It’s time to stop teaching web skills like it’s still 1999

A couple of issues ago, Design Week featured an editorial highlighting the demise of craft skills and typography in college curricula. The editor was generally referring to college and university courses which taught traditional graphic design. It reminded me that courses teaching web design in the UK suffer a worse fate, in that most have never included such skills in the first place. I wrote to Design Week and my reply was printed last week:

In response to Lynda Relph-Knights well-put editorial on the demise of craft skills and typography in college curricula, I would add that the situation in web design even more acute. In many multi-media and web-specific courses, there seems to be very little taught in the way of core graphic design skills and typography rarely gets a look in. In fact the underpinning technologies of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, of which every web designer should have a good grasp, seem to be taught like it was still 1999.

The vast majority of the web comprises text-based sites, so it would seem that typography should be at the heart of every course. What’s more, with the advent of web font services like Fontdeck enabling web designers to choose from thousands of fonts (just like our print design cousins) a fundamental understanding of how type works becomes more important still.

It is our sad experience [at Clearleft] of interviewing graduates and interns, that the best candidates are consistently those who have spent all their free time teaching themselves from books and blogs, rather than those who have spent three years at university or college. There are clearly exceptions, and the WaSP InterAct Curriculum is going some way to provide an industry-driven framework for all future courses.

Web design is a fast moving industry. By its nature higher education will always be – at the very best – one year behind. This makes it crucial that what is taught is the fundamental skills of the craft: the basics and core principles which don’t change over time and which provide a solid foundation on which a career can be built.

I hope this post annoys a lot of people. I want to be wrong, but my experience is of taking in interns who have abandoned their studies because they were teaching the lecturers. It is of interviewees with a multimedia degree under their belt but no grounding in fundamental design skills or proper grasp of web standards. There’s a lot of ground to cover to prepare a student for life as a web designer (of whatever flavour), but just think how much you could learn with the three solid years of quality teaching…

The cost of going to university in England is rising alarmingly, so it’s more important than ever that those courses provide value for money. For me that means a solid grounding in the craft and the fundamental skills which stay with you throughout your career. I know there are some great courses out there in the UK. Interactive Design at the University of Ulster is one – but where are the others? Do you teach a really good undergraduate web design course? Did you study on one? Please tell me I’m wrong.