Jeremy Keith

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

To a large extent, traditional design skills are very applicable to web design so colour theory, composition and typography are very relevant and useful skills.

For developers, the underlying technologies on the web are: HTTP, URLs, and HTML (before getting into any specific programming languages).

For designers, the technologies are HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

So the cross-over point is HTML. For both designers and developers, that’s probably the most important technology. I also think that it’s crucially important for both designers and developers to learn that HTML is a mark up language meant for defining meaning rather than layout.

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

That’s tricky. It depends what you mean by development. Some would class JavaScript as a tool for web developers because it’s a programming language. Others would say that it’s a web design tool because it’s a browser- rather than server-native technology.

I certainly don’t believe that it’s possible to practice web design without knowing HTML. There was a time when a breed of web designer would design in Photoshop and then either use a WYSIWYG editor or hand the designs off to an HTML “coder.” Those days are long gone.

So if development encompasses HTML, then yes, absolutely; students should be educated in both web design and development. But if by development you mean programming, then no, I don’t believe that it’s necessary (though some fundamental JavaScript knowledge will always be beneficial).

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?

My dream curriculum would contain an explanation of how the web works: URLs, HTTP and hypertext (HTML). The art of writing good, semantically meaningful hypertext would take centre-stage.

The next step would be the realm of visual design: making well-structured hypertext communicate a message. I would focus on traditional “rules” of typography, colour and layout, and show how they can be applied with CSS rather than diving straight into the technical aspects of CSS.

If there was time, I’d like to see some basic DOM Scripting taught but this would only be after HTML and CSS had been well covered.

I would avoid focusing on specific tools:  learning to use text editors, WYSIWYG editors or even “industry-standard” graphics programs like Photoshop isn’t as important as knowing what you want to do with them. That said, I understand that that’s often exactly what prospective employers look for on a resume.

It probably goes without saying that any current teaching that focuses on HTML as a layout tool (by abusing the TABLE element) should be terminated with extreme prejudice.

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

Rather than looking for any particular kind of work, I would look for passion and understanding: a passion for the web as a medium and an understanding of what works (and what doesn’t) for that medium. While an attractive portfolio is still important, a demonstration of passion and eagerness (often through blogging) would go a long way. So I wouldn’t be looking for perfection; I’d rather see some interesting failed experiments than one perfectly executed but uninspiring centrepiece.

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

This is tricky. Traditionally, colleges and universities don’t need to move too fast: a curriculum gets established and is then taught for the next few years with only minor tweaks along the way. The web moves too fast for that.

Using the tools of the Web could help a lot. Rather than relying on books and other written material (which get out of date quickly), blogs, wikis and mailing lists are more suitable for staying up-to-date with the latest in web design and development. This means that colleges and universities need to be willing to be less insular and have a more direct connection to the world outside their campus. There also needs to be an understanding that knowledge flowing in from the outside needs to be evaluated, rather than accepted at face value. In the age of Wikipedia, that is true of all disciplines.