Christopher Hallahan

User Experience Designer at IdeaBase and Educator

Christopher Hallahan

User Experience Designer at IdeaBase and Educator Episode 32

Episode Notes

Episode Transcript

Gary:
Hello, and welcome to Episode 32 of Design Edu Today, the podcast series discussing topics concerning the state of interactive design education at institutions of higher learning. I am your host, Gary Rozanc, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In this episode, we will be discussing the nuts and bolts of teaching responsive web design in a single class, including different strategies for teaching HTML and CSS, user experience and visual design. We also touch on how this responsive web design course fits into the larger curriculum and what an ideal set of choruses or programs would look like.

Today’s guest is Chris Hallahan. Chris works full time for Kent State’s College of Communication and Information as a User Experience Designer at IdeaBase, a collaborative, student-run agency located in Downtown Kent, Ohio, where he oversees students conducting research, design and development work for real-world clients, both inside and outside the university. Chris has two degrees, both from Kent State University, a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Media from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and a Master’s Degree in User Experience Design from the School of Library and Information Science. Welcome, Chris.

Chris:
Thanks so much for having me.
Gary:
I’m excited to have you. This is the first episode where I’ve actually talked to a fellow educator. It feels like it’s time that I started doing that!
Chris:
Awesome!
Gary:
You have been teaching a course called Responsive Web Design at Kent State University for a year or so now. Before we talk about the course, can you tell the listeners how it fits into the overall curriculum? Is this course part of the Visual Communication Design program that a lot of design educators, I feel, are familiar with, or is it part of another program at Kent State University?
Chris:
Yeah, sure. So, for those not familiar with the Higher Education world, which quite honestly, I wasn’t; I had taught one class before this so I’m still learning, but it’s typically a multi-step and year long or more process to actually get a course added as part of the official curriculum so it has to be approved on a lot of different levels throughout the University as I’m learning and working with the Dean’s office now, actually, I’m getting this course added but this same process means that a lot of University courses sometimes get the reputation for being outdated with current trends. However, many Universities like Kent State allow for these special topics courses, and those courses allow us to work on more cutting edge course material that isn’t part of the program yet but if a faculty member sees the need for that course and wants to essentially try it out for a few semesters, they can do it that way, so that’s how we got Responsive Web Design in which, it wasn’t new at the time in 2015, but still new by University standards. And I was actually kind of surprised at how smoothly that process went to get just a single course added as an elective and so basically, anyone in our VCD, Visual Communication Design program, can add it as an elective and it’s going to be integrated as a component of some new programs we’re developing once it’s actually approved, so we framed it also as a general communications course so it’s not only restricted to Visual Communication majors and we found that a lot of times, students have trouble getting into classes that are part of a different program than their own so our goal from the beginning has been to make this course accessible to anyone in a communications major.
Gary:
Oh, that’s…so this has absolutely nothing to do with the course and whatnot, but what was the rationale for that? Because we’re coming up across the same thing at UMBC: how do we play nicely in the same sandbox with communications?
Chris:
Absolutely and one reason for that was I wanted from the beginning the students to be working on teams with maybe somebody from a different background because that is going to be a little bit more realistic. Typically, when you’re in the real world you’re in a team. You’re not working with somebody that’s of the exact background as you, so it’s not a bunch of visual communication people exclusively working together: you have different disciplines so that’s one reason we wanted it to be more of a diverse course-set so that’s why specifically put it as a communications general course so that anyone could enrol on it and that’s been pretty successful, although it is primarily visual communication majors that are in the class but I feel like that diversity really helps.
Gary:
No, and it’s something I struggle with myself; like you said, the teams don’t consist of all designers, it just doesn’t work that way so, finding any way to replicate real world teams on a consistent basis is helpful.
Chris:
Exactly.
Gary:
So, did you create this course from scratch or was this an existing course?
Chris:
