CDIA Boston UniversityThere’s a myth that colleges and universities are teaching antiquated web design skills: table-and -spacer-gif-ness, FrontPage 98, etc. Actually, I don’t think it’s a myth — it’s actually happening out there. So after touring Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts yesterday, I was completely surprised. CDIA offers an interactive design program with an emphasis on CSS, web standards and hand-coding — and it’s right in my own backyard.

Jeremy Osborn, the program’s Director, mentioned that, while BU offers the resources and infastructure of a large university, CDIA is largely independent and run much like a startup — adapting and changing the curriculum as the techniques and methods out in the real world do. I found this approach pretty fascinating, and it’ll be interesting to see how their program evolves along with the web itself.

I’m hopeful there are other programs out there in other states and countries that are offering modern skills for budding designers of the web. Leave a comment if you know of any.

Also, if you’re in (or planning to be in) the Boston area, have an interest in teaching web design, and have the skills to guide the next generation of standardistas, contact _jeremy [at] cdiabu dot com_. They’re expanding fast.


  1. Dave Simon says:

    That’s very good to know. I know I checked the online catalog of a local university and their “web design” class requirements were:
    Windows PC, FrontPage, PaintShop Pro.
    I actually laughed out loud at that. Then I looked at the instructor’s pages, and I cried. Well, not literally, but it was pretty bad.
    I think that we, as a profession, have to support programs like the CDIA one in order to continue the advancement of our profession.
    Kudos to them.

  2. James says:

    The curriculum for the UK A-level (pre-University) in IT wasn’t even as far as spacer gifs when I took it a few years ago. As I recall I dropped a few grades in the web design module because I wasn’t using frames for navigation, and I was using CSS rather than doing stuff with font tags.
    So it’s good to know that things aren’t all bad any more, but I can assure you it wasn’t a myth!

  3. I graduated with a BS in Informatics at Indiana University (Bloomington campus) a year ago, and the intro to web development class that I took about two and a half or three years ago now (which I unfortunately forget the name of), started us off right away with XHTML 1.0 Strict and external CSS. We were taught right away to validate our source to fix bugs and other great stuff. It was a perfect start for me and I loved it.
    Go IU! :)

  4. Nate K says:

    It is good to see someone taking the right approach. I actually searched several schools in the surrounding area where I live and was unable to find anyone teaching the right way. I spoke with several on the phone, and even a few in person. They are simply behind the times (like most of the web developers in my area). I feel bad for the students coming out of that program, as much as I feel bad for the clients of local web developers around here. Truth is – they REALLY don’t know any better. They think that tabled messes and spacer gifs ARE web development.
    Anyway, Im rambling now. Thanks for the link and info – now I just need to get them to move to Ohio.

  5. Dan Mall says:

    The Digital Media program Drexel University in Philadelphia originally taught antiquated methods when I started there 4 years ago, but has since come a long way. They tried an experimental Modern Web Design elective, which was ultimately a hit, so they’re now integrating it into the core curriculum.
    I’ll be teaching some of those classes soon. I think it’ll go a long way if people that are passionate about this stuff start approaching universities to offer their help in teaching it. The best way to ensure that students are learning it correctly is to teach it to them yourself.

  6. Ben Partch says:

    I was asked by a friend the other night to instruct his girlfriend on how to build a webpage.
    She takes web design classes curreently so I figured she just needs some pointers. I mean she has been going to school for it. I just play around in my spare time.
    I started by opening an HTML editor (crimson) and started trying to exaplin what css was all about and she said:

    “No, They want to build a site using Image Ready and Dreamweaver.”

    Eek! I do not even know how to use IR.
    I think she left there thinking I was a novice, and in fact I am, but one thing I have learned, is not to use IR, DW to design a webpage. :)
    So the point is yes, they are still teaching people to slice and code with IR/DW

  7. Mike Rundle says:

    RIT’s Information Technology program (I graduated from it May 2005) has been following this adaptive methodology for many years. I had classes about the semantic web, XML/XSLT/XHTML/CSS, usability testing, accessibility best practices, advanced Javascript, etc. Very cool stuff.

