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

James Archer

Anyone who can’t understand how it works at a detailed level shouldn’t be designing it. Not every developer has to be a designer, but every designer should be a developer in order to understand what they’re designing.

(A great painter understands the chemical properties of the paint he uses. Technology and creativity are always fundamentally intertwined.)

Andy Budd

Web designers should have an understanding of web standards and know what is possible with the various back end technologies so they can communicate with their developers. Similarly programmers should have an understanding of design and usability. However people should be allowed to specialise.

Joe Clark

Web design is really a graphic-design discipline. Designers should be given a basic course in HTML and CSS so they know what is reasonably possible. (The last thing we want is design students handing over Photoshop files to hapless developers and saying “Here. Make it look just like that.” A lot of the time you can’t.)

Developers will tend to have different brain structures and won’t be very good designers most of the time. They’re two separate disciplines.

Andy Clarke

I believe that although design and development skills rarely combine in one individual, that complimentary areas should be taught together. For example, XHTML markup and CSS are not the role of a developer, but should be the domain of the visual designer whose task it is to convey meaning through visual design, colour, typography and code.

Jeff Croft

Well, I guess I answered this in my first question. The reason I believe people should be choosing a side, so-to-speak, is simply that the skillset for both is simply way too broad to reasonably expect one person to understand it all. Yes, there are exceptions—but generally speaking, asking a person to fully understand both design and programming is asking too much. If we expect that, we’re going to end up with a lot of jacks-of-all-trades, and masters-of-none. The type of person who tends to be a great graphic designer is, in many ways, the opposite of the type of person who tends to be a great programmer.

On the other hand, each side does need to have a basic understanding of and respect for what the other side does. It’s important for a web designer to have a basic understand of how the web works (for example, the HTTP protocol), and what a developer can and cannot be reasonably expected to do—but they don’t need to understand how to do it themselves.

Mike Davidson

Rare is the person who can be truly great in both design and development so I don’t think that should necessarily be the goal of most students looking to work on the web, but certainly every designer should know enough about code to a) help him/her do their own work better, and b) help them respect the people on the other side of the aisle they’ll be working with after college. The same goes for developers. Developers hate when designers produce uncodeable designs, and designers hate when developers impose undesignable components. When each side knows and respects what goes into the other side of the equation, everybody will do a better job to produce a solid end product. I think one or two classes of the other side’s job function is probably sufficient. Furthermore, if these classes could be specifically tailored like “Design for Engineers” or “Code for Designers,” that would be even better.

Rob Goodlatte

Students should be educated in both. It is important for designers to be able to communicate with developers, and a knowledge of object-oriented programming will help Web designers remain relevant as Web technology inevitably shifts. For students focused on development, an understanding of basic graphic design principles will allow them to work and communicate with designers more effectively.

John Gruber

If a student has the aptitude and interest in both sides, yes.

The most effective web developers can do both coding and visual design. But that’s sort of like being talented in two different sports. If you’re a strong visual designer with no programming aptitude or vice versa, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Aaron Gustafson

I think having at least a cursory understanding of semantics, markup, and page composition is a tremendous asset to designers. First and foremost, it ensures they can at least talk to developers and speak roughly the same language. It also helps them develop an appreciation for how developers work and what they have to content with in addition to deepening their understanding of the medium.

Jon Hicks

Tough one! I would call for teaching 80% of one, and 20% of the other. For designers I feel it’s essential to have an ‘understanding’ of development (and vice versa), but not for that to be equal weight/a thorough knowledge. It’s essential to have that understanding as it informs decisions in either field.

Molly E. Holzschlag

I believe the general studies portion of a two or four-year curriculum should be multi-disciplinary, as described. Students can then determine a specialty area, but getting education in “both sides” of the fence is very important if for no other reason than giving that individual the language and concepts necessary to work effectively in a team-based environment.

Shaun Inman

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.

Jeremy Keith

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).

Geert Leyseele and Veerle Pieters

In my mind that should be something you choose for if you want specialize in it. Maybe just the basics but I feel it’s better to teach the HTML/CSS correctly instead of trying to teach them everything. It’s rare that people are good at both.

Cindy Li

Yes, so that they can communicate no matter which they decide to concentrate on. Communication for each “side” is invaluable. The person that can speak both design and development will be the one that succeeds because they can translate for the ones that cannot. No one ever says it is a waste to know extra languages. Expanding capabilities and your skills set will also make you more agile in your career.

