Aaron Gustafson

What skills and technologies should colleges and universities teach students who want to be web designers and/or developers? Why?

Anyone who wants a career on the web needs to understand its fundamentals. This means understanding and being able to write at least HTML and CSS, but also understanding how the protocols function, etc. (i.e. what is HTTP, what is a server, what are headers, etc.). Unfortunately, most web design programs focus on tools (Dreamweaver, Frontpage), which are helpful for getting started, but limit the student’s skills to being tool-based rather than concept or language based. It’s like teaching someone to speak a language but not how to write it. How would we get by if we had to listen to audio instead of reading books, or could only send voicemail? Not very well, I’d imagine.

On the design side, I think students need to understand the web as a medium. It isn’t print and it certainly isn’t TV. They should understand what are the appropriate design conventions for this medium (hmm… perhaps I should design a fixed-height site since a browser has scroll bars and I don’t know how large the user’s browser window is).

Should students be educated in both web design and development or just one? Why?

I think having at least a cursory understanding of semantics, markup, and page composition is a tremendous asset to designers. First and foremost, it ensures they can at least talk to developers and speak roughly the same language. It also helps them develop an appreciation for how developers work and what they have to content with in addition to deepening their understanding of the medium.

If you could create your dream curriculum for web design and development, what courses and information would you include? Why? What courses and information now in such programs would you eliminate? Why?

First off, I would not teach specifically to any tools. In a design context, it’s a little more difficult. But I would encourage students to try a few different applications and see which is most comfortable to them.

My classes would include:

  • How the web works
  • Semantics and Meaning on the Web
  • Fundamental Markup (HTML, XHTML, XML)
  • Designing for the Web
  • Designing for Accessibility
  • Form Design and Implementation
  • Progressive Enhancement
  • Designing Interaction (would include JavaScript and Flash)
  • Fundamental Programming (programming concepts and how they are implemented in an assortment of languages)
  • Web Design in Alternative Media (would discuss designing for print, mobile, etc.)
  • The Mobile Web
  • Multimedia on the Web

What type of projects do you want to see in a recent graduate’s web design and/or development portfolio?

I like to see projects that leverage the best of web standards and that show a fundamental understanding of what the web is and how to use it various languages. I’d also want to see a thirst for more knowledge and an eagerness to progress in the field. Unless they backed it up with a solid explanation of how they did it without using the timeline, I’m not interested in seeing all-Flash projects in a portfolio.

How can colleges and universities keep web design and/or development curriculum current and relevant?

By engaging with organizations that want to help (such as the Web Standards Project’s Education Task Force) and getting involved with the local and national web communities (which tend to be very open). Professors should also be following trends on the blogs and not just the industry rags.