To help prepare web design students for real world web design, Colleges and Universities today must offer courses focusing on User Experience and User Interface design. You can have a complete, functional and informative website without Flash, video, and even jQuery, but you cannot do without solid, logical user experience and user interface implemented.
We have all visited those sites where you are lost within seconds of the page load; do we need to send our students out into the world to create more of those websites that ignore usability patterns? Here is how higher education can better prepare web design students for today’s job market.
I am proud to be part of the pre-inaugural class of web designers at my alma matter. What I am not proud of is the slew of students graduating from college with a rose-colored view of the industry. (And it’s not just web designers, English students have often graduated only to define themselves as ‘lost’ and ‘unemployable’.)
While I know that colleges and universities (and even schools such as Phoenix University) are not set up to teach students everything, there are some areas and courses that are lacking, yet are incredibly important, if not mandatory to real world web design.
Let’s start with the basics of a typical web design degree and use San Diego’s Platt College Bachelor Of Science in Media Arts (Web) as an example (not my alma matter.) In their current Program Curriculum listed online, I see a good range of coursework form basics in design, print and web, and even one in Life Drawing. Teaching web and print is essential to help round out the student’s skillset, for there are numerous times when they will be asked to create a brochure based on a website’s look and feel, or vice versa. Two semesters of Flash is in the program, but what I don’t see is emphasis on user experience and user interface design (though it is loosely stated under Fundamentals of Web Design and Web Design for Usability courses.)
The web design ecosystem
One suggestion from my experience, and what I see in today’s ecosystem for web designers, is to drop the 2 Flash classes (specifically Flash Introduction and ActionScript) as mandatory coursework and replace them with a User Experience class and a User Interface class. It is not only debatable, but hotly contested that Flash is on its way out (or being marginalized). This is not Adobe’s fault so much as Apple dictating they won’t support Flash on it’s mobile devices (and even that statement of who’s at ‘fault’ is debatable.) Personally, I chose to learn and understand Flash so that I can help my clients make the right decision and so I can support Flash designers/developers. But, I no longer create Flash products.
is winning won the Flash Debate by saturation
Like it or not, as of Oct, 2010, and according to a Gizmodo article “There have been over 125 million iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches) sold”, and not one of these can render Flash objects/websites. Consider some users have 2 and 3 of these devices, you are still looking at over 100 million unique users that cannot view your all-Flash website, or even your Flash banner ad, how-to videos, and more. You wouldn’t write all or some of your website copy in the Aramaic language, so, using the same logic, why block some or all of your website from millions of users? That’s my argument. Like it or not, we have to adapt, overcome and move on. (Or, some whizkid needs to come up with a solution for getting Flash on Apple mobile devices.)
Apple mobile devices are not going away anytime soon, so that puts your Flash-dependent web design in jeopardy. But what is ubiquitous to all web design is user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design. Even when you are designing Flash objects and websites, UX and UI are mandatory. So why are colleges and universities ignoring or glossing over UX/UI and spending 1-3 full semesters on Flash? Besides the fact that it can take a college or university 1-5 years to get its curriculum changed officially and keep its accreditation, I believe that the professors and department heads simply don’t know the current status of the web designer’s ecosystem.
And before someone says it, yes, you can develop a backup element, like a static jpg, for those that don’t have the ability to display Flash. It’s akin to building a home and a shed: if the home is intolerable to guests, they can always sleep in the shed.
And let me also say that I used to be one of those web designers that defended Adobe by pulling up Google Analytics and stating Apple mobile devices only made up less than 1% of our site’s visitors. When your site is attracting 100,000 visitors a day, you are alienating 1,000 potential customers with your Flash, or not giving them the full experience. Would you arbitrarily kick out 1,000 people from your brick and mortar store every day? Do it, and see where that gets you.
The status of Flash in web design and the job market
First, I am not hating on Flash here. I am merely saying that Flash as a component of web design needs to be weighed against your site’s user experience and the devices they are using to view the site (just as it now needs to be weighed as a component of web design coursework.) Many other top 100 websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and CNN (aside from their ads), don’t use Flash, or use it sparingly. Have you asked yourself why? Colleges and Universities are still teaching it as if it is a mandatory skill of web designers, and I am here to say that I have built many useful, fully functional websites without Flash (and with the advent of HTML5, CSS3 and Adobe’s Edge, I will be able to add back in all that fun animation.) But, I have never built one of them without a discussion of UX and UI.
Employers are increasingly asking for a single employee to hold the breadth of skills previously seen in 3 employees holding 3 different titles. They want a web designer, web developer, and a user experience expert all wrapped in one. Don’t take my word for it; check out the current listing for web positions on San Francisco’s Craigslist and you will see lengthy ‘must-haves’ and even longer lists for those other skills that could place you on top of the pile. Take a closer look and you will see that skills in Flash are there, but listed nowhere near as often as UX and UI. It’s almost like the job descriptions come prefilled with these UX/UI line items. If you were a college, wouldn’t you want to teach the most commonly asked for job skills?
(The following books are NOT paid advertising. I linked to the Amazon detail page so you can read the reviews and make your own buying decision.)
I highly recommend the following two books as textbooks or weekend reads to get you and your students up to speed. Both of these books are permanent fixtures in my design bookshelf.
As for CSS, I highly recommend the following two books for everyone:
Lastly, if you think amazing interactive sites cannot be created without Flash, you haven’t seen these examples complied by Jacqueline Thomas in her article “Web Design Trends in 2011“. The advent of HTML5 and CSS3 is changing the way we build UX and UI.
If you feel I made an error or you have any constructive criticisms of this article, please leave your comments below.