  8. zro says:

    I work at a community college in Michigan, and the web dev. program there is absolutely ridiculous, despite my many efforts to advise reform.
    When speaking with students about the program, I usually refer them to sites or books by Dan, Zeldman, Meyers, etc. rather than engage in the program there. Its sad, but true.
    Any suggestions on how to effectuate change? Someone write a nice article that can be sent to the heads of departments, and instructors explaining how their teaching of outdated misinformation is going to kill the web or something!

  9. Shannon Pace says:

    i am from queensland, australia and am keen to expand my meager web design skills. does anyone out there know of a good course (such as the one mentioned in the article above) that is available externally? there is pretty much nothing around here in queensland.
    any help would be great.
    cheers and greetings from australia,

  10. Olav says:

    That sounds amazing! I, on the other hand, am closing in on my examn in tables for layout:

  11. Espen Liland says:

    Good to hear there has been some development in this field. At my school, NITH we’ve just started a new class with the snappy name ‘Web design’. I didn’t have high hopes to begin with, but when our lecturer fired up Firefox, demonstrated CSSzengarden and CSSbeauty, and started talking about W3C and strict DOCTYPEs, I knew this had some potential :D

  12. I had checked out their program about 6 years ago but it hadn’t evolved as it is now. I instead took a webmaster program at Clark University which was closer to home. They taught all the basics and gave me a little bit of everything, but master of nothing.
    Mostly I have come to recognize that the best designers seem to be self taught and come from completely different backgrounds but are passionate about their work(web).
    Honestly, you learn something new everyday and if you are not, you’ll probably be left behind.
    Heading up your way to Salem State to watch some college soccer tonight. Thank goodness the recent gloomy weather has past.
    Do you think its time to have another NEWD meeting this fall?
    - melissa

  13. Ranjani says:

    I’m remarkably grateful that I didn’t take a web-design course outside of intermediate school because of how poor the quality of the lessons are – within my high school itself, there are 3 levels of web design and development; not one delves into CSS past basics. This essentially implies that tables are used for layouts and school webpages are clogged with extraneous tags and misused Javascript.
    It’s both saddening and enlightening to me how people are gradually learning to change with the web, instead of obstinately standing against it, and that my school doesn’t provide those capabilties. So kudos to Boston – I want them to come teach me everything.

  14. ~bc says:

    Dan, if you’re teaching a course, I’m signing up today. Even if not, I think their certificate program might be just the thing to get me back into things. Would have killed for this to be in my college curricula 5 years ago. Alas, I only had the web to teach me… but I do better with project based learning “use these tools to make xyz.”
    The only thing that worries me is that a) their “request a catalog” link is broken [well, not that much] b) BU is known for one of the most expensive tuitions in country.
    Thanks for pointing it out Dan!
    (ps – is NEWD ever going to make a comeback? Maybe CDIA would like to host a gathering?)

  15. Ryan Miglavs says:

    I would have loved to take such a course.
    Or, perhaps not.
    I’ve learned real-world web design skills by seeking out the best approaches and researching/using them. By having the freedom to choose my own instructional materials (such as your fine Bulletproof book), I can learn the most modern, most effective techniques without the hassle of a structured course that may not have the same goals as I do.
    I’ve found great success with programming, as well. Courses at schools don’t teach Cocoa/Objective-C, which is the most useful and fun environment for me. Or robotics in the high school level. I’ve been lucky to have teachers/professors who let me shape my own educational course, but much of it is best outside of class as well.
    Despite all that, I still think it’s great to see standards-oriented, best-approach web design courses. Everyone has different ways to learn the same things, and a class is certainly a broadly effective medium. Cheers to that!

  16. Jeff L says:

    Hey Dan,
    Intersting to know about this – I hadn’t heard of CDIA before.
    Unfortunately their footer (except the homepage) uses this text:
    “To contact us click here.”
    With “here” as the hyperlink….with no underline and no noticable color difference. Looks like they could still use a bit of help internally. I wonder about the quality of their ID classes when I see something like that on their site. Their code also doesn’t validate, and they have sixteen paragraphs in the code with nothing other than a non-breaking space in them. Maybe you should send them your book… :-)
    The most interesting program I’ve seen recently is actually at my alma mater, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. They have a M.S. in Interactive Communications that looks like a pretty decent program. If only it wasn’t so far away!

  17. I graduated from the Digital Media Technologies program at Malaspina University-College back in April. We had a course on Web Standards which actually used your book, Web Standards Solutions.

