Web Design Curriculum and Syllabus Based on Web Design Practice and Students' Prior Knowledge
Krunic, Tanja, Ruzic-Dimitrijevic, Ljiljana, Petrovic, Branka, Farkas, Robert, Journal of Information Technology Education
This paper deals with the way we started our web design study group. The main objective is to explain the procedure we used to test the students' prior knowledge of web design. Secondly we would like to present the educational program in this field based on our research.
The World Wide Web is nowadays part of our lives. When trying to create functional and attractive sites, web designers meet with difficulties because web design is associated with many other modern disciplines. Besides an extensive knowledge of new web design technologies, the designer should be familiar with usability, accessibility, privacy, and security. We must not, however, forget the artistic aspect of web designing--students ought to study subject areas such as graphic design, form and style, and drawing and painting.
Our survey of curricula from several universities worldwide (see: Additional sources) has shown that web design is not usually found as a separate study group. It is present as one or more courses within other study groups in computer science or information technology departments. Furthermore, the majority of the reviewed courses regarding the Web are mainly based on studying web technologies, programs, and scripts, neglecting the issues mentioned above. Our study group for web design was founded at the Advanced Technical School, Novi Sad in 2004 with an appropriate undergraduate program involving the fundamental knowledge of the abovementioned areas.
The world tendency to do business and a variety of other activities on the Web increases the need for special web design study groups. So, undergraduate studies aiming to educate future web design professionals should be harmonized with modern expectations in order to provide students with knowledge and skills necessary to deal with the complete situation on the Web. Therefore, curriculua and syllabuses should be made according to the needs of the present-day web community and the prior knowledge of students. Since the WWW influences our views regarding the standards of beauty among other things, it is important to educate designers who will be able to contribute to the development of aesthetics in general.
Important Web Issues
Let us first discuss some of the previously mentioned important areas connected with web design.
As mentioned earlier, the number of people relying on the WWW in their work is rising. Naturally, visitors expect to find useful sites to do business as fast and as comfortably as possible; therefore, usability, which is defined as the visitor's ability to use the site appropriately, is very important. Unfortunately, there are numerous websites with mistakes against usability, since they are partly unusable for the average user. The most common mistakes against usability can be found in Nielsen (2003). A user investigation in 2004 ("Web usability--the main rules", 2004 ) shows that about 40% of users never come back to a website after their first unsuccessful attempt. The most common reasons for their disappointment with websites can also be found in this investigation.
According to Powell (2000), the main web design aspects are purpose, web content, visual elements, and technologies. The basic principle of good web design is a balance between these four aspects, and the designer-to-user correspondence. However, a lot of websites are created without a previously defined purpose. Usually the only motive for their creation is just a reaction to the competition's website. On the other hand, sites with no balance between their function and form can be found on the Web every day. The same source claims the main reasons for this problem are the web designer's inexperience, short deadlines, and the so-called ad-hoc design without adopting any web design models. We believe that these problems occur due to the fact that web design courses are mostly focused on technologies, programs and scripts, as mentioned before.
User-oriented Web Design
One of the worst web designer's mistakes is to create a website without a previous analysis of user needs. Such websites may seem interesting and well designed to their authors, but they are complicated and almost useless for many visitors. Web designers should know that they are to create sites for users, not to show off their web technology knowledge. Therefore, it is advisable to interview users and make an appropriate selection of their desires, for some of them may be unrealistic. The web designer has to decide if user wishes can be met or not. This is very important since the designer is supposed to have a complete control over the situation at every moment. After its publishing, user opinions on a website should be monitored constantly.
Another problem to the web designer to deal with is accessibility. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines a website as accessible if it allows access to people with some kind of disability (W3C, 2005). The importance of accessible web design can be realized by analyzing the number of disabled people worldwide. A report (U.S. Census Bureau, 1997) categorizes 19.6% of the U.S. population as having some sort of disability. A detailed categorization of human disabilities influencing web design can be found in "Introduction to Web Accessibility" (Web Accessibility in Mind, 1998). Another source is the statistic about visually impaired people in the European Union, for example for people in Germany ("Statistics about visually impaired", 1994).
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) (W3C, 1999) by the W3C was the first major effort to establish instructions for accessible design. This standard consists of fourteen guidelines, each with three checkpoint levels to be reached by web designers. Priority 1 checkpoints ensure that the page itself is accessible. Priority 2 checkpoints ensure that certain groups will be able to access information on the web page. Priority 3 checkpoints ensure that all content on the page is completely accessible (See also the Curriculum for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3C, 2000)). In specific countries, national standards emerged later. Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act in the U.S. is based on WCAG Priority 1. Common Look and Feel in Canada (Adaptive Computer Technology Training Center, 1999) and Web Guidelines (2005) in the United Kingdom are based on Priorities 1 and 2 from the WCAG. The W3C provides an extensive listing of national standards initiatives.
Apart from the fact that it is obligatory in websites of many governments, accessibility should be widely spread in web designing because it opens the door to information for individuals with disabilities. In addition, all users benefit from accessible web design by getting more usable websites. It is based on up-to-date architecture and design that allow greater flexibility across the site. Accessibility also contributes to a growing market for software, hardware, and web design.
But, how much is web accessibility respected in practice? The authors of this paper tested the accessibility of 50 websites using WebEXACT, the free online service for testing accessibility of web content (http://webxact.watchfire.com/) and the results are given in Table 1. To be representative and independent, the test was performed in the following manner: Arbitrary terms were chosen from the English vocabulary and typed as keywords in a search engine. To represent the average accessibility situation worldwide, we chose several arbitrary web addresses with different …
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Publication information: Article title: Web Design Curriculum and Syllabus Based on Web Design Practice and Students' Prior Knowledge. Contributors: Krunic, Tanja - Author, Ruzic-Dimitrijevic, Ljiljana - Author, Petrovic, Branka - Author, Farkas, Robert - Author. Journal title: Journal of Information Technology Education. Volume: 5. Publication date: Annual 2006. Page number: 317+. © 2008 Informing Science Institute. COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group.
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