What does a Web Design curriculum look like in 2019?
August 30, 2019 9:59 AM   Subscribe

I'll be teaching a course in Web Design to high schoolers this autumn. Most courses I've seen are all about HTML and CSS, maybe some light javascript. However, in this age of Wordpress and Google Sites, and Wix, and Weebly, and Squarespace, how relevant are HTML and CSS? Can anyone recommend a book, course, or curriculum that's centered around Wordpress, AWS, Google Sites, or some other currently in vogue platform?

I'll still teach a unit on HTML and CSS, because it's important (and fun) to understand what's going on behind the scenes (even if we still don't understand the levels below), but make that maybe a third of the class.

Web Design is an amalgam of markup, typography, graphic design, visual communication, programming, UX (user interaction) design, and many other disciplines (SEO, consumer studies, public relations, ...). I also want to address non-Web, app-based platforms: social media such as Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. (Are these non-Web?)

Can you recommend a book or course or other that's updated to our current situation?
posted by cyclicker to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Here are some class-sized topics that might be helpful:
-usability and some basic cognitive psych necessary to understand usability
-icons: how do we know what a hamburger menu is?
-what's responsive design, and how do we work around different form factors?
-how do people interact with the web if the common browser/keyboard/mouse setup doesn't work for them?
-visual/graphic design basics: colors! structures! etc
-typography: how do you choose fonts? how do different kinds of fonts work technically, e.g. Google fonts vs. TrueType or etc
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:17 AM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

A couple of years ago I briefly taught some web dev/design, which was a bit different to what you’re doing - four days, and to design undergrads - but I wrote up what I taught, why, and what I’d change if I did it again.

In general, as you say, I think it’s useful to teach HTML/CSS and some JS, even if you move on to WordPress etc. They’re basic skills and even if they never need to directly use them, they’ll be great fundamentals (and who hasn’t used WordPress and wanted to change some colours, or spacing, or font sizes...).

As I wrote, I think it’s also important to try and get across the basics of how even more fundamental things work - domain names, web servers, server-side vs client-side code, what happens when a link is clicked, etc. There’s so much that many of us have absorbed over time that really helps to understand all the parts, and how to fix problems.

Finding a good way to help them get an actual website online, with their own hand-written pages, would be great - the keenest students will (hopefully) run with that and generate an endless list of things they want to know how to do. Good luck!
posted by fabius at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Accessibility is an integral part of web design now, and even a beginner course, IMO, should leave students walking away understanding how things like screen readers and keyboard navigation work, and some of the more common issues--colorblindness, insufficient contrast, sites where the layout fails if you increase the font size, sites with navigation or content that is inaccessible to screen readers. Those are quick wins where it's easier to not get into bad habits if you know about the potential issues up front.

And there are good hands-on activities for this kind of stuff that I think will go over well with teenagers. You can simulate color blindness and try out screen readers using sites they already visit, for example. Those kinds of things have gone well with preteens I've worked with, anyway.
posted by Sequence at 11:47 AM on August 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, a couple of thoughts on where to have students get their own sites online for free, that weren’t around when I taught:

* Netlify (you can drag and drop a folder of files)
* 1MB (you can edit the files in the browser)
* Glitch (I bet they’d love it )
posted by fabius at 12:07 PM on August 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

I work in tech (in a not-overly-technical role) and have built basic web sites with tools like you describe. Having a grasp of HTML/CSS is always valuable even if you don't hand code pages from scratch. Those WYSIWIG editors are fine as far as they go, but if you're not able to view source and see how they're getting to what-you-see, you're setting these kids up for a lot of needless irritation.
posted by dotparker at 12:47 PM on August 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

If these kids want to go into Web Development at all, having a solid grasp of HTML/CSS is going to be crucial.

I have a Web Development certificate, and have written and run test automation against websites. In that case, being able to read the HTML to find the various 'hooks' to latch the automation to, is really important.

I've also done consulting work for people who don't know web design/development, set up a Wordpress site out of the box, and it breaks for some reason. They had no clue where to even start; I'd have their site back up and running in a couple of hours - because I know HTML, CSS, and how they all integrated with Wordpress.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:53 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Additionally, one might not need to know HTML and CSS in order to build a Wordpress site with a pre-existing template, but one would absolutely need to know it in order to customize a Wordpress site, or build a template for it themselves.

Knowing HTML and CSS are fundamental to web design no matter what year it is.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:46 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

I teach a class in Intro to Computer Science. Our district uses the code.org curriculum. I am using this course. It is pretty easy, especially the early lessons, and I am finding it difficult to differentiate for a broad range of skill levels, but it's something.

I expect to get through all of the lessons well before the end of the school year. When that happens, I may teach them Python or some low-level operating system stuff.

I hope this helps!
posted by dfm500 at 7:16 PM on August 30, 2019

HTML and CSS are pretty essential for any sort of web work. I'm a web developer (not a designer but I end up having to do design work sometimes) and my go to resource is always MDN. It is usually very up to date with what web technologies are currently in use as well as giving warnings about deprecated stuff or things that are no longer considered best practices. Almost all of the designers I have worked with use tools like Sketch or Figma for their actual design work prior to any sort of implementation so that might be something worth covering as well.
posted by Television Name at 9:42 PM on August 30, 2019

Can you recommend a book or course or other that's updated to our current situation?

I'm not sure if this the right question to be asking, you seem to have a good grip on the complex components of the web in 2019, so you know that there's a lot to cover.

The current situation of front-end web development, for example, is that there's a LOT of skills that are now a part of the toolkit. If you get past the core concepts of the first two items (HTML & CSS) in a semester, you'd be a teaching superstar.

If it were me, I'd be thinking a lot more in terms of what do you want the students to walk away with at the end of the class? Then reverse-engineer your teaching plan from that.

If you decide to lean into coding HTML/CSS I recommend Shay Howe's Learn to Code. It covers the basics and has some built-in assignments.

You could also supplement that with Codeacademy, or one of its many variants. I've taught high school students, and having a self-paced interactive component to the class is crucial. Anything that involves you talking for more than 10 minutes without some interactive element is likely going to result in a lot of glassy-eyed folks checking out.

Can anyone recommend a book, course, or curriculum that's centered around Wordpress, AWS, Google Sites, or some other currently in vogue platform?

From this question it seems like you're concerned with giving these kids a "modern" web design education, but I think you might be under-estimating how much time it takes to cover the technical underpinnings of any of these. Sure, you can teach a kid in a day or so how to put some text and images into a CMS and then pick a theme, but the second you have to explain what's happening behind the scenes then you're back to HTML, CSS and JS fundamentals. Using Wordpress as a way to do this, for example, would actually make this harder, since it's designed to remove those complexities from view.

Plus, in my experience, the second you choose a platform, you're likely going to shortchange the other aspects of web design that are important, such as UX or content strategy.

Speaking of UX and content strategy, the Laws of UX is a good introduction to the subject as is Steve Krug's classic Don't Make Me Think. For content strategy Kristina Halvorson's books are excellent .

If you're set on adding things like Twitter, Instagram, etc. into the mix, you're really talking about creating a digital literacy and fluency course that just happens to include web design, that's a lot of material and my guess is you will need to get a little more ruthless about what you want the objectives of the class to be (and what'll you have to leave out as a result).
posted by jeremias at 2:46 PM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

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