  18. Ryan Romero says:

    I graduated about 2 years ago with a degree in Information Technology and Informatics at Rutgers University. A great program that provided me with diverse skills in both interaction design and web design and development.
    One class – simply called Web Design started off with learning basic table layouts – but then went straight to hardcore CSS layouts. The professor would even fail us if our sites that we hand-coded didn’t validate.
    The best part of the class was the fact that they used “the book of Zeldman” as a required text book. It’s this class that led to my obsession with both notepad and CSS.

  19. Mark Stephenson says:

    The Open University offers a Certificate in Web Applications Development with emphasis on designing with web standards, usability and accessibility. It’s only a basic course but does cover a wide range of topics. However, although they introduce JavaScript, they didn’t teach an unobtrusive approach, but the courses are updated on each presentation, so they may have changed this since I last checked.

  20. I’m from Germany and I was in an IT School for 2 years (2004 – 2006) and in the webdesign courses we learned very much about frames – no table-layout, no css layout, no webstandards. That’s realy horrible!
    Okay, a little bit of these courses were about CSS, JavaScript and the doctype, but you need more than that to be a professional webdesigner. I had to find out by myself what XHTML is.
    In this comment I want to thank Dan for his perfect book “Bulletproof Webdesign”!
    I don’t know if other schools or universitys in Germany are like mine…I hope not!
    Greetings from Germany

  21. Giuliano says:

    j’ m a web design and j would improve my accademic curriculum, any of you know good online programs for students living abroad, thanks a lot

  22. Tim says:

    Good timing — I just joined the faculty at Washtenaw Community College teaching in the Internet Professional Program. Our goal is to teach people standards-based, semantic and valid XHTML and CSS. In addition to hand-code classes we have user experience and design classes. One faculty member is currently on sabbatical writing new courses to expand our offerings.

  23. Shane says:

    It’s good to hear that at least some people are doing it right, but I reckon that a large proportion of educational institutions will always be behind the times.
    This problem isn’t just linked to web design, either; when I finished uni, I was quite surprised at some of the technology out there when I started working ‘professionally’.

  24. Patrick says:

    I teach web page design as a part-time instructor at The University of Akron, Myers School of Art. I only teach the use of standards-based HTML and CSS. It’s my little contribution to the field.

  25. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Which supposedly prides it self in being a forward thinking University) doesn’t have a single class in web design. Not when I graduated in 2003 and not now. I found this extreemly dissappointing, and it has set me back a ways.
    I hope that at some point they get get some new blood in there. The one glimmer of hope is that at least the University’s new home page vailidates and uses standards.

  26. The University of Baltimore currently offers MFA programs in Integrated Design and MS programs in Information Design and Information Architecture. I teach the Introductory HTML course, and the books I use are by Zeldman (DWS), Krug (DMMT), and some guy named Dan Cederholm (WSS ;).) We also use the Bulletproof book in the second, more advanced class, and have added Web Standards DOM Scripting to the curriculum as well.

  27. Stephen Ireland says:

    Well timed article! – Last year I assisted on a part-time evening course teaching website design at a higher education college in the UK. When I found out what the tutor was teaching, I was pretty shocked. The course was supposed to be “advanced website design” – by which they meant build a website using HTML and CSS.
    As the tutor hadn’t much knowledge of CSS, he took it upon himself to teach tables, framesets, and rollover buttons in Flash. Naturally, the work that came back wasn’t up to much, other than that of the one guy I’d been helping.
    I’ve since learned that the tutor in question has been given the boot, and they’ve now asked if I’d like to teach the course.
    I’m now in a position where I need to work out what should be taught in an course with 60 hours contact time, over 17 weeks.

  28. From what I’ve heard (from my girlfriend who has taught “web design” at a private university in NYC) a major problem in this area is that many universities don’t hire anyone without a masters degree, and in her school’s case rarely consider anyone without one from an ivy league school.
    Since it seems the vast majority of the best web people out there lack those credentials, it significantly narrows the pool. So, like in her school, it seems a lot of schools can’t find anyone who both meet their silly criteria and knows what the heck they’re doing.
    Almost all the best web people (designers and programmers) I know are completely self-taught.

