A Web Design Curriculum

http://www.enosis.com/resources/webcrclm.html

Nick Ragouzis, Enosis Group, April, 1997; June, 1998
nickr@enosis.com, http://www.enosis.com/
(Comments invited!)

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In Misbegotten Rules of Web Design I argue that, if we are really concerned with educating amateur designers to do good design on the web, then we should teach them design. Further, in Ten Design-less Rules for Successful Web Design I suggest that design professionals undertake to broaden their primary expertise, and to support that with awareness and skills in secondary areas.

In addition to these two motivations, I am (too) often asked: "What book can I buy that will teach me everything I need to know to really do web design?"

In this curriculum I suggest a wide range of study which the assiduous professional might pursue in such a quest. I'd appreciate your comments. Send me stories of your own journeys.

(An comprehensive update of this Curriculum is in progress. I am interested in hearing how this document may have been useful to you. And what else you would like to see included. Send your comments to: nickr@enosis.com.)

Audience

Are you a professional with an interest and a talent in visual and technology design? Do you have a desire to place yourself in the center of web design projects? I've written this for you.

Others may benefit too. The prerequisites reveal, however, that I do not hope to help those who are entirely new to the visual arts or the modern tools in the related crafts. Likewise with computer science. With the expectation of weakness in this latter area, I have, however, listed a few general areas for remedial work.

Background

In addition to motivations drawn from the above-cited resources, I hoped to contribute to filling a need: there are too few professionals fully qualified to do full-fledged web design.

This view is often stated in industry conferences. I think that it is an interesting diagnostic to analyze the response overwhelmingly chosen to help answer this need. That is, the promulgation of the proscriptive and prescriptive design rules: "Do this, don't do that." The participants in these conferences tend to be designers or engineers, or a hybrid. Their attraction to these rules represents, I suggest, a coping mechanism. In practice, we've seen, they neither actually use, nor know how to use these rules.

Just as most of us, the designer and engineer, immediately knew, the administrative assistant cannot by the magic mixture of packaged software, templates, rules, plus determined effort, and the exhortations of the anxious executive, become a communications specialist. Yet a newsletter or press release can be produced. Likewise, a bridge engineer - though intimately familiar with the rules of all bridge components - cannot, through the application of those rules, become a bridge architect. It takes a professional designer to understand and use, and ignore, a rule such as the oft-cited "use lots of white space". Design (of writing, of music; of web sites) is not just the practice of doing (which is often inferred from and is often the nature of rules) but also the practice of not doing. The magic here is this-- the professional designer considers on what the successful design, each specific design, depends.

So, from specific and related experiences, plus knowing something about how design itself is practiced, we should not actually expect the rules to work to address the problem. Yet year after year (well, for four years!) the attraction persists.

This attraction may stem from the endemic pathology as identified, by Gillian Crampton Smith, Royal College of Art, London, writing in Human-Computer Interaction's 1994 special issue on "Context in Design" (V9,N1), as "design by engineer-designers rather than by artists-designers". Although both are designers, neither engineers nor artists are by training well-prepared for successful web design. Neither are well-served by these simplified formula.

Certainly the study to identify the most efficient control interfaces has been crucial to wide use of computers. That many of the resulting principles can be simply stated -- which some see as an implicit objective of such study, and others see as a predetermined failing of study methodologies -- has allowed many from other professions (such as Gillian Crampton Smith's engineer-designers, and many others) to develop and deliver simple, effective, 'modern' user interfaces. From a kind of 'post-modern' perspective we are now understanding, however, that the web space is not a simple, directive, read-and-respond control space. And, in revisiting the research on which these modern achievements were based, we find that the simply-stated principles were part of a cloth with a much more intricate paradigm -- that human experience, in understanding, learning, and entertainment, is dramatically increased in a rich, even complex, environment.