Yeah, it was from scratch and I had taken a few courses like this, web design courses as a student, when I was here and I also surveyed some of the other course offerings at Kent State and similar institutions. What I found was that a lot of them were missing a lot of these key responsive design components that I wanted to include and they weren’t always forward-thinking or not concentrating on things like mobile and content from the very beginning so in a way, responsive changed so much of our design processes as developers and designers, I wanted to use responsive as a tool to change how we teach web design to our communications majors, so…whoops, something just fell, sorry about that!
Gary:
Yeah, no worries!
Chris:
So, I found that a lot of these courses only concentrated maybe on the visual design aspects or a lot of them were extremely development-heavy so the design and content were very much secondary and many of them also didn’t include a user-research or testing component so I wanted to include something a little more integrated and representative of maybe the modern web design process and I also wanted it to be accessible to communications students who maybe had no prior knowledge of web programming, so if they were entering into say a course offered by Computer Science, they’re going to be kind of intimidated because a lot of the students in that class have already had some experience there, so I wanted to create more of a comfortable environment for VCD or communications or journalism students. The other part of creating the course from scratch, when we talked to students here at IdeaBase where I work as well as other VCD students, they talked about wanting more ownership over their web projects, so before, a lot of times, they were doing these designs and shipping them off to another developer, that waterfall process or maybe they were going to a WordPress theme and just hacking away at it and not really getting across the design that they intended, so I wanted them to learn to be more integrated and integral into the design process through things like prototyping, because a lot of times these mock-ups they were creating just didn’t work in practice and so front end development knowledge really forces them to think about this strongly.
Gary:
This is for the listeners: I’m a bad host. I really should have had Chris talk about just give the large overview of the course, but instead, there’s a website for this course; he’s documented the heck out of this course, so I would suggest before you go any further, just pause this podcast, go and read the course and so you’ll see the exact balance of user-research versus visual design versus coding. It’s all laid out, down to the how many, what he’s doing, what the class is doing on any given day, how long each student has to do each project: it’s really well documented. So, just go back and take a look at that. That said though, is there anything before we get into the nuts and bolts kind of thing that isn’t on that website that you’ve made for the course that you think the listeners should know as fellow academics?
Chris:
Yeah; one reason initially I had for creating that open website; our industry, web design industry, is very open…
Gary:
Thank you.
Chris:
Yeah, that’s one of the tenets of web design I feel like so I wanted to kind of emulate that in the course, a lot of times as Faculty, we’re very proprietary over what we’re doing in the classes so the intention really was to put it out there and see what other people would do as well and get their feedback so it’s pretty much all laid out there. We do use Blackboard Learn as our online course component for turning in assignments but that’s really just a tool for me managing grades and things like that: everything else is on the website.
Gary:
Great, and I’ve never actually said this, but I also have mine online, my entire…all my courses, anything I teach, it’s all up there, open, online. I just never really broadcast it but …
Chris:
Awesome.
Gary:
My philosophy again is the same: I learned how to do all of this, not from paying to go to school but from reading, going to conferences, looking at other people’s tutorials, looking at code myself so I feel like…I should return it in the same fashion that I received it. Free and open to the public. OK, so, back to the questions about the course specifically. So, I was trained as a print designer and have lots of experience of working as a professional in print design. Any of the web interactive or user experience design for me was pretty much self-taught, so until recently, I was teaching web design as if I was a …as if it was a print design media. So, on the flip side, you’re a user experience designer by trade, so how do you think your training and experience has influenced how you design and how you teach the course to flip from somebody who did it from a print perspective?
Chris:
Right, yeah. I’m on the same page as you: I was self-taught as well and so what I wanted to do was bring a little more structure to how people might learn about this outside of just Googling it or hacking away at websites and so first off, I feel like having that day to day real world experience is important for bringing new and relevant topics to classes like this: it’s going to be really important, especially with all these new CSS standards coming out and things like that so one thing I’ve also observed on my day to day practice is, sometimes we do design or develop within a vacuum and we’re not thinking how people are going to be actually using our sites so what we’ve seen from user research and testing and I’m sure you can attest to this as well is, actual users don’t always use our sites in the way we predicted or intended so I felt like it was important first for students to build the sites, prototype them, but also see how they work in practice, see people actually interacting with them and then go back and refine them and through the testing results and continue to build up on that. The other thing that I know as a user experience designer, and we talked about this before is, a lot of times I’m working in cross-collaborative teams on these huge web projects and while there are superstar web designers out there that work alone and are great, it’s pretty rare these days to just complete everything on the project itself and without thinking about the client or the organizational needs or even the needs of your team members, so I wanted if nothing else to make sure we’re building some empathy within the students so that they can see things from those different perspectives; it’s really easy to just design blindly and create all these fun mock-ups and everything and then just say, hey, it’s the developer’s problem on how this is going to work in practice, right? So that’s not a great approach in my experience, so I think just knowing a little bit about every discipline, even if we’re not going to be experts in that particular discipline, it’s going to help our future designers make more intelligent, informed decisions.
Gary:
No, I agree, and that’s…I’m making over…I don’t know when it clicked, but over the past year or so I’ve been making a huge, conscious effort to make them work in groups. Not even to work on it but just do some research together, I mean, anything so they’re just working not by themselves.
Chris:
Yeah, and they’re not always a fan of the group work and so I have to stress the importance of that. A lot of them do maybe it’s more of a designer thing, I’m not sure, but a lot of them do like to work alone so you have to kind of break them out of their comfort zone sometimes.
Gary:
Yeah, I start with just literally, you do it too, a responsive case study, but I make them…of an existing site, but I make them do it in groups so there’s like, OK, you divide it up: each one of you answer these questions and make sure there’s no repeated filler when you come up and present it and I keep it, a lot of those little exercises, just so that they’re used to working together and I give them a little more autonomy when it comes time to actually make the visuals, so this has been my approach to it. So, another…oh, and on the user experiences, I don’t know about you, but I get a huge kick out of watching students working on their laptops. They use those computers in ways that I would never have possibly imagined. It’s just fun watching them. Do you ever get caught up in that, watching how they’re working, how they’re using a website or how they’re using an app?
Chris:
Oh yeah, definitely. You mean, just personally how they’re…
Gary:
Yeah, because you’re Big Brother, you’re walking through the classroom and you can see them out of the corner of their eye, what they’re doing…out of the corner of your eye.
Chris:
Yeah, and I think that’s just my research tendency is I tend to look over people’s shoulders and see, how are they actually using these things, where are they struggling: I think that’s just instinctive in our trade too.
Gary:
Yeah, OK good, because I do it too, all the time, and I love it! All right, so…at UMBC where I’m teaching, our interactive/web design course is part of a BFA program that has a concentration in graphic design. So, I constantly struggle to balance visual design with user experience and with front end development. From looking over your course website, it looks like you are concentrating more on user experience and front end development and I guess the visual design comes in, in third place. So is this an accurate depiction of the course and was it by choice that you did that?
Chris:
Yeah, I would say so. When you think about these courses, there’s only so much you can fit in to one semester, right? It’s about fifteen weeks or so and so how I approached it, I’m not academically trained as a visual designer; self-taught. However, many of our students are already juniors and seniors and they’ve been through a lot of the rigorous course material already through our BFA program so I tend to trust their instincts and I feel like what I can do is help them apply the universal design principles they’ve already learned in other classes, specifically to the interaction and web design field so I find that I need to do a lot of coaching on how to bring those concepts to life, how do you add the interactivity and how do you think about your design in the world of unpredictability. As print designers, you mentioned this before, we’re very used to a predictable canvas and so I try to get that into their heads that you really don’t know how people are going to be using your content, your design, what platforms they’re going to be on and what context they’re going to be in, so I really try to focus on that.

