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Student Web Design: Does Form or Function Go First?

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Colin Hussey is education business manager at Serif, an educational publisher of design and graphics software.

Serif Inc. is an award-winning developer of professional and consumer-oriented desktop publishing, design and graphics software. Serifs new WebPlus X4 for web design takes a desktop-publishing approach allowing students to design a website to look exactly the way they want it to look. All coding is done behind the scenes, but students can view, understand and edit elements of the code.

For more information, please visit Serif Education or call 800-489-6721.

The general convention when it comes to professional website building is that the web developer will make the site work, whereas the web designer will make the site look good. A developer probably could attempt the design work as well, whereas a designer might not be too strong on the functionality side of things.

For years, the distinction between website building and website design has caused a disagreement in schools: Which is more important? Should we teach children how to design an aesthetically pleasing website, or should we teach them how to implement the technical aspects of a site? Is HTML coding too difficult for the average secondary school student?

When creating the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners Lee himself intended to transform the Internet into something that could be used and understood by more than just computer programmers. In todays technology-crazed world, however, is it now more important than before for students to learn the background behind creating web pages?

Colin Hussey, education business manager for Serif, argues that there are benefits to both. There is a constant debate in schools today around web design and what children should learn and how that fits with the skills they might need beyond the school situation. Some ICT teachers have a view that they have to teach the HTML behind web design when that isnt necessarily the case. It can be difficult for students to grasp, and there is an argument as to how many of them will actually need to know that in the future. However, some would say it is an important skill which, in a digital age like today, students should be taught.

The original intention for the World Wide Web was to create a system in which contribution would be very easy. Features such as blogs and social networking sites have enabled that intent; almost anyone can post his or her thoughts or creations on the Internet in a matter of seconds. Profiles on Twitter and Facebook can be controlled and customized to an individuals taste. In the same way, company websites are adapted for a particular target audience, and to convey key messages. For many, what a website says and does is key to a company or organizations online presence, and in marketing themselves.

Hussey says, Educating children on how to manage the look and feel of a website gives scope to incorporate cross curricular elements, such as art, English and math. For example, encouraging students to think about what kind of text to include on their website can tie into literacy. By sticking to the content and concentrating on teaching children who their audience will be and how to tailor it to them, they will learn how to gather information and display it in a creative or practical way. As an employer, that is a very attractive skill in a potential applicant.

Many ICT teachers place emphasis on teaching their students skills that a business requires. Debatably, with the growing corporate use of the likes of Facebook and Twitter, countless more students will come up against the challenges of designing a web page, rather than creating one by writing back-end, behind the scenes code in their future job roles. The skills they will learn while focusing on design aspects are easily transferable to non-ICT based occupations; however there is value in understanding how to create and control your own web data.

One argument for a more technical ICT curriculum is that some students have developed an interest in how their computer works, and want to explore, modify, and get involved in the behind the scenes coding in order to go on to work in IT. In that case, teaching HTML could be very useful.

Also, an obstacle faced by some ICT teachers, especially those with a more engineering- or technology-focused background, is that they can feel somewhat exposed teaching the creative aspects to web design. The web has progressed rapidly and, up until recently, web design was more about techies playing around with HTML, and less about graphics and aesthetics. Making and designing are arguably two quite different things -- just because you know how to bake a cake, doesnt necessarily mean you can make it look pretty!

Web creation is not for the faint hearted, however, and making a complex subject interesting and exciting to the majority can be a challenge. Some children suffer extreme boredom, others will thrive.

Resources can help, says Colin. There are many software programs out there that cater to HTML, but for schools that decide HTML is just too complex to teach to their students, there are also resources that enable the design process without initial focus on the technical bits.

Another idea for teachers unfamiliar with graphics is to team up with the art and design, or design and technology departments, to share ideas. For those to whom creativity doesnt come naturally, drawing on the ideas of the more artistic and imaginative people in the school can be a real help.

ICT is about developing utilitarian skills for future office jobs, as well as for learning those fun things in a teenagers life, such as photo editing, graphical projects, and game making. But something that cannot be ignored is that it is also a serious technical subject. Perhaps the best curriculum is one that can balance all those aspects of instruction.

Article provided by Serif
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