But we cannot simply appeal to the artist-designer to save us from the challenges introduced by this more intricate paradigm. Gillian Crampton Smith's artist-designer is also not immune to 'post-modern' critique. They are correspondingly unprepared for the intricacies of the web technologies. More significantly, however, when compared to traditional publishing and communications, this media offers to many a simpler means for possibly reaching millions of users with dynamic content. Truly effective communication in this media requires, however, not debate over such things as download-time of graphics, the role of decoration or the use of frames, (which experienced designers ignore) but, rather, posing and resolving on each project questions from a broad spectrum of professional and technical disciplines. Most of such disciplines were never part of the artist-designer's professional education.

Why is this important? Well because it is true, after all, that there are too few professionals fully qualified to do full-fledged web design. And the implication is that producers who do not recognize and respond to this situation consign to chance, or predetermine failure, in their resulting vehicle--in the web service they are trying to implement. And this, possibly, threatens the vitality and viability of this media.

Prerequisites

  • Training or Experience
    • Visual arts, of some type
    • Project planning and management
    • Account management
    • Team leading
    • Budgeting, finance
  • Demonstrated Competency
    • Use of computer systems
    • Understanding of computer system configurations
    • Understanding of LAN and file sharing and management systems
    • Understanding of Internet communications (FTP, Telnet, WWW)
  • Tutorial-Level Skills
    • One or more professional-level image editing program, vector graphics program, 3D program
    • Color Scanning
    • One of more professional-level animation program
    • One or more video and sound editing program

Curriculum




  • Multi-Disciplinary Studies
    • The social role of speech acts (convince, order, appeal, express)
    • Human-Computer Interaction/Computer-Human Interaction
    • Computer-Supported Cooperative Work - The computer as mediator of social interaction
    • Hypertext
    • Institutional and personal efforts for tracking, understanding, experimenting with, reporting, and applying research and developments


  • Revisiting Design Principles--from the perspective of the Web
    • Line and space
    • Light (black, white, color)
    • Typography
    • Movement; Sound
    • Tension; Balance


  • Basics - User Interface Design
    • Models
    • Human factors
    • Analysis
    • Design Process


  • Extending Design Principles--adapted to the perspective of the Web
    • The new 3-Dimensional hyper-experience-space
      • The Screen
      • The Web
      • Time (lapsed, disjoint)
    • Visual languages and the role of dynamic content
    • The web space and the role of hierarchy and other relationships


  • Interaction Design for the Web
    • Creating user experiences
    • Pushing information, excitement, and richness through the Web
    • The Web space and the role of hierarchy and other relationships
    • User whole-world views of the Web experience, and where your designs fit. The world-wide web dialog.


  • Exploring and Inventing Metaphors
    • Methods for translating physical and logical structures (of organizations, of products) into user experience
    • Navigation metaphors: Real world and cyber analogs (Way-finding, landmarks, meeting spaces, boundaries)
    • Iconology
    • Discovering and communicating about metaphors
    • User problem solving in hyperspace


  • Gaming (video and otherwise)
    • User experience in games
    • Designing games: principles and practices
    • Measuring user engagement


  • Film as experience, and a development model
    • Conceptualization
    • Script writing
    • Storyboarding
    • Production planning and execution


  • User-Centered System Design
    • User Goals and Expectations -- Donald Norman revisited
    • Context as key -- Brown and Duguid, Borderline Issues: Social and Material Aspects of Design
    • Bringing Design to Software -- Terry Winograd
    • Evolutionary and participatory design practices, theory and practice-- Avoiding the structured analysis and design practices of the 1980s
    • Using social-based design discovery and resolution methodologies
    • User-driven prototyping -- How using the characteristics of the Web advances modern design practices
    • High-speed design communications: computer-based collaboration through sketching, schematics, structures, modeling.
    • Task analysis
    • Notation systems and manifesting notation in implementations
    • Theory and practice in user help and guidance systems. How the Web changes the investment and return equation.
    • Understanding and communicating a statistical approach to characterizing Web service demands and returns
    • Factors and return in design for accessibility


  • Some Fundamental Computer Science Concepts
    • Systems architectures and implementations
    • Networks
    • Systems
    • Metrics
    • Economics


