The horrible problem of how web design and development is taught
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I heard something horrifying at a networking event. This particular event focused on website designers and developers helping answer questions from business owners and non-technical people who want to, well, have their own website. While the idea of such a tech-savvy group might be horrifying to some, that’s not what horrified me.
When people came up and showed their websites and asked for feedback, the responses were almost universal from the group of my colleagues. Whenever someone would ask for help, the answers would cover things like accessibility compliance, which plugins they should use, why their choice of a particular plugin was good or bad, how they should worrying about PageSpeed scores and a huge long list of technical terms that are deeply overwhelming to the layman.
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This hyper-focus on the technical comments of websites is precisely the problem with web design and development today. It’s not that things like accessibility, page load speed, and how a site is built don’t matter (and frankly, they do matter a lot), it’s just that ‘They don’t matter at all when a key element hasn’t been addressed.
It’s the one thing that causes most websites to fail before they even have a chance to reach a potential customer: the way the website itself communicates.
Basically, a website is a communication tool. They serve no purpose other than to help disseminate information from one person or entity to another person or entity. In other words, with no one on the other end reading, watching, or listening to the website itself, there’s absolutely no point.
The sole purpose of a website is to communicate something to another person
After all, an algorithm really doesn’t care about the content or nature of a site. The algorithm will just do what it was pre-programmed to do.
Yet when it comes to teaching web design and development, very little is actually taught about how a website communicates through both written text and accompanying visuals. At best, there is training in usability studies focused on UX and UI principles, but these rarely appear for something like a corporate website, for example.
All the focus is on the technical design of the website – the backend technologies that help build the site, how to do different types of design, the structure of programming languages, etc.
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Web design and development education ignores communication design
Therefore, since all of the education and knowledge around websites is in the deeply technical topics needed to build the sites themselves, and almost none of it is focused on the design of media communication, it’s no wonder most websites suck.
Plus, it’s no wonder most people get frustrated looking for answers to improve their websites. After all, when you google anything on the subject, you only get more technical answers about the things you “need to do” to have a good website and none of them have anything to do with the actual conversation your website has with someone reading it. .
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Next time you’re trying to improve your website, rather than focusing on a technical improvement, do this instead: read it aloud to someone. If it confuses or doesn’t interest the person you’re reading it to, you know you have a communication problem.
So fix the communication. Write and post better writing, video and visuals to support communication. Then you can worry about any technical issues you might have.