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 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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[watching] Salman Khan: Let’s use video to reinvent education

Lately I got into watching TED movies in the gym (free video podcast, 20 minutes, perfect length for a crosstrainer session). Today I checked out Salman Khan’s introduction to the Khan academy and its beginnings:

All in all a great talk and I am a big fan of the Khan academy as a way to give a kick up the backside of education. As Salman explains in the video, most of the time of teachers nowadays is wasted on not interacting with the students. Instead, we apply a “one size fits all” approach to teaching that leaves a lot to be desired and a lot of students in limbo of knowing things. We teach to measure, not to bring knowledge.

What annoyed me about the talk was how US centric it was. Whilst I agree that education is a big issue in the US (which is very ironic seeing how prosperous the country depicts itself) I think a project like that could have even more impact in areas where education is not free and easy to come by. Instead of fighting a system that happily stays inefficient (as it means not learning new things, ironically) this could be a blueprint for areas where you can start from zero.

Khan talks about this briefly at the end explaining that a street kid from Calcutta could watch these movies at night as it needs to work during the day to make money for its family instead of going to school. That makes no sense whatsoever to me. If the family is too poor to have food then surely they won’t have money for a computer and a fast enough connection to see these movies – let alone have the computer literacy for it.

This could work immensely well if Khan academy and others would start facilities like that. Have public libraries and buildings with computers and a connection (this could be chrome books) where people can go and learn. I could see internet cafes world-wide dedicating one sponsored computer to Khan teaching for example.

Saying the content is available to all is not enough – we need also to make the system available. There is already a good start being made by subtitling the videos in other languages. Fun ahead. I think I sign up as a volunteer there.

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