  • Fundamentals of Databases and Data models (hierarchical, E-R, Relational, semantic network)
    • Modeling
    • Conceptual schema
    • Logical data descriptions
    • Integrity


  • Fundamental Concepts of Programming
    • Procedural and object models
    • Data types
    • Operating environments
    • Software engineering principles
    • Implementation reviews


  • Fundamental Web Technologies
    • Internet
    • HTTP
    • HTML
    • MIME
    • Mail protocols
    • VRML
    • CSS


  • Fundamentals of Web Servers
    • Architectures
    • CGI
    • SSI
    • Push technology
    • Personalization
    • Electronic commerce, payment
    • Security, privacy
    • Firewalls, Proxy servers
    • Capacity, bandwidth
    • Databases - storage, query systems, reporting
    • Configuration management
    • Logging and Reporting


  • Fundamentals of Web Browsers
    • HTML details
    • HTTP interactions
    • Plug-in/API architectures
    • Handling content
    • Personalization, content selection
    • Security, privacy, commerce, payment
    • Firewalls, proxy servers
    • Capacity, bandwidth
    • Browser-side processing
    • Video


  • Web Graphics and Multimedia file formats
    • Technologies
    • Formats (GIF, JPEG, etc.)
    • Creating (general)
    • Re-purposing (general)
    • Image Maps (Server, Browser)


  • Web Middleware
    • Java, JavaBeans
    • JavaScript
    • ActiveX
    • Real-Audio
    • Shockwave
    • Marimba
    • Castenet
    • Push
    • Collaboration
    • Chat
    • News


  • Fundamental Web Programming--Introduction
    • Perl
    • Java
    • ActiveX
    • Database integration
    • GUI programming
    • Distributed programing


  • Dynamic Content
    • User Preferences (explicit, derived)
    • Interface and content preferences
    • History compilations and analysis


  • Information Architectures
    • Classifying information
    • Organizing information
    • Atomic data and related structures
    • Hypertext as information organization
    • Metadata
    • Managing and delivering information
    • Search, index, repositories, library science
    • Robots, Autocollection
    • Mapping
    • Document collections on the web
    • Web site structures


  • Commerce in the World of the Web
    • Customers, competitors, partners and business relationships
    • Legal issues
    • Marketing
    • Advertising
    • Research
    • Copyrights
    • Subscription sites
    • Embedded advertising
    • Promoting a site over the web, preparing for web crawler engines.


  • Creating Original Content for the Web
    • Differences in specifying, contracting, managing, using, maintaining
    • Photographs
    • Video
    • Sound
    • Paintings
    • Typography
    • Illustrations
    • Copy and other writing and editing
    • Data


  • Repurposing: Leveraging existing resources; planning for new resources
    • Maintaining source files, translations
    • Parallel manifestations
    • CD-ROMs
    • Static presentations
    • Printing (offset litho, etc.)
    • User repurposing -- browser-side printing, saving, re-distribution


  • Web Implementation Economics
    • Looking for and understanding value - discovering your client's multi-constituency value system
    • Communicating and demonstrating value to your client
    • Economics and standards for return in Web investments - from speculative investment and opportunity costs to cost-replacement and resource re-deployment.
    • Proforma development, launch and maintenance budgets
    • Specifying and allocating infrastructure system costs
    • Capturing soft benefits as project value: from goodwill to organizational development
    • Establishing systems for evaluating changes in costs using a marginal utility ROI model
    • Measuring and communicating return - proposing, getting buy-in, doing it.
    • Recognizing client-relevant new technologies. Techniques for effective, fast, and low-risk evaluations.


