example of courses teaching outdated material.

A university education should be something that delivers much, much more than mere technical skills. It should cover the fundamentals and the principles of design that, when delivered effectively, serve a designer for life.

We are striving to deliver this in our teaching (Tommy Palmer who comments above is one of our students). I’d be the first to admit there is still some distance to go and would welcome a healthy debate here to move the discussion forward.

Jason Weaver said on December 2, 2009 2:42 PM

Hi Andy,

Having been a student myself in a Web Design program at TSTC I agree that the courses are ridiculously outdated. The college always focused on adobe products and I was taught to use css hacks for IE. Some courses taught web standards and clean coding practices while others completely ignored them. Making for a confusing time for the really green students.

The fact is, I stopped giving the college my money at the point I new I could get better information about the industry from the web itself. Through doing small freelance projects I was able to build up my experience in the industry.

I think if you are passionate about Web Design you will find the right education you need by appreticing yourself to industry leaders like yourself.

Aarron Walter said on December 2, 2009 3:23 PM

Want to make a difference in web education? The revolution has already begun. All you have to do is contribute: http://interact.webstandards.org, http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/owea/

Leif Kendall said on December 2, 2009 3:33 PM

I think the same applies to many areas of education. It’s rare that courses teach modern techniques that can be taken directly into the workplace. Courses generally lag behind and focus on outdated ideas, rather than current, professional standards.

Richard said on December 2, 2009 3:38 PM

I agree that the focus of further education courses should be on theory and not the tools.

But the fact that courses focus too much on tools is not a new phenomena.

I studied Graphic Design Specialising in Design for Screen at Coventry University back in 95-98. The first two years were totally focused on traditional graphic design theory & practice.

However I spent most of the third year trying to teach myself Director 4 & Lingo as none of the tutors had a clue how it worked.

The first two years have served me much better than the third!

Maybe budding web designers should stay clear of IT/technology based courses and stick to graphic/communication design ones.

Marcus said on December 2, 2009 3:40 PM

Hi Andy

I think your comment “Weíve got graphic design schools staffed by some of the top names in the industry” hits the nail on the head.

Web design education won’t significantly improve until people like you retire from the commercial world and take up the education baton.

Cheers

Marcus

johannakoll said on December 2, 2009 4:47 PM

Thanks for the post, Andy.

My first degree was an all-round information design degree. We were trained for the real world - most lecturers were part-time and practitioners, we had a design studio approach, design briefs and pitches, etc. We were taught some basic skills, but it was expected that you learn how to use the tools yourself, or through peers (we did a lot of group work). Design critique was important, but there wasn’t enough of it, so I did spend one term in Berlin to make up for that. I got the most value from my artists and graphic design lecturers - not from the web and UX people… Another good thing was that we a) did real client projects and b) had to do an internship.

However, it was a lot of work, and there wasn’t enough time to think. That’s why I chose the Msc at UCLIC after gaining some work experience.

I created my own ideal education. An ideal for me would be a merge of my two worlds: a very practical degree, that on the other hand encourages design thinking, reflection, and looking sideways. I found that it’s the right lecturers who combine these qualities and infuse their students with passion. And those are hard to find.

We as practitioners must reach out and offer students to work on real projects, do guest lectures, and mentor…in Austria, this was normal, but I don’t see it here in the UK.

Daimon Caulk said on December 2, 2009 5:45 PM

Andy,
I think this speaks to the larger issue in our industry- focus on tools and not design thinking. It’s a landscape of Technicians and a smattering of Design Thinkers.

I am a classically trained Graphic Designer- a visual communicator who was taught how to effectively convey an emotion and evoke action. I call myself a Design Thinker. Whereas Technicians are skilled in the use of software but have difficulty solving business problems graphically because they were not trained to do that.

You are correct in that Instructors need to teach the basics of design and design thinking- not tools. Although mastering tools in order to effectively execute one’s concepts is great as well. So I’m okay with teaching Flash; PHP/XHTML/CSS/JSS, etc. but only in the context of solving a design problem. I believe that is the missing link.

Thank you for addressing the elephant in the room! You have my support.

