In the mid-1990’s, “webmaster” was among the hottest job titles. A webmaster was the person tasked with building a website for an organization, frequently one where they worked. Coming from diverse backgrounds, and self-taught by necessity, webmasters mentored one another while building the early web.
As publishers offered books on HTML, the first college tech web design courses at colleges and universities were born. In the beginning, everything about the web could be covered in a single course, generally in the computer science department. Within a few years, though, colleges and universities began offering concentrations in web design.
Twenty years after webmasters started teaching one another HTML, most colleges and universities now offer classes pertaining to building websites. However, those classes are offered in different departments, emphasize different aspects of web design, and, unfortunately, they are frequently not up to date.
Web design is a multi-disciplinary field. Classes in web design are typically offered by the art and computer science departments, which offer courses in graphic design and in programming, respectively. The marketing department may also offer a few courses in search engine optimization, web analytics, or email marketing. The business school might offer courses in e-commerce strategy. If the institution is large enough to offer human-computer interaction courses, there may be some courses available on user testing or interaction design.
Here lies the fundamental problem with a concentration in web design: It can’t be tied to only one department if it is to be covered completely or well.
Graphic design-based programs tend to neglect programming beyond the basics, graduating designers who are unaware of responsive design, mobile design, or designing for different environments. Graduates may be unaware of programming constraints or the latest methodologies for building websites.
Computer science-based programs tend to emphasize programming at the expense of the design and the interface. Websites may be aesthetically unpleasing, lacking a professional look, or clunky and difficult to use.
Business and marketing programs teach strategic thinking, planning, and project management when it comes to designing for the web, but implementation is almost never covered. Graduates are able to dream up big ideas, but unfortunately they may not know whether their idea is feasible from a programming standpoint.
The web design world is constantly changing, and the past three years have been no exception. Flash, once everywhere on the web, is now seldom used since it can’t be viewed on the iPad and iPhone. Designers are placing new emphasis on designing for mobile devices, in some cases designing for mobile before designing for desktop. Responsive design, separate mobile sites, progressive enhancement, and mobile apps are intensely debated as to which offers the “best” experience for mobile users. Businesses hire experts in WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and other content management systems. Designers who are knowledgeable in HTML5, CSS3, and jQuery are in hot demand. Video and audio have hit the mainstream as well, with websites commonly incorporating these types of interactivity. Social media and Google Analytics are considered a requirement for most business websites.