Dan Mall

Students should absolutely be educated in both design and development. While I think it’s very important to specialize, an education of all disciplines will allow a student to become well rounded. It also allows a student to learn how to work with others with that have different skill sets. For instance, a designer with training in development is less likely to create a design that is particularly troublesome to program.

Eric A. Meyer

Both, but with concentrations. For example, someone who wants to be a designer should have more design classes than development classes; the reverse for a developer-intent.

The reason is that web designers need to understand the medium in which they’re going to work, and developers need to understand the basics of design so they can communicate with the designers.

So start everyone with common intro classes and then let them specialize in their later years.

Chris Mills

I think they should all be educated in both design and development to a certain degree - see above.

Cameron Moll

I personally believe students must be educated in both, and then eventually garner T-shaped knowledge—a broad understanding of all things web, but deep skills and expertise in one or two disciplines.

Keith Robinson

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.

Josiah Roe

They should be familiar with both, but it’s only the rare person who can come close to being a master of both. Someone who is a master of standards and CSS shouldn’t feel bad they aren’t the designer.

Dan Rubin

I’ve already started down this path above - a strong, shared foundation in all areas should be taught during the first 1-2 semesters, getting more specific as students progress through the program. There seems to be a constant battle within the industry between folks who think generalists have the advantage and those who think being an expert in one thing is the way to go. I maintain that being a generalist to a degree is important, because it makes you better at your chosen area of expertise. An expert who understands how the big picture works is much more valuable than one who works in a vacuum.

There will always be people who excel at all things they attempt, but this shouldn’t be used as the model or goal for everyone. I think from an educational perspective, the target should be to produce “jacks of all trades, masters of one” to manipulate the old saying to my purposes.

Gareth Rushgrove

All depends on where you define the divide to be. Their is no consensus on what design and development mean in the context of the web to my knowledge. Their are so many different disciplines along the spectrum. I don’t think anyone should be taught how to use particular software products (photoshop, dreamweaver, etc.) and they probably won’t be taught the hardcore end of database design or systems architecture and patterns but everything inbetween might be available as an option.

Richard Rutter

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.

Daniel Ryan

Then following the first year the student would decide which of the tracks was more suited to their taste, or in some cases they could choose both. While some people are able to juggle both development and design, it is my experience that these two activities stem from different sides of the brain and, therefore, a person tends to have a noticeable inclination towards one or the other. Whichever path a student chooses, however, they should have some rudimentary understanding of the other side of the field as well. If I was crafting a major, I would have two tracks available. The first year would be common amongst the two including an overview course in design and one in development that each track would be required to take. The ability to communicate with one’s counterparts is an important skill that these overview courses would be responsible for.

Jason Santa Maria

I’m leaning towards “no”. I think there needs to be awareness of both on each side, but I find the people who specialize in one or the other tend to be much stronger than someone who is spread thinly across both. I think it is very important for web designers to be aware of web development in as many capacities as possible without taking away from their design work too much (and vice versa). After all, they will need to work with developers and must have an understanding of their capabilities.

Christopher Schmitt

Students should have an understanding of both disciplines at the basic level and specialize in one area. The Web isn’t a fixed medium requiring technology in order to support it. You can’t have have a great Web site with only great design or backend technologies.

Glenda Sims

I personally think that design and development predominately use different sides of the brain. Most individuals will excel in one or the other. So, it really is up to the student. If they are strong in both left and right brain processes, then sure, educate them in both. But if an individual is primarily right brained, let them flourish on the design side (and vice versa). Concentrate on the student’s strengths. I do think it is important for everyone to understand the big picture and how their work contributes the big picture. But we don’t all have to learn the nitty gritty details (of, let’s say, Photoshop or Java programming).

Greg Storey

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.

Khoi Vinh

As I said above, I absolutely think that students should learn both design and development. One informs the other in this field, and the end product is so much better if a student is fluent in both.

Aarron Walter

Both in order to better understand the various roles of members in a professional production team. A diverse knowledge of the craft also fosters a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of technologies and how they relate to design. It would seem to make sense to offer specialization tracts so students ca dig deep into topics for which they are best suited.

Rob Weychert

There is no “just one,” because designers and developers need to speak each other’s languages. The work of the best web designers is necessarily informed by at least a modicum of web development knowledge. Likewise, the developers who are able to take those designers’ work to another level are able to do so because of an understanding of the designers’ decisions. Without that overlap, the details that make great web design will either fail to surface or be lost in translation.