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Teach the Web: Rob Weychert

Interview by Leslie Jensen Inman

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

RW: A web design degree should focus on the visual and functional aspects of graphic and interface design as appropriate for the web, including a fundamental understanding of at least the basic elements of production: image preparation, (X)HTML, and CSS. Someone with a degree in web design should be (at least) a proficient graphic and interface designer and a competent coder. A web development degree would be the flipside: A proficient coder (and selective programmer) and competent designer.

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

RW: 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.

LJI: 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?

RW: To properly answer this question would take a lot more time and thought than I have to give at the moment, but one very important thing I suspect is absent from a lot of web-focused design curricula is design history. As far as I’m concerned, if anyone that doesn’t know history is doing important work, they’re doing it by accident.

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

RW: Evidence of a well-rounded education, a fundamental understanding of responsible design and development that focuses on the needs of the end user, and a genuine curiosity and enthusiasm for continuing to learn and grow. I want to see how their imagination works in both heavily restrained and wide-open atmospheres; I want to get a sense of their instincts. Bottom line: A healthy mix of expressive experimentation and buttoned-down client work (understanding that the client work may be fictional).

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

RW: Hire faculty that are motivated to maintain their own continuing self-education (just as many of us in the work force do, largely via the blogosphere), and have schools fund it whenever possible (conferences, workshops, seminars, etc.). I hear too many horror stories about schools teaching sorely outdated practices. As much as I’m sure budget constraints are a problem, I can’t get my head around the idea of hiring professors who lack the curiosity to keep up with what’s going on in the web design/development world. It moves too fast. Hire people willing to keep up with it.