  29. Chris Alexander says:

    In my recent situation I attend the University of Santa Cruz Extension program for my web certification and was appalled by some of the stuff I was being taught. In an HTML course we were taught about tables for layout, frames, styling text with html, etc. Photoshop focused on slicing for tables with a quick mention of CSS. Worst of all was that they had a CSS course which I was excited about, however, the course never discussed layout with CSS. When I asked the professor about it he said, “The description for the course says, “…an introduction to layout.”" There was no advanced CSS offered.
    I’m glad to say that thanks to sites like Dan’s here my final project was a complete CSS based website using XHTML Strict.

  30. Ben Esteban says:

    At the University of Missouri at Rolla the class that covered web design actually used Designing With Web Standards as its textbook for a while. That class got me started with web standards. But that was back in 2003.

  31. ASka says:

    I was surprised to learn that my Uni ( I started recently)actually stresses on standards based sites! Whooohoo… hope more people will follow this trend.

  32. Penny says:

    I’m from the Blue Mountains in Australia, and I’m currently doing a Cert IV course at TAFE which is fantastic. I think a lot of the TAFE courses are still teaching dreamweaver-esqe stuff, but my course and teachers are fantastic. We have learnt XHTML Strict, css, web standards, accessibility from the start, but I think it will always depend on how enthusiastic your teachers are!
    Shannon Pace – does anyone out there know of a good course (such as the one mentioned in the article above) that is available externally?
    I think you can do it through OTEN (TAFE distance education) in NSW, but the course isn’t yet complete. They are also lowering the CERT IV levels of knowledge to omit php and javascript, which will be included in the diploma.

  33. As a college professor I couldn’t agree more with your post. I teach web design but almost all the best desingers are defintely self-taught.

  34. Matt says:

    I’m a secondary school IT teacher in the UK, and the stuff we are have to teach is often quite depressing.
    Most A Level IT course specifications still state that table based webpage layouts must be utilised to attain full coursework marks.
    If you think that’s bad, you want to try reasoning with people who teach the subject to a hundred kids a day and have never even heard of web standards or validation.

  35. The intro to web course I teach at Drexel University in PA focuses exclusively on xhtml & css, and requires all pages to validate. (and tables and spacer gifs would require rediong the assignment.)

  36. Josh says:

    Hey Dan, there is at least one other New England state that offers standards compliant web design courses. While it has not been promoted to a bachelor’s program, the University of New Hampshire does offer a Minor in Computer Information Technology… While I will not be around for its time, I have heard rumors within the faculty that there are steps in place to promote it into a Bachelor’s Program.

  37. Nev says:

    Unfortunately, my recent experiences suggest that we’ve still a long way to go, here in Northern Ireland, when it comes to education about the Web Standards. I should be charging Mr Cederholm commision based on the number of times I’ve recommended his “Web Standards Solutions” book to students as a great starting point on the subject ;-)

  38. Jeremy says:

    While it’s not a design program, the history PhD program at George Mason University has a specialty in history and new media that focuses on web standards. (I should note that our department website is being switched to a standards-based design as I write.) Paula Petrik’s “Clio Wired 2″ course is specifically about designing with web standards. Granted, many of the historians in the program are VERY novice designers, and none that I know of have joined the program with backgrounds in web design/development (including me). Thus, I think it an excellent thing that we’re learning to using web standards. Lots of grad students have the opportunity to do assistantships at the Center for History and New Media, where we also use and promote web standards.
    We have an excellent program, for anyone out there who is interested in building and presenting history on the web and interested in earning a PhD or MA in history.

  39. Vaughn D. Taylor says:

    I got a degree in graphic design in 1991 when paste-up was still the modus operandi. I started building websites in February, 1997 ( I went to BU 2000-03 for a Masters in e-Commerce. CSS was still not widely supported then. Just today I had to create an email newsletter for here in New Orleans, and it occured to me that email still does not have wide CSS support. Oh, the pain of creating a tabled layout. Arghhh!
    I was an instructor (applications specialist) for AGFA in Wilminton, MA (not far from you Dan). I would love to pass on some of my knowledge to the younger generation at BU, but there are so many here in New Orleans that need help.

  40. It’s happening at the Kansas City Art Institute. I’m torturing my students with proper markup and styling. They seem to be catching on, however, I still think this stuff has to be self realized.

