Question: I am interested in Web Page Design, and I was wondering if you could give some ideas about what kind of education I need for this medium, how extensive an education, that kind of thing. What do you look for in employees, or what kind of education do you have (art school, technical college, other, all, or none?) Do I want to spen 4 years and $60,000 on just the design aspect? Should I study it on my own?
Response: Experience tempered with knowledge should be your goal in education. Look for academic programs that give you solid grounding in disciplines such as graphic design, technical communication, writing, art, computer programming, computer graphics, and interface design.
In choosing classes or programs, look for trainers with experience and competence in these areas, and who are willing to teach you about the decades and even centuries of knowledge that humans have gained in these disciplines. Avoid "new electronic media" programs which charge you large amounts of money for essentially teaching you HTML syntax and the mistaken notion that good graphic design for the Web is the same as good graphic design for paper. Poor programs like these often distribute posters and promotional materials that resemble Mountain Dew commercials--promoting their programs with the tone that the Web is all about being "cool" and "hip."
The term "Web Page Design" is actually a fairly limiting and potentially confusing description for what people do on the Web. Ideally, "Web page design" should involve more than just using the IMG element and lining things up in a Web page editor. In my view, Web development involves a whole set of continuously operating processes. Like an automobile or a Broadway play, a Web site requires a multidiscplinary team approach for completion. You can't create excellent Web sites by just focusing on graphics, HTML syntax, or programming languages in isolation.
Any program should recognize that the Web is a different medium than paper, television, or radio. One of the biggest problems I've had with graphic designers is that they have been trained to create graphics for paper--complete with a penchant for large image sizes and a lack of awareness of how graphics operate in a user's experience of the flow an entire Web site. Prettiness in graphics is not enough. Images on the Web have a function and often are part of interactive controls or navigational aids. Designing these requires a keen awareness of audience needs, the purpose of the Web site, and human interface issues.
Experience, in the form of projects for actual clients, should form your primary education whether formally or informally. Volunteer to create a Web site for a nonprofit organization, or have fun and experiment with your own site.