Andy Fox said on December 2, 2009 6:36 PM

Hi Andy,

I agree. It’s a subject that’s been prevalent for a while in web design courses but also other design courses. It’s fair to say that we have some of the best graphic and fashion schools in the world but if you go to any other regular uni for a design course, even one that has a good reputation, its usually pretty bad there too. So if you’re lucky enough to get into the best, great, otherwise you’re out in the cold.

I think, as Richard Eskins said it’s also down to the individual to have the passion to learn and get themselves out there. There will always be a mixed bag of students and many get put off design and end up quite bitter because it’s often taught badly.

From my experience many other countries believe that we in the UK have some of the best designers, so we must be doing something right?

In response to the other Richard’s comment about coming into the web industry from a graphics or communication design course this is all very well again, if you can find one that overlaps well. Some don’t even teach their core subject well to start with and are too focused on styling rather than breaking ideas down and getting to the bottom of a design problem.

I came into the industry from an industrial product design degree which in a similar way to web design was all about interaction, mechanics and style. I often feel I approach things in different ways to other web designers. I don’t regret the course I did - It set me up quite well and I probably wouldn’t have got into the web without it.

Looking forward to hearing more!

Matt Carey said on December 2, 2009 10:02 PM

Andy

I’m glad you’ve posted about this topic, as it is something that needs to be discussed.

I have been back as a visiting lecturer a number of times on my old design course. It has a world-wide reputation for typographic teaching and research, and produces designers who can think and write. However…

I am nearly always asked to teach a web/screen based project — because the lecturer for that year will have little skills or knowledge to teach it, but they are required to have the module. So I’m bought in to cover that 3 week project, so it can be ticked off the list so to speak.

I will write my own teaching brief, but I find these always cause huge problems with the existing lecturers. I often ask the students not to build anything. At all. Or if I do, it is a very small part right at the end. This is because I want the students to understand the theory, the design process, to be critical in what looks good and works on screen. Not, to struggle for 2 weeks out of the 3 trying to code up their design. That way of thinking is alien to the teaching staff — they just don’t get it. That sums it up really. They may be very experienced and fantastic teachers of ‘traditional’ print design, but they have no understanding of how to teach for screen.

MicheŠl said on December 2, 2009 10:37 PM

Some opinions in no order of significance:

In the past a firm would give new graduates a year or two to develop before expecting to benefit significantly from their talents. Now educational institutions are expected to produce fully rounded designers. Learning of the type you refer to can only happen in a real workplace. There is no substitute for experience.

In my experience teaching staff often do have Ďrealí experience, may be free-lancers or pushing their own practice simultaneously. Industry visits are frequent in education and when companies see what really goes on in academic environments they are impressed and may even turn to institutions or students for latest thinking, fresh ideas, tips regarding whatís around the corner.

Design, here is being talked about as if it can be neatly defined. Interactive and Web too in particular are very new to the world. Last year a student of mine researched into the possibility that Game Design principles might be as relevant for Web Designers as a traditional foundation in Graphic Design, Colour Theory, Typography, Composition Principles etc. And maybe Design in any arena is not so formulaic that it simply amounts to a series of principles (be they high level ones) that can be taught. The objective in education is also for students to discover what they are interested in (really interested in) as opposed to shoving a set of rules into their minds.

Lastly education is certainly not meant to be a production line to supply human raw material for industry. Any number of other possibilities exists. For instance education might be an end in itself. The risk is that, with increased industry involvement, government funding cuts and massive rises in student fees, Ďeducation for educationís sakeí is once again for a privileged minority.

So Iíll be provocative in summarising and suggest that:

1) Education is increasingly tuned-in to what industry needs.
2) This is a bad thing.

Craig Burgess said on December 3, 2009 9:27 AM

It’s the old argument isn’t it - design studios want perfect students but they don’t want to help out educational institutions to produce their ‘ideal’ students. Its always a case of ‘us’ VS ‘them’, and what it desperately needs to be is as many designers getting involved with the courses as possible.

When a course is completely insular and has no outside helpers or people coming in to say ‘you know, that probably isn’t right’, its perfectly understandable that a design course might not be the best. A tutor can only do so much on a course - he / she is trying to teach as well as learn design principles.

Then there’s the other issue: the fact that students have a very specific and fundamentally flawed view of how education should serve them. They sign up to do a degree on web design, they expect to be taught how to use the programs. They don’t want to be taught the theory that matters - the rules that define everything - they just want to be Photoshop wizards. After all, universities are businesses, so what university wouldn’t provide what the vast majority of the students coming to the course want?