The other reason we don’t focus exclusively on design as a component is because we have those students from other communications fields like journalism, communications studies and computer information systems even, so I don’t want to hold them to necessarily the same design standards as the design students. In fact, I want them in this course to think about places where they’re maybe not as comfortable, like the UX, like the content or like the development and inversely, the non-designers I try to challenge them to do some of the design work for the first time and they’re not very comfortable in that and they will be the first ones to say, I’m not a great designer and I try to say, that’s OK, because I want you to see this from a designer’s perspective so that you respect what they’re doing and they’re going to respect what you’re doing. And that said, we do have a unit that focuses on style tiles, mock-ups in Sketch: we use Sketch as a program when they’re typically using Illustrator or Photoshop and we do some pattern library things too, so we are doing a few different design components that maybe they’re not finding in their other classes that I think are helpful and if they choose not to use those in their process, that’s totally fine, but I want them to see that there’s different ways to approach these things.

Gary:
Where…have you started playing around with Adobe XD?
Chris:
I’ve played around with it. I haven’t integrated it into a class yet. I feel like it’s still a little restrictive in terms of you have to pick, for example, different screen canvases so it’s a good prototyping tool maybe for apps; I don’t know if it’s as good of a prototyping tool for responsive web design but continuing to look at these kind of things.
Gary:
Yeah, it’s not really that important because…one’s not mature enough and the other one is waiting for the other one to see what they do next, to push it forward I guess.
Chris:
Exactly.
Gary:
I basically, I finally made the decision to put my eggs in the Sketch basket. But we’ll see how that decision goes.
Chris:
Yep!
Gary:
So, I have my students use a text editor and at the moment they’re currently using Brackets for working with HTML and CSS. However, I like the idea of using CodePen for this but my struggle with it is, I’m concerned that students won’t understand the idea of linking to external style sheets, linking to external JavaScript files and as well as understand the idea of multiple pages utilizing a single style sheet. So based on that concern of mine, why do you use CodePen for the beginning HTML exercises?
Chris:
Yeah, I absolutely had the same kind of concerns and what I really love about CodePen, and I use it for these mini-exercises, I call them, just for learning HTML and CSS basics, is that it’s so simple to set up and receive instant feedback without having to install a lot of complex software or maybe have multiple windows going, and what I’m trying to do there really is give the designers some easy wins so we can get them excited about how simple it is to get started and that can be really encouraging to a designer who has no coding experience but maybe they open up CodePen and they could start writing a few lines of HTML and adding the CSS and they see it appear instantly in the browser window, so that’s been really cool and I know that that’s not a realistic experience so what I’m doing concurrently along with the exercises, we’re exploring working on a semester-long project which is a prototype and that does use the traditional HTML, CSS, JavaScript file setup so that they understand that too. And I do have to stress a lot of times when we use CodePen is that hey, CodePen makes this really easy for you, so know that it’s putting in a lot of required HTML and link tags for you while the real website is not going to, so I have to warn them a lot: don’t get too comfortable with how convenient CodePen makes it for you because when you get into that real website prototype, you do need to put these things in.
Gary:
Yeah, and I think another advantage, and like I said, I’m doing the opposite: I’m starting off like, we’re building a page, these are the elements, you know, looking from top to bottom, but I keep going back to CodePen and it’s like the idea of Atomic Design, you make pattern…you make the atoms, you make the…that’s better suited to do that in CodePen and then you can just dump them all into a bigger template/page down the road.
Chris:
Yeah, I didn’t even think about it in that perspective but yeah, you’re seeing a lot of the developers and designers trying out those little component ideas in CodePen first because it’s so easy and then taking, folding them into the overall website so yeah, that’s just another advantage I think of something like CodePen.
Gary:
And I started doing that myself, when there’s something I want to test out before I crank out an HTML5 boilerplate and start working on that and I was like, wait a minute: there’s a tool for this! Let’s use CodePen.
Chris:
Yeah, it’s getting I feel like harder and harder to get started on a project. There’s a lot of components to add in and everything so I think at least when you’re trying things out and practicing and learning, CodePen has some real advantages there.
Gary:
So, I have another nuts and bolts kind of philosophical question: I see that you also have students use GitHub, instead of having them use FTP software and having them sign up for a hosting service like Media Temple or Bluehost. What’s your rationale for going for the GitHub route, for hosting pages?
Chris:
