Beacon News

Daniel Ryan, User Experience Advocate, Speaks to Web Design Class

| Course Offerings, Guest Speaker

SpeakerSessionLast week, Sandy Novak’s Advanced Web Design class was fortunate to have a classroom visitor via Skype. Dan Ryan, a web development professional and formerly Director of Front-end Development for Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, was the guest speaker. Ryan concentrated on the importance of considering user experience when developing and designing a Web site, and students were able to gain real world understanding of Web design.

After introductions, Ryan immediately indicated his primary focus when developing a Web site- the user. Ryan asserts that the main function of a Web site is to serve the user and provide a “frictionless experience” for him/her. People should be engaged in the Web. The developer should therefore understand the behavior of the target audience and design the Web site accordingly. For instance, Ryan warns that any image or link that is clickable should look it, and forms should always appear like they can be filled out. Otherwise, this goes against what people expect, and they will not know how to interact with the site. It always needs to be clear to the audience what to do so they do not have to learn something new just to use one particular Web site. Ryan also reminded the students that about 25% of the population has disabilities or impairments that impact how they use the Web, so their needs should always be considered when designing a site.

Ryan took some time to review the core components of Web design: html, which is a text mark-up language and determines content; CSS styling; and JavaScript, which determines the level of interaction. He cautioned students to always use the most appropriate tag with html, to be very specific when using CSS, and to use JavaScript sparingly, especially since there is a lot of inconsistency amongst browsers. He also informed the class that many professionals rely on preprocessors, so they should be prepared for that in the work world. 

Ryan also touched on relevant Web issues, such as the trend in designing for mobile first. His advice was to build a site with the smallest screen in mind, then gradually add on features that would work well for desktops but not phones or tablets. To increase speed on the site, image sizes should always be limited. The designer ultimately should consider screen size first because there are so many different browsers and they are updated so frequently that it becomes impractical to try to target them first.  

Ryan ended the discussion with some advice for students considering Web design as a career path. Ryan himself did not plan his career, so he advised students to be open-minded and jump on opportunities that are presented to them. He also noted that the Web is the “great equalizer- nothing can stop you from doing this work.” Plenty of people with learning disabilities, ADHD, or other learning differences such as autism, excel in this field, according to Ryan. Even those students who go into other fields will find they have an advantage in the workforce as their Web based skills, such as knowing how to write a blog post or start a social media profile, are highly valued by employers.  

From this “visit” from Dan Ryan, students were able to connect what they were learning in the classroom with what they can expect when they embark on their careers. Student Michael Tabankin commented that it was “inspiring” to hear from a real world professional in the field. It was clear that students in the Advanced Web Design class learned quite a bit during their one hour session with Dan Ryan, gaining invaluable insight and advice. 

~ Gretchen Dreimiller

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