Richard Rutter

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

Form by experience with UK universities and colleges, there’s way too much emphasis on teaching people how to use software and not enough on the fundamentals. The fundamentals being design coupled with client-side code. By design I mean information architecture, interaction design, usability, graphic and visual design. By client-side code I mean a proper understanding of meaningful (semantic) HTML, CSS and accessibility; students should be taught to hand code and they can pick up Dreamweaver in their own time. Flash is probably also a useful tool for student to learn (and be taught) within the context of their interaction design studies.

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

Front-end stuff definitely yes. If by ‘development’ you mean server-side technologies such as Rails and PHP then I still think the answer is yes, but to a lesser degree. An appreciation of software engineering and a clue as to what a database does will always be useful whatever your role in website creation.

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?

Definitely eliminate the emphasis on teaching tools and software, and concentrate on the fundamental skills. Here’s list of skills I’d include:

  • user research
  • site mapping
  • persona development
  • user paths
  • wireframing
  • usability theory
  • usability testing
  • design for community (dealing with trolls, encouraging participation etc)
  • graphic and visual design - layout, typography, colour theory (as opposed to a Photoshop course)
  • semantic HTML
  • advanced CSS
  • DOM scripting and libraries
  • accessibility
  • intro to databases
  • basic server-side - eg. a mini Rails or PHP project
  • Flash - key techniques, video streaming, etc
  • project management
  • teach students how to teach themselves - where to look, what to read, etc. Everyone I know who is any good in this industry is self taught.

That should be enough for 3 years :-)

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

As potential employers we’d look for projects which display good sense of design and quality code. Most of all though, an enthusiasm for the Web. Design mockups that demonstrably solve problems would be good, as would be the tools of IA trade - show us some wireframes or site maps.

Currently, from what we’ve seen in the UK, 3 years experience building websites for a living (or even as a serious hobby) almost always outweighs 3 years being taught web design as a student. Universities need to change this and output more rounded students with better and more relevant skills.

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

The main thing is to teach more fundamental skills - the kind of things that don’t go out of date (design theory etc). Universities need to be outward facing, with the students work exhibited. Tutors need to be in touch with developments on the cutting edge of web design (reading A List Apart and the right blogs is a start) and be able to tailor and improve their courses on an annual basis.