Is Web Design Education Dying on the Vine?

Is Web Design Education Under Appreciated and Dying on the Vine?

I’ve been witnessing a dramatic decrease in Web design education programs in the U.S. and abroad. As a stakeholder in the WebProfessionals.org who has a long standing, 17-year history of supporting Web designers, Web developers and Web business professionals, the recent decrease in Web design education programs is disconcerting and, candidly, it’s outright alarming.

image of web design

To determine the reasons for a lack of emphasis on Web design education including teaching-user experience, designs that “pop” and basic coding, I aim to reach out to a number of practicing industry professionals – both teachers and students who have an interest in Web design and development.

Here’s some information I’ve already compiled:
• A few of the colleges and high schools in the U.S. that I talked to said that their Web design program enrollment was down. When I asked about their program or class offerings, they said that it was geared around Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Tools are great, but when I asked if they offered courses in Design principles, layout, color theory and User Experience, they did not.
• I also asked whether they offered Markup and Scripting (Coding) as a program offering for Web designers. A few of the educators felt that those courses were offered by the various Web development programs and that they didn’t belong in their Web design tools program.
• Others I talked to suggest that we live in a “template website world” and that, given the ubiquity of these programs, focusing more on Web development (programming) simply made more sense.
• Some teachers suggested that anyone can do Web design and that the perception from customers that they talk to was the same.

Why is this important?
• Unlike traditional print design, to make things work visually for the Web, the common language is markup and code. In short, it’s about implementation of your designs that work for the Web. As practicing professionals know this is not new. In fact, Web professionals have been talking about this for over a decade.
• From a workflow perspective, even if you pass along your work to a developer or implementer, designers still need to know how things work for the Web.
• Most Web professionals don’t have the luxury of working with large teams that specialize in design or development. In fact, most are freelancers or they work for small businesses and require a broader base of knowledge and skills.
• Great design matters. Web design has a lot to do with making visual designs that “pop” and motivate visitors. Pixels really matter. Enhancing the user experience is mission critical, especially as mobile devices grow in popularity.

Candidly, I am surprised by what I am hearing from teachers and also by some of the customers’ perception. It is 2013 after all. Despite our best efforts, the efforts of many individuals, countless authors and our 17-year organizational history of advocating and informing educators about the demands of those that hire Web designers, I think we still lack from a basic understanding of what Web design really means. That’s not to say that we lack because those that teach don’t understand the various principles of Web design because many do. For example, many high schools and colleges that participate and win the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at our annual Web design contest understand it and that reflects in their overall scores. It also reflects in the success rate of the competitors when they look for employment or customers.

It’s becoming very clear that a fair amount of resistance still exist around teaching basic to advanced coding principles (HTML and CSS) in public schools to students studying Web design. Equally concerning, we lack a fundamental appreciation of the Arts and Digital Design as a career pathway in most public schools. This could be the result of the amount of energy and money thrown at teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM as it’s commonly called in the U.S. This is one of the reasons we are supporting the STEAM movement (adding the A for Arts to STEM). More on that topic later.

To better understand the challenges and the dynamics of teaching Web design in the classroom, I want to drill into this area in more depth with a series of interviews with practicing professionals and those that teach. I want to gain a better understanding and learn why they do what they do.

Stay tuned…..

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2 thoughts on “Is Web Design Education Dying on the Vine?

  1. Bill Cullifer

    Thanks for responding GL!

    My post has less to do with “offshoring” because we’re a flat world after all and given the pace of technological advancements will get even flatter. My biggest concern is the sustainability of the Web profession and for the true Web designers in the crowd. I’d like to give credit to those that really understand practice and teach quality front-end Web design and inspire others to do the same. My take is that in any industry sector customers can always find products and services cheaper and faster elsewhere. That will never go away.

    What I am aiming for is an open and candid dialogue regarding the demand for Web designers that can deliver visually appealing as well as technically proficient web sites and I’d like you to weigh in. For example, your point about being a commodity strikes a chord. Cheaper as you know doesn’t always mean better. Also, is this issue of commodity real or perceived? If it’s perceived and professional Web designers are in demand then how do we fix the perception that anyone can do this? Also, how do we get teachers on board to teach to these topics?

    I’d like to think that the demand for front-end Web designers (the creative, the technical and the problem solver) is high enough so that Web designers regardless of location can connect with customers that understand the “quality” difference and that are willing to pay for better professional level services provided.

    I’m also hoping to increase the awareness of the distinction between Web designer that can not only visually make things pop but can also technically implement their designs. Thousands of professional level Web designers do this every day. I believe that they need to be recognized and appreciated for what they do and the skills they have mastered. I’d also like to see education map to what employers actually need and break the silo trap that many seem to be stuck in.

    My two cents…

  2. GL

    I believe that a lot of people feel like their “web guy/gal” is a commodity. Commodity resources can be off-shored (places like eSource.com are piled by offshore offers ) and small/medium enterprise customers (in particular) have not yet turned the corner on “you get what you pay for”.

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