  • Promoting Web Sites
    • Understanding the economics of web site promotion
    • Techniques for promoting a web site...over the Internet
    • Positioning and preparing for web crawler engines - from metadata to partnerships
    • Using other electronic and new media
    • Tie-ins to tradition media
    • Running unified campaigns
    • Co-marketing in the web and new media
    • Measuring your results


  • Productive Critique of Web Designs
    • ACM/interactions Quality of Experience criteria on detail judging
      • Understanding of users
      • Effective design process
      • Needed
      • Learnable and Usable
      • Appropriate - right problem at right level?
      • Aesthetic experience
      • Mutable
      • Manageable in context of use
    • User goals and expectations
    • Economics
    • Competing and comparative sites
    • Participation in judging panels (and criteria creation)
    • Submission of designs


  • Managing the Mix - Designers, programmers, sysadmins; house-side and client-side and across the divide
    • Working relationships with web masters
    • Recognizing and understanding characteristic working patterns
    • Assisting cross-functional and cross-expertise communications
    • Brainstorming and problem solving techniques
    • Team-building and team leadership; conflict management
    • Training the team (house and client)
    • Avoiding wait and lock-out cycles in team dependencies -- designers, content providers, systems
    • Technology project management - software, hardware, and network projects.
    • Technology maintenance: from feature creep to regression control and change reporting
    • Technology acquisition management - from need to happy memories
    • Forward and backward compatibility - theory, practice, challenges
    • Hiring technologists and qualified web designers - requirements and standards, locating, interviewing and testing, evaluating 'portfolios'


  • Tracking and Responding to User Problems
    • Getting consensus on atomic action values - what are the major goals and expectations of users, and what are the values to the organization when they are not met.
    • Establishing a severity measurement system directly based on user experience in exercising these atomic actions (not on HTTP or HTML -- server or page -- failure levels).
    • User failure response protocols - prototypes and their performance
    • Problem resolution systems - implementing and managing
    • Helping users understand - from message to method: making your response count


  • The Maintenance Challenge - the ever changing Web
    • Designing for longevity (in web-years!) under continual change
    • Options for coordinated maintenance of the inter-related systems and resources of web sites
    • Link failure and maintenance
    • Managing site version levels
    • Investing in performance and availability
    • Back-up - Theory and practice


  • Stepping through a Project
    • Exploration
    • Problems and needs
    • User analysis (tasks, profiles, models)
    • Identifying and validating applicable metaphors
    • Identifying and validating navigation requirements
    • Information organization and mapping
    • Schematics
    • Thumbnails
    • System, tools, and middleware specifications
    • Service levels: capacity, availability, response
    • World-wide user compatibility and accessibility requirements
    • Artifact design, repurposing, acquisition
    • Phased, iterative implementations
    • Prototypes in user-driven, participatory cycles
    • Fast-track implementations
    • Investigating the quality of the experience - from testing to listening
    • Training, documentation
    • Rollout - from the first hot page to user value, to client value


  • Client Communications
    • Modern communications and team performance models -- Understanding, implementing, and convincing your client.
    • Direct to all player communications - benefits, and techniques for coping
    • High-frequency communications
    • Full availability - employing technology to inform everybody, at their convenience and level of interest
    • The multiple-threat opportunity for internal, external, and team communications
      • Personal communications - Avoiding the single-point-of-contact model and making n-way-n-way communications work
      • Telephone
      • Voice mail, and pager integration
      • Email
      • Web-passive
      • Electronic news groups and mailing lists
      • Collaborative, threaded bulletin boards
      • WWW-push to client desktops, with project-involvement customization
    • Techniques for bringing your customer into your model - including: understanding the returns in giving technology to your clients


  • Getting the Client
    • Getting in first, or elbowing your team to the top of the heap
    • Getting the whole project
    • Identifying, claiming, and selling value: from sales to organizational transformation
    • Proving the value of real, professional, web design
    • Avoiding the red-herring of costs
    • Getting the client technologists and communicators on your side
    • Effective methods to present your portfolio. Including, demonstration of your knowledge of the "Productive Critique of Web Designs" (above). Using this as a closer
    • Contracts
    • Pricing and getting an agreement
    • Forming an effective client advisory board - breadth, depth, effective relationships, expectations
    • Locating and fostering subject-matter experts
    • Building client trust in your handling of their assets




 

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Nick Ragouzis
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Last modified: Tue, 30 June, 1998