A few months ago I had the pleasure of appearing as a panelist at a university networking event. I was slightly confused as to why they asked me. I’d consider myself a young graduate who’s been vigorously thrown into the world of work without a second thought. Never the less, my presence and advice was valued and in turn, I gained from the experience.

While I was there it became increasingly apparent, the more students I spoke to, that universities aren’t keeping up to date with web standards. For example I questioned several students about theirs views on responsive web design to which their response was the equivalent of tumbleweed rolling through the desert.

I don’t know why I was so shocked by this. I will admit I wasn’t the most proactive student, but responsive design has effectively changed the way the web design industry operates. Debates, articles and blogs on the subject are everywhere, so why did these web design students not know about it?

The Issue

You go to university to study and your lecturers are there to guide you. If you have any respect for a university lecturer you will know they are not there to spoon feed students information. Yet still, shouldn’t they be guiding students towards the right resources? Well, they are, but often these sources are out of date.

The issue is that the web design industry moves at such a rapid pace that academic curriculums struggle to keep up. It’s clear that the academic curriculums for web design modules/courses needs to be updated more regularly, but it is also clear that lecturers need professional, industry assistance when it comes keeping their students (the next generation of designers and developers) up to date with industry standards.

Asking a lecturer who has hundreds of essays and projects to mark to ‘do a little bit more’ when it comes to keeping up to date with the industry is often out of the question. They need a bit of guidance and I think us professional folk should do a bit more to prepare our budding young designers and developers for the industry. I know I would have appreciated it.

A Big Solution

Any worth while solution for this issue would involve our professional time, effort, and money. Whether it’s building a system for lecturers to book industry professionals to come and talk to their students; or offering short work experiences for lecturers; or publishing a website/magazine/blog that filters the mass of information down and targets lectures and students specifically. These would all take valuable time, but being the creative problem solvers we are I think it’s a worthwhile cause.

In essence we need to burst the ‘university bubble.’ This bubble is blocking out important, up to date information that undergraduates need in order to survive in the industry after obtaining their degrees. I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of User Experience when questioned about it in my interview. I understood the process and the importance of it once it was explained to me, but the terminology was something I had never heard. It wasn’t taught, or encouraged, or even thought about. And going back to the networking event I attended, that was my main piece of advice I told students.

“Know your stuff. If you happen to meet [insert major industry professional here] and you don’t know what they’re talking about then that’s one huge, potential connection down the pan.”

To Close

The challenge of solving this problem is not producing a solution (or end product if you will). Its not wondering “how are we going to do this?”. It’s bursting that bubble. Making ourselves visible. Gaining trust. And being professional and passionate about what we do and why it’s important. This is essentially a challenge we face quite often with clients yet somehow, we burst that bubble. So lets burst this one.

Despite the problems we may have experienced or come to recognise, many of us are still hugely appreciative of our Universities for helping us in our careers. We should want to feed knowledge back to them as they did us, helping them stay up to date with the industry and understand what’s important and what’s not. After all, both parties want talented, knowledgeable, industry ready students to leave university so building a stronger relationship between academics and industry professionals is beneficial to everyone.

What can you do, eh?

Individually we can all help make a difference, if willing and passionate enough.

I have recently been in contact with an old lecturer from the course I studied at university to see if I could assist in helping keep them and the curriculum up to date as the industry develops. A simple meeting between industry professionals and academic lecturers to summarise and explain the developments within the industry is all it takes to start building a relationship.

One simple meeting could burst the bubble…so go burst it.