Webvanta Blog: Creating Effective Websites

Talking with Students About The Business Of Web Design

Part of the Webvanta culture is to make sure everyone on the team has a chance to interact with our current and future customers. I’ve always felt this helps keep us grounded with the realities of our customers’ businesses, our product, how people use it, and the little things that either help people be more (or less) productive. What we do isn’t ultimately about making a product, it is about helping people accomplish their goals: whether building web sites, helping their own clients succeed, or growing their business in new directions. Sometimes we are particularly honored to get to talk with the newest entrants in the field.

On January 28th, I dropped in on the Art Institute of Sacramento to visit students in the Web Design program and help them a bit with current school projects. Some of the students were working on class projects, some on portfolio work, and some were preparing to enter our recent contest.

After a brief general introduction describing some of my background, we launched into a great discussion about the realities facing current Web Designers, particularly those who are freelancing or are partners in small shops (1-3 people). I described my "spectrum of web wesign" model to help ground the discussion and learn where many of the students fall with respect to interest and skills. The way I describe this is to think of all of the different skills and backgrounds people bring to the craft. On one end, you have traditional graphic designers and highly creative individuals who love design, whether visual or interactive. On the other end you have technologists, perhaps with a programming background, who love to dig in to the mechanics of web design and development. These folks enjoy solving the puzzle of getting HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to sing and dance in a way that realizes a design.

Our initial focus at Webvanta has been more skewed towards the "creative" side of this spectrum, and the challenges many designers face as the Web has evolved from a simpler, static content world to today’s highly interactive, socially enabled complexity.

During this transition, less technical designers have struggled to keep design gigs profitable. Often they end up partnering with a programmer or outsourcing large chunks of their work. In the process, some unfortunate practitioners have seen their business decline as clients end up going directly to programmers and seeing design as an afterthought.

When describing some of this to current students, it tends to at first feel like a bit of a downer. But then, a lightbulb goes on when they realize that part of the reason their curriculum includes both technical and creatively oriented classes is to help them become well-rounded designers. They get even happier when they learn that there are many tools and companies, Webvanta included, which provide enabling technologies that smooth out the complex learning curve involved with creating sophisticated sites. Talk is relatively cheap, so this lightbulb shines brightest when we switch over to actual demos.

During this recent trip, there were definitely a couple of these "a-ha!" moments when we moved into an interactive tour of Webvanta. Tying some of the theory of the working world to actual demonstrations of real sites and their implementation secrets made more than one student exclaim "now I get it" and "I wish I had learned this sooner!" Those kinds of reactions are gratifying on a number of levels.

My hope is that part of our work at Webvanta will contribute some small boost to students’ preparation in the field. I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping them discover ideas, techniques, and tools that may prove useful within their careers. We are always looking for new groups to network with and share, so please feel free to contact us if you’d like to chat.

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