  41. Mark Douglas says:

    I’m right with you Nathan. I absolutely insist on XHTML strict and CSS, simply for the discipline. Hand coding, although with BBEdit, and unlearning any awful habits the students may have picked up along the way.
    Now if I could just get the University to hire a webmaster who actually gave a damn (or even knows) about standards. A new redesign is to be launched in the next weeks that’s still tables…
    (The site linked is my pirate site, not the ‘official’ one.)

  42. I wholeheartedly agree with most of the sentiment expressed here. I’m an adjunct lecturer in web design and development at the Center for New Media at Colorado State University-Pueblo. My basic web design and development class is very project-based and I force my students to hand-code at least their first two projects using Notepad. I also push strict XHTML and CSS and, later in the semester, insist that the students validate their code (seems to me to be a bit draconian to force validation upon them earlier, when they’re still struggling just to make things work).
    As students progess further in the program, their professors insist on strict, validated code.
    During the first three weeks of the course, I lecture on basic, old-school HTML web design. I feel they need to know the past to fully grasp its evolution into the future — and, besides, as professionals they are bound to encounter “antiquated” websites (some of which aren’t that old). The best answer for a client may not always be “let’s rebuild the whole site,” so I feel they must at least understand some of the old tricks of the trade.

  43. Hi Jeremy Osborn, program director for the web program here at CDIA. It’s been really great to read all these responses and also to see the other programs out there.
    Mark, you get to the heart of what I grappled with for the first run of the program: how to balance the instruction. The reality of the webworld is such that there are still millions of pages out there based on tables, so when my students get out into the “real world” what will they do when faced with these?
    I took a bit of a leap when I started the program and decided to minimize the “old school” training. So my students receive perhaps two days maximum out of 12 weeks on understanding table layout. I try to frame this by teaching people how to solve design problems and where to look for information when it’s needed. This way I hope to give them the confidence and the skills to tackle issues they will encounter once they graduate. Coming face to face with a site laid out in tables becomes just another issue to understand and work with.
    What’s great is we’re starting to see small and large companies sending requisitions for positions that specifically target our student’s skill set.

  44. Desmond says:

    Great informtion. I’m looking at doing the Web Design Certificate at the Arts Institute Online – through the Arts Institute of Pittsuburgh. Just want to do it to have a little more credibility behind my name. Anyone have any reviews of this program – it looks like they, too, teach xhtml + css (if they don’t I’ll drop it right away!).
    But any reviews would be helpful.

  45. Rocketeer says:

    I think that it’s faster to get onto the right track the first time around! The end-result is always more rewarding( I still get excited when my site validates to XHTML1.0 ). Is IE still alive!?

  46. jeff says:

    I am a part time interactive design instructor at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although the school is very well known as an excellent design institution, the web design methods taught are pretty antiquated. When I started teaching a year ago, everything was done via Imageready, slicing and Go Live. I have since switched the curriculum to a web-standards based approach with semantic markup and XHTML and CSS, validation, user testing and other current practices. Although the students have a harder time catching on to this than the ‘old’ way, those who have made it through my classes have told me that they appreciate being taught with current best practices in mind. The only issue is that I am not the only instructor, and the other two teachers still practice the old methodology. I need to speak with the dept head and see if I can;t get everyone using an up-to-date curriculum.
    Best of luck to everyone who is ‘pioneering’ this approach. Everyone working today benefits when students learn the right way to do things.

  47. Mike says:

    i just started to learn this method of design. i have been using css for a few years now but i found i wasn’t using it to it’s full potential.
    thanks for the book. most web dev / design programs should use this as a text book imo.

  48. manu says:

    Actually, I used to teach semantic web design at INSIA, a french, privately held university. I’m not working there anymore, but I’m pretty sure they still have that module in their curriculum.

  49. The University of Baltimore has a strong graduate program in Interaction Design & Information Architecture. They teach the latest web design standards and make sure students have a strong understanding of CSS, Javascript and DOM.

  50. Plethora ;) says:

    I’m a student in a distance learning program at Bristol Community College (Fall River, MA)and I am learning about XHTML and standards and validation and CSS in my Internet Developer course. One of my assignments is to surf the net looking for articles on these topics, which is how I came across your site.

  51. typo on Oct 12 entry: “inspring” probably should read inspiring, or, since it’s in November, infall.
    “Relax, nothing is under control.”–Master Foody Moody

  52. CLo says:

    My coworker Jesse, who is an awesome designer, introduced me to your blog!! This is a very interesting post. Cool site overall. I love corkd.