I studied in Reading University’s Typography and Graphic Communication department which combines a solid academic approach of critical analysis with lots of practical studio learning.
It turned out to be a very suitable place for a future web designer. The course provided a great deal of depth on subjects such as structuring of information, user-centred design and information design. Essentially, I learned about how the visual and the verbal support or undermine each other in graphics work.
Getting up with the tech.
What I didn’t have a chance to explore while a student was the mechanics of interaction, which is the other half of the web equation. Users interact with sites. This implies that the sites respond to users, and the response is handled by software.
Since graduating I have spent a lot of my time learning how this happens: at low level, by trying to understand programmers, write scripts, configure servers and read technical specifications. At higher level, by learning from mistakes, by remembering what works, and following good practice.
I have DTP production experience and I’ve used software from Publisher and Quark to Ovation Pro and structured FrameMaker. I can get pretty good results in Word, too, but I am not a Word macro savant. I know my way around Photoshop and Illustrator. I’ve drawn type using Fontographer and FontForge – but generally for pleasure rather than profit.
Though not a thoroughbred programmer, I have the insight to be able to work closely with them and understand some of the problems they face. I can bridge the worlds of editorial, visual and software, translating the needs and concerns of the various parties into terms others, such as clients and project managers, can understand.
Designing for the web [a short homily]
I am a keen advocate of open standards like HTML and CSS over proprietary/binary presentation formats (like Flash). The open formats are often restrictive for designers, so I feel the pain of my colleagues who wish for more.
But I believe that focusing on systems that are centred around visual presentation can be a weakness in a world in which high standards of accessibility are a basic requirement. The semantic web – a vision in which structure and meaning extend right the way from the data transmission to the elements of a sentence and enable computer agents to help humans in an intelligent way, rather than the blind force of googling – is more than a pipe dream.