Yeah, a few reasons. It was intentional. One reason is, these days unless you’re working completely solo, maybe on a personal website or portfolio, how these files typically get onto a production server is, typically implementation detail, in my opinion, because typically teams are committing code changes to some kind of central repository these days, whether it’s a public one like GitHub or more of a private one like a Bit Bucket, and so a lot of times there’s these automated processes that transfer those files to the server for you, whether that be FTP or SSH and I find this in my own work, I maybe set up the FTP credentials once and then I have some kind of process to go ahead and commit those onto the server, so I would rather encourage the modern version control process rather than the whole cowboy coding thing where we’re modifying files maybe live on the server and the other reason for this is because we’re working in these teams, we needed a way to version control between those multiple people in the teams and Git’s probably the best way to do that and it’s become kind of the de facto standard in a lot of these development teams, so we’re also using GitHub’s really fantastic and free GitHub pages service which will actually serve the files on the web for free: it’s really easy to set up and maybe that’s not realistic for a production level website but at least I think it gets them closer then just going straight to the FTP. That said, I see some places where server knowledge would be more helpful so I totally see the value in that, especially for if they’re setting up freelance work or their personal portfolio, things like that. I just don’t know if it needs to be a strong focus of this course and in fact we’re doing an advanced section, Advanced Responsive Web Design in the spring. I would like to bring some of that into that course.
Gary:
No, and it makes sense because of the fact that you’re working in teams. There’s no other way to maintain code unless you are…without using Git, unless you’re…there’s no other way to do it so that makes sense. So, in my course, I actually do the flipped classroom where they do a series of…so they’re learning HTML and CSS through a series of screen-casts that I created for them outside of the class and so at that point, they’re using Brackets and they’ve got the live preview and since they’re doing it by themselves, they don’t really need to version control the code and so at this point, they just do it locally and then once they are done with it locally, this hit upload once, so, since there are no teams that’s why I was like…it didn’t make sense in my context but it seemed I knew you were doing it for a reason! And the GitHub pages too, I mean, it’s free.
Chris:
Yeah, and speaking of…you’ve mentioned the local hosting. I had a student last night actually ask me, she said, we’re making these websites on our computers; are we going to put them on the web some time or are they just going to live on our computers? And I had completely forgotten to mention that a lot of times, this is how we work: we work locally and then eventually we’ll push up to the repository or to the FTP server so that you can do all of your testing and trouble-shooting on the computer but that’s just something I took for granted, as a developer, but something that’s completely new to a new web designer, so I thought that was kinda funny.
Gary:
Yeah, no, it’s amazing some of these things that we…it’s crazy but we have to teach little things like that, and they don’t have to have mastery of it but they still need to know it!
Chris:
Exactly!
Gary:
Regardless of, I mean, even if they’re going to be just a visual designer or just the content strategist, they need to know these…they need to know how their content goes live!
Chris:
Absolutely.
Gary:
So, I could list all kinds of issues I struggle with when trying to teach responsive web design and if anybody’s been listening to this podcast, probably has heard me in quite a few previous episodes mention them all, but I’d like to know about some of your own struggles. First with the course design itself. Is there anything that you’re struggling with since you’ve now run this a couple of semesters?
Chris:
Mm-hm. Yeah and like I mentioned, I was going into this pretty much blind, which was good and bad; I didn’t have a lot of the preconceptions about how a course should be offered, what the right way to do things is. By far the most challenging thing on the course basis though that I found is the overall pacing of the course week by week. There’s just so much to cover in web design in general; web design is so many fields wrapped together and it’s just one semester so a lot of times, I want to teach everything; I’m really over-confident about what I can fit into a class period so I really had to learn these first few semesters how to prioritize and just realize that I can’t cover everything, so what I need to be able to do is give the students the tools they need to find the answers themselves, so if you need to Google it, find the answer on Google; go to CSS Tricks, something like that, because once they get into the real world in a year or so, they’re not going to be spoon-fed any kind of information; they’re going to have to find it themselves, so that’s one of my challenges on the course level. No, on a conceptual level with web design, some things that are challenging, layouts has been especially challenging so just laying things out on the screen, I can empathize with that because it took me a long time myself to actually understand things like positioning and floats and even this year, to the course I’ve added the flexible layouts, Flexbox and I think that’s actually a more intuitive layout method but it has its own level of complexity in a way, so I just wanted Flexbox myself, and now I’m teaching it so it’s kind of funny; I feel like now more than ever I have to keep up to date with the standards and then figure out a way to communicate that to students who are just learning this so I’m sure it’s very overwhelming for somebody that’s just coming in and having all of these new layout methods thrown at them. And then there’s new things, you know, like CSS Grid coming, and we haven’t even touched on that in the class but I hope to keep it as up to date as possible so when these new things come out, I’m just going to continue adding it, just to keep myself familiar with these things too.
