Interviewee

Keith Robinson

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

  • Graphic Design Fundamentals. This is an area many existing web designers struggle with, as many of us are self-taught. It’s important to know about typography, white space, color, hierarchy, information and content organization, etc. even if you’re doing heavy interaction design. However, you can’t rely on learning graphic design alone.
  • HCI. Human/Computer interaction is important to anyone hoping to work in a field where they are designing interfaces accessed by screen. I think a solid grasp of HCI can really help, especially when getting into more complex interaction design like the kinds we see with web-based applications.
  • Usability and accessibility fundamentals. I think it’s important for designers and developers to understand how to do basic usability and the need for accessibility.
  • Markup and CSS. A solid understanding of the core technologies is very useful, even if your focus is interaction design.
  • Writing. A good designer needs to be able to document and defend their design decisions, this is usually done in some kind of written format. As well, when designing for the web much of what you’re designing with, the building blocks of your designs, is made up of text.
  • General communication skills. Wed design is largely about communication.

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

Primarily just one. However, I think it’s important for each side to have a solid general understanding of the other. Of course, there is some overlap. To be a solid web designer you need to have a certain level of development knowledge, at the least a good working knowledge of XHTML/CSS.

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?

I’d focus more on fundamentals, practice and less on tools and technologies. I’d like to see lots of classes on graphic design, HCI and communication fundamentals and maybe a bit less on things like Flash and Dreamweaver. When teaching technology I’d focus on the core, standard technologies and not on proprietary tools. For example, teaching XHTML/CSS instead of Dreamweaver. I also think a heavy dose of “doing” would be practical. Start with basics and fundamentals and then move quickly into practice - architecting, designing and building actual web sites and applications.

Why? Well, in large part web design/development is a fast moving, hands on field. You can’t rely on tools as they change, come and go and you need to be able to get your hands dirty, especially when you’re getting started.

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

Well, if I were hiring I’d want to see as many fully realized projects as possible. I’d be less concerned about the kind of projects as I would the graduates ability to showcase the work they did and the artifacts associated with that work. For a designer I’d want to see their thinking; their design documents, etc. For a developer I’d want to see code. Again, the more realized these projects are - the better. I wouldn’t necessarily expect real client work, but I’d like to see a wealth of actual work, thus my recommendation to use practice in the curriculum.

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

This one is tricky. I think the faculty could start by becoming solidly and deeply involved in the web professional community. Ideally students would learn from teachers who are practicing and keeping up to date with real projects in some form or another as well. Keeping relevant is hard in such an ever-changing area, and to do it you really need to be in the middle of it. Keeping up with other professionals, getting your hands dirty, etc.