There’s small pockets of courses trying to do it right out there (the FdA Web Design course at University Centre Wakefield - http://twitter.com/fdawebdesign - in England is where I came from and they’re definitely doing it right), but at the minute its mostly the universities with their outdated, self-evaluative, all-encompassing courses that are suffering.

It’s an attitude change that’s needed. From students, from society, and especially from designers.

Phil Jackson said on December 3, 2009 11:06 AM

I see some fundamental changes required:

1) Foundation Course in digital/interactive design similar to the Art & Design foundation for fashion and graphics teaching design principles but also semantics, digital ideas generation, creative and ideas generation communication skills. Fashion and Graphics degree students have to have had a foundation - coming straight from school into any area of design is difficult and we are seeing the results with confused non-engaged degree students who have no real idea of what they are getting themselves into.

2) More money for staff training at school level. the DIDA range of qualifications are en excellent opening to digital design ideas and software but need more training for staff who have usually come straight from the art or old ICT department. I know because I train them to re-skill. Get kinds into digital design at this age and you foster a greater knowledge of the whole process.

3) More industry interaction with courses: Industry has to start giving something back, not a lot of money in education I’m afraid guys but get your feet wet we don’t bite. Industry live briefs on every course, internships. NOT just day visits/talks, this leaves the students wanting things they can;t realistically have on the course. In it for the long haul.

4) Government needs to see (through industry white papers, lobbying from industry experts) to stop taking money away from education so that education can employ more experts in areas in which we are lacking. Govt is cutting budgets by 350million, I’d love a PHP, semantics, CSS, HTML, interface expert but no money to get them in.

5) College/Uni staff need training/re-training - again money needs to be there to do this.

Interactive is still very young compared to fashion and graphics and I think things are still shaking out. Industry needs to be more proactive in the UK and start banging on University/College doors.

shane mullan said on December 3, 2009 8:53 PM

Hi Andy,

Iím a 4th year student in Belfast. I consider myself a web designer but itís been a long road to it. The course that Iíve been doing has been a rocky one and the main problems that have been plaguing it for a long time are:

1. It is never updated and becomes redundant in the way of teaching people.

2. The passion of the course is just gone (except from the design side of the course)

3. Students graduating from the course are lacking key skills which are overlooked by the university itself.

4. Iíve just lost faith in the COM side of the course.

From my experience the modules concentrate too hard on teaching you the tools of the job and donít help you really increase your aptitude as a designer. Also the in my opinion some of the modules are just time sinks (thereís one every year.) which donít improve the student what so ever which really annoys me. Iíve been self-teaching myself from nearly day one because from talking with people in the business I would be way behind the curve of what the industry is looking.

The nature of our medium is ever changing and that dictates that the way that we are taught should be changing dynamically also with the current demand from skills. This isnít reality and I donít see why it canít be. My course is worth around £3,200 a year(x90 students just in 4th year), I would like to see at least a little amount of that money pumped back into making that course more relevant.

But not everything is doom and gloom, the design module with the Standardistaís is well worth the money and I feel they are the way that the course should go. Yes teach the tools but get the students thinking about how they should implement them, and also how to push the medium even further.

IMDer said on December 3, 2009 11:58 PM

I am also in my final year of a design course. I find that, like Shane, we are provided with “time sinks” that do not benifit us in anyway. Where as University students should be aware that self teaching is part of uni life, I feel our course takes this too a new level. In our PHP module we are taught (I say that loosely) a style of PHP that is not industry standard, and as such we have to reteach ourselves PHP. Web standards are rarely taught. We are made aware of them, and then it is up to us to teach ourselves.

However, unlike Shane I am not a fan for the Design college input. I will give that they provide most of the content that interests me, but I feel one lecture a week on the principles of design is less than should be provided considering the Art college recieve 50% of the income our course generates; to provide one lecture a week per year, coupled with one lab class per week per year.

I also find a ridiculous amount of Apple loving from the course which, I feel, is a form of selective teaching. To directly quote one of the lecturers “I don’t know what you ****** pc users use for it”.

I think the course needs a serious rejig.