Gary:
Yeah. And two thoughts there, and the first one is, in my own course, last semester I had them make just a simple grid framework kind of thing, just a simple grid; one using floats and then I had them do it again but using Flexbox and I just, unofficial survey asked the students, they all, all of them said that Flexbox made more sense to them.
Chris:
Ah! Good to hear!
Gary:
Yeah and I was like, OK, it didn’t make sense to me because I probably had got so used to doing it floats I found it a struggle, but…so anyway, I noticed that and I noticed too, there’s one semester there I got super-ambitious and I was teaching them Sass.
Chris:
Oh yeah!
Gary:
And they took…they got SASS…they got CSS quicker when they could use Sass.
Chris:
Ah, yes, that’s interesting.
Gary:
Yeah, well I mean, it makes sense because Sass is meant to make production quicker, I guess, in a nutshell, so they picked it up, they were able to pick it up easier but at the same time, now you have to throw in a pre-processor and it was like so many extra steps you had to add to the system of creating I was like, I can’t do it!
Chris:
Yeah, so just another level of abstraction that has its own problems, running the command line, running Ruby and all those things. Another question I get on that subject is, do you advocate CSS Frameworks like Bootstrap or Foundation, are you teaching those in the class and why aren’t you teaching those in the class? And my philosophy, and this could change, but I really want to give the students the knowledge of what these frameworks are actually doing first; so, how do you actually create a framework from scratch in CSS? And if they want to start using them on future projects and if it saves them time that’s great, but a lot of these frameworks are going to evolve and change over time so I feel like if you concentrate on the standards, you’re going to be at least set for the future.
Gary:
Yeah, I mean, you can’t teach to the framework because just two years ago, there was another one called Gumby that was the lightweight one that I was…lightweight, easy to approach, that one’s gone. Right know there’s Zurb and Bootstrap but who knows how long both of those are going to stick around, so I’m with you: I teach them to make their own, but it’s on a philosophical level for me though, it has to do with the fact that I…my primary responsibility is teach visual design, so I look at HTML and CSS and JavaScript as the medium of the web, just the way paper’s the medium of print and I need to teach it to them from the perspective of you need to know, you need to be familiar with the medium and if you’re familiar with the medium, after that, you are not going to be doing production level code! At least, my students aren’t, …and if they just need to throw something quickly into Bootstrap after the fact, just to see, oh yeah, this breaks how I was expecting, the media queries worked the way I was expecting it to, I think that’s good enough, at least for me, but that’s my own personal philosophy on it.
Chris:
Totally, yeah, whatever gets you there to the prototyping stage quicker, even if you’re not going to use a lot of that code in production, although some of our design students have done that, or a lot of times we’ll have maybe the prototype and then we’ll have more of a back end developer take that and refine their existing code but I think it’s good to have something, even if you have all of the typography and things set up ahead of time for that developer, it’s still going to be helpful.
Gary:
Yeah and this was one source of frustration when Adobe created Comet and then it became XD. For the life of me, I don’t understand why they didn’t make it responsive from the beginning, meaning when you draw a rectangle that you have to do it in pixels. Why it couldn’t have been percentages so you could have two boxes in an art-board that are each at fifty per cent and then as you re-size the art-board, the thing just re-calculates.
Chris:
Yeah…
Gary:
I just don’t understand why they didn’t get to that level with that program.
Chris:
Yeah, I’ve been conflicted on those kind of programs that supposedly do generate production level code.
Gary:
Oh yeah, I don’t want it to produce code.
Chris:
OK, yeah.
Gary:
I just want it as a quick prototype tool that they could literally put their columns in there and then here’s my three columns, let me re-size the art-board. Oh, the three columns are starting to get scrunched here, so this is where I need to put a new art-board and go to two columns.
Chris:
Yeah, OK.
Gary:
It’s just as simple as that, just so they could actually see in real time where their designs break.
Chris:
Right, yeah, that’s the dream, right? That would be the ultimate prototyping tool. I don’t know if anyone’s got it quite right yet but…
Gary:
No, and another one, I can’t…I mean, I can understand why Sketch didn’t because they started before, they started at the same time as responsive design so it was…I can understand why they didn’t. But for Adobe, why when you draw a text box, why can’t you apply padding to it? Why don’t you apply CSS…use CSS terminology. It doesn’t have to produce the code but you apply padding to a box, you adjust line height: you don’t adjust line spacing. You do things in ems, not pixels, so why they didn’t use that terminology was kind of confusing to me!
Chris:
