Shaun Inman

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

The most valuable skill a student can learn is how they themselves learn. I’m sure this applies to any industry but the web is especially fast-moving so this skill is essential to stay current.

Web developers require firm understanding of the benefits of the separation of presentation, content and behavior and a thorough understanding of HTML (and the general syntax of XML-like, tag-based markup languages) and CSS. They should leave college knowing where to find the latest in web development, whether it be subscribing to the feeds of personal blogs, frequenting online industry magazines or subscribing to the standard bodies’ mailing lists.

Web designers need to understand the core principles of design: color, contrast, composition, proportion, rhythm, repetition, focal point, whitespace, typography etc. They need a firm understanding of how people use and interact with design on the web. They should understand the limitations of the web as a medium and how it will impact their design decisions.

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

Ideally, both. At the very least, one needs to be tempered with the other. A designer with knowledge of how their design will be implemented will be able to make informed decisions during the design process that could simplify production and produce a more usable design. In the same respect, a developer with basic design knowledge will be more sensitive to things like leading and whitespace when producing another designers work because they understand how those things impact the legibility and usability of a design.

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?

Obviously anything teaching proprietary tools is out. eg. Frontpage and Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver can be used as an all-in-one-tool as long as students understand the basics of FTP (well enough to use any other FTP program) and primarily use the “Source View” when editing HTML or CSS. The foundation of every course should be, “these are the core tools at our disposal, this is how you keep up with their latest uses.”

There’s a lot of overlap here:

  • Design Principles 101 (as listed above)
  • Reading/Writing for Design 101 (early on, design is communication)
  • Typography 101 (leading, tracking, kerning, counters, x-height, small caps, ascenders, descenders, texture, etc)
  • Web Design & Development Tools 101 (intro to all the scary acronyms, HTML, CSS, JS, DOM, FTP, PHP, MySQL)
  • Markup 101 (a foundation course in semantic markup with XML-like, tag based languages)
  • Typography for the Screen 201 (limitations of type on the web, CSS type-related properties, image-replacement, sIFR and kin)
  • The Presentation Layer 201 (all about CSS, variety of techniques)
  • Web Programming 201 (an intro to the JavaScript DOM and PHP/MySQL)
  • You vs. The Browsers 201 (browser bugs, gotchas, progressive enhancement, and how to stay current)
  • Web Studio 301 (pre-defined projects)
  • Web Studio 302 (open-ended projects)

Something like that anyway.

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

Personal projects beyond what is assigned for class. A well-designed personal site or, even better, a well-designed community site created by the graduate. (obviously, pages and blogs don’t count). Specific projects (eg. a lawyer site, a band site, a generic web app) aren’t as important as demonstration of understanding of core principles; for a designer, color, whitespace, consideration of the medium’s limitations. For the developer, valid code, semantic markup, etc. Beyond basics like handling of links, hierarchy and navigation, the often overlooked design of forms or other more complex interaction is important as well. Attention to detail.

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

That’s the challenge isn’t it? Professors, as well as, students need to engage the web design/development community and figure out where the action is happening relative to their area of interest. Professors can reach out to committed peers in the field for starting points (which feeds to subscribe to, etc). Maintaining (and I mean really maintaining, not just setting up and then forgetting about) a shared OPML (a list of feeds, most feed readers can export them) or even a static HTML/Wordpress page of links to relevant online magazines and personal sites is really important. Encouraging discussion both in and outside the classroom.