Christopher Murphy said on December 4, 2009 12:11 PM

It’s good to see a debate going. There are some great points, in both the article(s) and in the comments.

As Andy says, we’ve exchanged a few emails about this, with a view to organising a semi-formal meetup to try and raise the bar on web design education both in the UK and internationally. I’ve made contact with two or three lecturers since this debate kicked off, if you’re involved in teaching standards-based web design and would like to be involved, please do get in touch with me

A number of common themes are emerging from the discussion so far and I thought it might be useful to summarise them. I also think it’s important to strive for openness; if, as lecturers, we share our best practices we might collectively improve. With that in mind I hope the following add to the debate.

1. Teaching Principles vs. Teaching Skills

Although a university’s role has traditionally been to focus on equipping graduates with the fundamental principles of a topic with less emphasis on skills acquisition, it’s clear that when it comes to teaching web design there’s a delicate balancing act and we must teach both principles and skills. Whilst I would put principles first every time, I also believe it’s important that contemporary skills are taught as a part of the mix.

Speaking from our own teaching practice we primarily focus on covering fundamental design principles. We also, however, run weekly lab sessions for our students (in years one, two and four) with an emphasis on developing markup best practice.

From the comments here and in other articles, there is clearly a demand for lecturers who understand contemporary methods, one way of achieving this is to put together a dynamic and - importantly - an enthusiastic teaching team. Andy makes this point well, also stressing the importance of industry buy-in.

In addition to our core design staff of five (who all work in this industry), we work with practitioners from industry to ensure our students are informed of best practice. We employ one part time lecturer who runs his own successful consultancy. We also employ three postgraduate students - all extremely talented - to ensure we have a mix of teaching styles.

Looking at Liz Dansico’s Interaction Design MFA, and speaking from experience, the team is of critical importance. Get a good team together and you’re half way there.

2. Design or Computer Science

I’m sure we’re not alone in running a course that is divided across two faculties and two different schools. In theory our students are taught design by staff from the School of Art and Design and taught programming-related topics by staff from the School of Computing and Mathematics. In practice it’s not quite so simple.

I’m sure this model, combining two different sets of staff, with very different skill sets is quite commonplace. In our case it’s a legacy from when the course started over a decade ago.

Whilst I believe we produce some very talented graduates (and welcome many on to the masters programme I run) I believe this model is flawed.

Delivering “the design part” and “the programming part” separately is, in my professional opinion, a mistake. Anyone who works in this industry knows that there is no hard and fast divide between design and development. I believe we must reflect this in our taught content.

I might be wrong here - and this is something hopefully for this discussion - but I believe web design should be taught primarily within a design context. Taught by web designers with a strong understanding of both design principles and knowledge of contemporary technical best practice.

3. It’s Not All Bad News

It’s hard to believe, but there are examples of best practice out there. It’s great to get this debate going, and encouraging that Andy - a very busy designer (not to mention inspirational speaker) - is taking time, valuable time, to get a dialogue started.

We have an opportunity to improve the state of web design education if we strive towards openness and share examples of best practice. As Andy states, we are in the process of organising a meetup, if you’re an academic, or a working designer that wants to get involved, leave a comment or get in touch. My email address, to save inundating Andy, is chris [at] webstandardistas [dot] com, feel free to get in touch.

Sandra Harrison-Burcombe said on December 4, 2009 12:17 PM

Hi Andy I’m on the same Design course as Shane at the University of Ulster at Belfast. Yes it’s true we have some crappy pointless modules but then on the other side of the coin we are being taught really useful forward thinking stuff by the Standardistas (www.webstandardistas.com).. They drive home to us every week the importance of web standards and the crucial role that HTML and CSS plays in this. In fact they have us researching CSS3 and HTML5 already. It’s true a lot of design courses are out-of-date (we were taught to design using tables at Belfast Met).. but they’re not ALL like that.. ours happens to be pretty up to date Andy! Our lectures are written brand new every week!

David Szymakowski said on December 4, 2009 5:59 PM

I actually looked at going back to school to sharpen my design skills and found exactly what you are speaking of. Classes in the fundamentals of design do not exist. If Flash, HTML, CSS, 101 or Advanced.
If you find a school that offers a better coarse selection, please let me know I am looking constantly.

