September 26, 2022

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The Horrifying Problem With the Way Web Design and Development Is Taught

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I heard something horrifying at a networking event. This particular event focused on having website designers and developers help answer questions from business owners and non-technical people seeking to, well, have their own website. While the idea of such a tech-savvy bunch might be horrifying to some, that wasn’t what horrified me.

When people would come up and show their websites and ask for feedback, the responses were almost universal from the group of my colleagues. Every single time someone would ask for help, the responses would be about things like accessibility compliance, what plugins they need to be using, why their choice of a particular plugin was good or bad, how they needed to worry about PageSpeed scores and a huge laundry list of deeply overwhelming technical terms for the layman.
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This hyper-focus on the technical feedback of websites is precisely the problem with web design and development today. It’s not that things like accessibility, how fast a page loads and how a site is built don’t matter (and frankly, they matter a lot), it’s just that they don’t matter at all when one key component hasn’t been addressed.

It’s the one thing that makes most websites fail before they even have a chance to reach a potential customer: how the website itself is communicating.

Fundamentally, a website is a tool for communication. They serve no purpose other than to help spread information from one person or entity to another person or entity. In other words, without a person on the other end to read, watch or listen to the website itself, it serves absolutely no purpose.

A website’s only purpose is to communicate something to another person

After all, an algorithm really doesn’t care about the contents or nature of a site. The algorithm is just going to do whatever 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 education about usability studies revolving around UX & UI principles, but rarely are these surfacing for something like a business website, for example.
All of the focus is around the technical crafting of the website — the backend technologies that enable the site to be created, how to do different types of design, structure of programming languages and the like.
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Website design and development education ignores communication design

Consequently, because all of the education and knowledge around websites are on deeply technical subjects required to build the sites themselves, and almost none is focused on the communication design of the medium, it’s no wonder that most websites suck.

Further, it’s no wonder that most people are frustrated in seeking out answers to make their websites better. After all, when you Google anything on the topic, you’re only met with more technical answers about things you “must do” to have a good website and none having anything to do with the actual conversation your website is having with someone reading it.
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The next time you’re trying to improve your website, rather than focusing on a technical improvement, do this instead: Read it out loud 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 display better writing, video and visuals to support the communication. Then, you can worry about any technical issues you may have.