Web academia

Published on January 25th, 2011

Estimated Reading Time is 4 mins

This week I was able to travel down to Nottingham for Colly's inaugural New Adventures in web design conference. The event had a delectable palette of great speakers.

I don't intend this to be a conference roundup post but I thought I'd touch on something very much related to the event.

As we arrived on Thursday, all attendees were given a goodie bag that also contained a beautifully designed and printed conference newspaper that included an introduction from Colly as well as articles from a host of other web pros.

All of the articles were excellent but the one that resonated with me most was 'critiquing academia'Β by James WillockΒ of Erskine Design.

Reading James' article was like reading my own experience of the college and university systems and funnily enough, echoed a brief conversation I had with Colly back in October at the ExpressionEngine conference in Leiden.

All of my tutors and lecturers at college/university had never actually worked within the web industry but yet were guiding me and my classmates as to how we should design and build websites.

Even back in 2002, I couldn't help but feel that my course content was very out of touch with things I was reading online. Our tutors/lecturers were often Physicists who had a fleeting interest with the web (or thought they could earn a salary increase picking up extra classes). Either way, their experience (or lack thereof) was of little benefit to me.


I'm honest enough to say that even although I was reading stuff from A List Apart, books by Eric MeyerΒ etcΒ - I didn't give them the importance they deserved and I've suffered for that to a degree.

Borrowing from other fields

Looking back, I often compare my web education with that of my wife Sarah's architecture education.

Every year Sarah had tutors (who weren't salaried by the university) who were actively practising within architecture.

Not only that but the projects that she was working on would be critiqued by a panel of those tutors (stressful times for her I remember well). They would provide valuable feedback on how projects may (or may not) be implemented in practice, points for consideration etc.

I know there are a few folk out there happy to feedback to budding designers and developers. Personally, I got some real valuable feedback from Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain and my friend Ryan Downie credits Elliot Jay Stocks with giving feedback when he first started out.

I know we have things like Dribbble, Forrst and Twitter now for getting instant feedback but it needs a little more time to be critiqued than simply a quick glance.

In addition to those critiques, Sarah also had to spend 2 years in practice to qualify as an architect. I think this type of approach could work well. I know there will also be those who just wish to freelance but working in a that kind of environment, I think, could help your progress, not only as a designer or developer but as a person learning to interact with similar minds and learning how to effectively deal with clients. I've certainly experienced occassions working with someone who has only ever freelanced that their professionalism sometimes lacks.

The Web Standardistas are doing some great work refreshing the education system but it needs more.

I am not saying for a minute that everyone must go to university or college to learn about how to design or build for the web, but for those who do go, the courses should set a good standard of what is expected in the real world.

Dan Rubin talked about *'the new language of web design' *and within his talk we had a few architectural references.

I think our web courses could really benefit from borrowing some of the architecture education practices and implementing aspects of them.

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