Goran Ani?i? said on December 4, 2009 8:56 PM

Classes and courses in web design must be enriched, and must cover a lot of theory and more, more practice.

IHAVE32TEEF! said on December 10, 2009 9:06 AM

I agree with the students and the frustration of being in outdated classes. I am enrolled in an Intro to Web Design class at North Idaho College, taught under Jesh Barlow, while I have yet to experiecne those frustrations first hand, I have come to realize the importance of having good instructors whom are established in the field in which material they are passing along to us, in hopes of them being experts of course.

With the various elements becoming deprecated and the ever changing “rules” of the web and it’s progression I can see how it may be hard to keep up in this industry. Especially when attempting to create a completely accessible page. I can only imagine where this will all end up, but undoubtedly the fundamentals are always a good place to start. Not so much in what is possible, but rather in the scope of getting the message across creatively and effectively.

Andy said on December 13, 2009 1:09 PM

I am often ranting among my peers about the horrendous education we had to endure during the first two years of my “Multimedia” Foundation degree. Only 2 years ago we were genuinely being taught the fundamentals of web design from a tutor who believed that the web still ran on a bunch of tables. In fact, just last week, a flatmate of mine was asked to design a simple website for a project within her IT course. Not only were they asked to design the site using tables, they were not allowed, and I repeat NOT ALLOWED to use any other program other than Microsoft Frontpage. Is this what we are up against? Is it the same in Schools?

Now, being a student at University of Ulster, and being taught by Chris and Nick, I feel I really am among a unique set of students who have the best possible teaching available to them. Others should follow the Web Standardistas approach to education and give up-and-coming developers a firm, standards based platform to start from.

Jai Glover said on December 17, 2009 12:47 AM

I am currently a Graphic Design student at North Idaho College. I whole heartedly believe that continued education is crucial to becoming not only a great designer but also a well-rounded individual. Fortunately for myself and my peers we have instructors who are not only educated but have a tremendous amount of experience in the industry. They push themselves to learn more everyday just as we all should. They continually provide real world opportunities for us to excel and get our work published as students. They provide us with as much knowledge and experience as possible.

Graphic Design, web design in particular, is ever-evolving and it is important to be in the know. I am thankful to not have had the bad experiences other students have mentioned. I feel that educators and students alike should continually push forward and challenge themselves to learn more and share that knowledge with others. Teachers hold students accountable for their actions and students should hold teachers accountable as well. Education is an investment in our future and should be treated as such by everyone.

Troy said on December 18, 2009 6:21 PM

I just finished a Dreamweaver course the other day and this article exhibits my experience very accurately. This was an online course, so there was plenty of discussion in the message board. Any time I would tell students ways to do things, the instructor would say that we were only working with DW’s design features, so no hand-coding. Most of the students were thrilled with DW because they wouldn’t have to touch a single bit of code and given the impression that it is the standard being used by the top professionals. Of course, I suggested otherwise.

I had a similar experience in a Fireworks course. I’ve found in both situations that I knew more than the instructor. One student even told me that they learned just as much from me as they did the actual course. The sad thing was that I had only been working in web design for a few months or so.

The only reason I’m taking any of these courses is to keep my internship because it has created a nice situation for me to improve my skills. Otherwise, the courses are too hit or miss to invest money in.

Schools need to substitute passion for masters degrees in their job requirements for instructors. Students deserve to be taught by a person that loves what they teach and not someone that is just filling a void to collect a pay check.

Tim said on December 18, 2009 6:55 PM

Two years ago in my multimedia foundation degree students were introduced to web design by laying out sites with tables. even by then a totally outdated practice. Needless to say I studied CSS on my own time and used it for an assignment, possibly loosing myself marks, certainly not gaining any extra for my trouble.

In that same foundation degree we received 6-4 months placement, had I not taught myself css I would have been sunk. I was also aware that I had been taught how to use software but not how to properly design with it e.g. wireframes, grids.

Now studying Interactive Multimedia Design at the University of Ulster the contrast couldn’t be more startling. The design modules teach up to date industry standards and techniques used by today’s top professionals giving students, in my opinion, one of the best stepping stones into the industry to be found today.

This is mainly due to my design lecturers such as Chris and Nick, the Web Standardistas guys, who are well established (and networked) in this industry and not just teaching from a textbook. The programming modules however, have some catching up to do.