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 Passionate designers and developers trapped in outdated courses where they often end up knowing more than their lecturers.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