Interviewee

Greg Storey

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

For starters, I’d like to see schools teach beyond applications or beyond the obvious (as in: designers need Photoshop and developers should learn Dreamweaver) . One of my most recent hires came from a design school wherein they taught web design through classes structured around an application. Sure, some of these apps are either necessary and/or widely used but they would learn how to use such things as part of the process for learning how to construct websites. So rather than make web design more vocational that most college already treat it, I’d like to see a return to design and development theory.

I want all students, and I mean all, to come out of school with good fundamentals in communicating with others through written and oral means. Without these skills, they’re none too useful to themselves, to the company they work for, or to the client. I find that the students who don’t communicate will drag down the team and require the most babysitting.

The amount of communication for even a small six person team is way more than anyone expects. We have to communicate with a client so as to properly set the scope of work, manage their expectations during the entire project, and tend to their support questions until the project is considered complete. We have to communicate within our own team so that we are successful during each phase of the web creation process (a big fail point for every team is at the time of hand-off from IA to design, design to development, development to implementation, etc.).

In my experience new grads don’t understand that they’re expected to know how to do these things on their first day and that their job isn’t going to be spending 100% of their work day sitting in front of Photoshop or Textmate.

Time management is another big issue. Students also need to be taught that they need to turn around a great amount of work in a short time. I find that students are used to having more time to complete projects than is required in business. It would be handy if students were taken through a series of real-world exercises and projects that made them studio-ready as soon as that diploma hits their hand.

Blog experience is welcome. I think it’s important for everyone on the web to blog in one fashion or another. I find that those who blog and read blogs are more in touch with what’s going on within our industry. Those who blog show more initiative and creativity. Most web shops that I have come across use a blog in one way or another as a basic marketing tool and any student who comes to the job knowing about this world definitely has value add to the employer.

New students should also be required to lean how to use the most common tools used for web production and management. Examples include Basecamp, SVN, Google Analytics and one or two basic CMS packages like EE, MT, or Wordpress.

  • Skills: Oral and Written Communication, Time Management, Blogging
  • Technologies: Basecamp, Campfire, SVN, Google Analytics, some basic CMS

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

Everyone should have to go down the same path to gain an understanding of what it takes to go from an idea to a live website. That means starting with a situation analysis and ending up with a simple but fully functional website that has taken each student through the entire process that’s required to launch a successful website. After that first project I would repeat that process a few times during the curriculum to help the students assess which part of the process they enjoy working on and to discover where their skill sets lie (account executive, information architecture, designer, developer, engineer). But more importantly this will expose them to the entire process so that they have a solid understanding of the work that comes before their part, what comes after they finish their work, and how to hand that work off to the next person so as to set them up to succeed.

As a final project I would then break this group into small teams wherein the students skills sets are as balanced as possible and require them to go through the same web design/development process but for a much larger and/or more complex project that requires the use of the latest conventions in design and development practices. In this last project they will hopefully come away having the experience of working solely on their area of expertise within a team.

If I was developing a curriculum I would make everyone go through the same classes for a year and in the second begin to take classes and projects that let them explore a specific path. Even during that second/last year, I think it’s important that all students continue in their awareness of what’s going on in the other disciplines.

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?

To answer this question in detail I’ll need time but essentially I would create a curriculum that’s 1/3 history and theory, 1/3 process from start to finish, and 1/3 individual discipline. Here’s a basic rundown of two possible paths for design and developers.

Design

  • History of Graphic Design
  • History of the Web
  • Color Theory
  • Composition
  • Typography
  • Web Standards (XHTML/CSS)
  • Interactive/Social Networks Design
  • Form Design
  • Email Newsletter Design and Campaign Management

Development

  • History of Internet Technology
  • History of the Web
  • XHTML/CSS
  • Javascript/JQuery
  • PHP/MySQL (I don’t believe Rails is ready for prime time, wait and see)
  • RSS/Atom
  • Content Management Systems Implementation and Management
  • Social Networks Design, Implementation, and Management
  • Hosting Setup and Maintenance
  • Email Campaign Implementation and Management

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

I want to see their process for how they solve problems. I want to see their workflow.

The problem with show piece portfolios is that you have no idea how much of the work they did, but more importantly how they got to the solution and how long it took them to complete the work. I was once forced to hire someone because their portfolio impressed by boss. The person ended up being one of the worst designers I’ve ever had and I later found out that half the work they presented was the result of work by others on team projects.

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

Schools should invite industry peers to discuss current and upcoming trends in the web industry and how that might have an impact on what’s being taught.