Yeah, it seems like a lot of these programs are still stuck in more of the print fixed design world and hopefully that starts to change but I feel like these are good tools for exploring the designs and doing the patterns but in the end, right now at least, HTML CSS, JavaScript’s approachable enough that a designer can get in there: we’ve proven it in your class and my class that students are able to learn these things and these are design students without a lot of prior knowledge, so it is possible.
Gary:
Yeah, and this leads into my next question is that, I think it’s unrealistic for any educator to teach visual design, user experience and front end development, all within a single class and do them each one well. Since these are skills necessary for most any designer entering the field, if you could wave your magic wand, what would your ideal curriculum look like, or maybe at a minimum what would be a good…what would be a core of two to four classes that could teach all these things that students do need?
Chris:
Yeah, absolutely, there’s a need for a handful of classes to give them that well-rounded education. I know personally I cannot fit all of this into one course; we do varied little chunks in each unit but to really get into the details, I would say that there does need to be a course focused entirely on usability and user research. Maybe one that’s more interaction and motion design focused or even human computer interaction, just mentioning those principles in addition to the web design course where you really learn to build the sites and remembering that the web design course could apply more than just to the web, so, other media as well: email, television, apps, things like that, I think that thinking goes a long way. The other place I see a gap in our education is in content strategy: a lot of times we forget about how we’re going to gather the content, what is the suitable content, how are we going to prioritize that content, so I feel like a course just on content strategy would also be effective. We have a team here at Kent State, they’re working on this proposal for a user experience design minor which anyone in the communications fields, I believe, or other majors could take and so this responsive design course would be a component of that and it’s going to have a few classes like I mentioned so I feel like something like that is a good step in that direction as well it’s just integrating more of these into the curriculum for, say, visual design.
Gary:
Yeah, and that’s the real key because for this to be successful, these can’t be standalone classes; these philosophies need to be threaded throughout a traditional design program. Like you said, design a postcard. Now design an HTML email!
Chris:
Exactly.
Gary:
They both serve the same purpose. Good, so, Chris, before I let you go, is there anything that you are working on personally that you would like to share or is there something that you want to promote, or any advice for educators that you want to shout out to?
Chris:
Yeah, well I always like to give a shout out to the great things we’re doing at IdeaBase and it’s really unique in that we have a group of student employees doing real paid client work as part of their undergrad and graduate education so one aspect I think has been really helpful is getting students working with clients on a regular basis and getting them to work on these real works projects. So I would say, if you want them to learn more about IdeaBase and maybe more of the classroom experiences that we’re putting on here at the College of Communication and Information at Kent State. We have a website that’s ideabasekent.com and the other thing that I do is I tweet about the class or what we’re doing in the class, so that’s at rwdkent on Twitter and you mentioned that course website which is at rwdkent.com
Gary:
Yeah, how do you…OK, because I follow you on Twitter. How do you manage that to tweet during the class and keep all that stuff? I can’t…I can’t! I just can’t!
Chris:
A lot of times I have to remind myself, hey, you need to take a picture in tonight’s class or have some kind of topic to post. One other thing we try doing is having the students come up with the Tweets and so last semester I had them do, what’s one thing that you learned that was new today and I give bonus point that they provide something for the Twitter account, just trying to make it a little more engaging and I think people are genuinely outside of Kent State maybe interested in what we’re doing in the class, so trying to put that information out as much as possible.
Gary:
I like that idea because students do need to learn about social media, so what better way about…OK, it’s your job now to also manage the social media for this course.
Chris:
Yeah, why not?
Gary:
As a side-project.
Chris:
Yeah, we’ll try whatever works and if it doesn’t work, that’s OK so I’m open to trying new things definitely
Gary:
Well yeah, I’m going to try it now that I’ve thought of it, but it might be a little too late for this semester, but future, I’ll have to figure out how to do that.
Gary:

All right, so that’s all we have time for today on Episode 32 of DesignEDU Today. I want to thank today’s guest, Chris Hallahan, for being so generous with his time. I want to thank the audience for listening and I also want to thank the DesignEDU Today hosting sponsor, Digital Ocean, and CDN sponsor Fastly, for making the hosting and distribution of these podcasts possible. Finally, I want to thank the AIGA and the AIGA Design Educators’ Community for their generous support of my research that led to this podcast series.

You can discover more about the Design Edu Today podcast and read the session notes and transcripts on the web at designedu.today. You can follow us on Twitter @designedutoday, on our Facebook page or subscribe to this podcast through the iTunes or Google Play Store. If you’d like to suggest topics for future episodes or give feedback to help improve the show, contact me through Twitter or the show’s email at hello@designedu.today

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