Preparing for study
Our MA programme is intensive and fast-paced. Our students are expected to be motivated independent learners. For most students, that means the programme can successfully be negotiated only by applying a great deal of hard work. However, you can make your life much easier if you prepare well for the programme before it begins.
The purpose of this page is to point you in the direction of some learning materials that you should use in order to prepare yourself for the programme. It is especially important that those with little or no background in web design start studying early. Although the programme assumes no prior knowledge, you will give yourself a major advantage by at least reading through the materials recommended below. Even those who think they are more advanced may benefit from further background reading.
Do I need to buy books?
Not necessarily. We are very fortunate that there is a great deal of good quality learning material available on the web for free. If your budget is restricted or non-existent, we recommend that you use the material listed here to acquire a good understanding of web design.
- Opera Web Standards Curriculum
- The Web Book
- HTML Dog
- Web Style Guide
- A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web
What if I prefer reading paper books?
That's just fine — in fact, there is even more scope for finding learning materials that suit the way you learn if you prefer reading on paper.
Those of you who already have some experience of web design may have your favourite texts but for those who are absolute beginners, we recommend one of the following 2 books as a primer:
- Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML
There are many books on web design written for beginners but this is one of our favourites. Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML by Elizabeth and Eric Freeman is an excellent book that provides a comfortable introduction to the complex topic of web design. It assumes nothing but manages to cover a great deal of ground. The Head First series of books are not conventional text books — they are illustrated, annotated and full of pull quotes and break-out boxes. However, it is an incredibly effective way of learning and each section includes question and answer summaries to keep you on track.
- HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions
If you prefer a more conventional approach in your text books, you should probably take a look at HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions by Cristopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson. This is another excellent book for beginners. It doesn't try to pack too much in, it's well paced, focussing on the important stuff and making sure the reader is comfortable with this. The book is intended as a first step and encourages readers to continue their journey towards web design expertise by recommending follow-up reading and citing additional topic areas that should be explored in a final chapter entitled Where to from here?
In addition, we recommend the paper version of Mark Boulton's A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web or Sexy Web Design by Elliot Jay Stocks as a graphic design primer. We also recommend the paper version of the Web Style Guide to cover other aspects of the subject.
So, with a budget of around £50, you should be able to equip yourself with 3 key text books that will give you an excellent start in web design (providing you read them!).
Isn't Web Design changing all the time?
Yes, it's a fact, learning about web design is only half the battle. Keeping up with new ideas, changing techniques and evolving standards is also very important. Fortunately, there are a number of excellent sources of information that will keep you informed of contemporary issues. We list 12 of our favourites below and recommend you visit each site regularly (once a week) or subscribe to their RSS feeds.
- Smashing Magazine
- Six Revisions
- Impressive Webs
- Line 25
- Think Vitamin
- Web Designer Wall
- 456 Berea Street
- A List Apart
- CSS Tricks
- Design Festival
If you have an iPhone or an Android smartphone, we recommend the Pulse mobile app as a great way to always have the latest articles at your fingertips.
For your convenience, we aggregate feeds from all of these blogs and magazines at our programme forum so you can easily see them all in one place.
For general industry news, articles and tutorials in a more traditional format, we highly recommend .net Magazine. You will find a 12 month subscription an excellent investment.
Will I need to provide my own web hosting?
All students will need a web hosting account so that project work can be presented online. It's also important that students learn how to manage websites and configure web hosting options.
We know that web hosting can be confusing for those new to web design, so we have partnered with a number of web hosts to offer our students some special offers on web hosting. Information on setting up a hosting account will be given to students at the start of the programme, so if you don't already have a hosting account, you should wait until you hear the details.
Will I need to reorganise my life?
You may, it depends on how much free time you currently have. Our full-time students tell us that they spend between 25 and 50 hours per week on coursework during term time. That is a major commitment and proves that this really is a full-time programme despite the fact that attendance is only one day per week. Our recommendation is that if you work full-time, you should take the programme in part-time mode because you probably won't have enough time to successfully complete the coursework. Even if you don't work full-time, you still need to ensure that you can dedicate that many hours to your studies.
Advice from our students
We regularly ask our students for feedback so that we can improve the programme but we also ask them what advice they would give to students who haven't yet started. Here are a few of their comments:
This course requires a lot of self discipline in terms of further reading and further study out of the classroom. I don't think it is obvious at the outset that this is the case.
I work anywhere between 25 hours to 50 hours a week. For example I would do 5 hours Mon to Fri doing classwork and reading. However, when a big project drops I could spend anywhere up to 12/14 hours a day.
As a student who had no inkling or clue as to any web design/coding before the course began I would recommend prospective students to buy the required books and start reading the required chapters straight away, before the course begins.
I think the most important thing is that students commit to pre-read a very select number of books on the reading list. Once you are into the main learning there is very little time to do core stuff — so I would recommend that CSS and HTML pre-reading must be done.
I may not ‘tweet’ as often as I'd like on Twitter, but I find it an incredible resource for up-to-date articles/goings-on in the web design industry. I look at Twitter on my phone almost every day just to glance at what's happening in the world, straight from the mouths of those that are so influential in the industry. These are some of the people I follow who are absolutely great:
- @mashable - Mashable
- @zeldman – Jeffrey Zeldman
- @alistapart – A List Apart
- @simplebits – Dan Cederholm
- @jasonsantamaria – Jason Santa Maria
- @kissane – Erin Kissane
- @beep – Ethan Marcotte
- @abookapart – A Book Apart
- @malarkey – Andy Clarke
- @andybudd – Andy Budd
- @adactio – Jeremy Keith
- @markboulton – Mark Boulton
- @sitepointdotcom - Sitepoint
- @sixrevisions – Six Revisions
- @smashingmag - Smashing Magazine
There are a couple of books that I read once the course had started that looking back I would like to have read the summer before. One was Don't Make me Think and the other was Handcrafted CSS. I've only just had a chance to read the latter in any great depth, and it's fantastic, and manageable. If I'd been a complete beginner at the start of the course, then getting hold of the Craig Grannell book and ploughing through the opening chapters would have given me a good head start. It's a bit dry, but it's a really solid book and covers the basics really well.
I wish I had previously read the book I have used the most since the beginning of the programme: Essential Guide to CSS and HTML Web Design (Craig Grannell). I bought this book when the programme started and I think it would have been easier to assimilate the content of the Webpage Design course if I had studied this book before the start of the programme. Something that helped me a lot was the HTML Dog step by step tutorials, I've done most of them and it was great to practice the basics of coding. I'd pick another book that was recommended in class, The Web Designer's Idea Book (Patrick McNeil) which is also a great book for layout inspiration. HTML 5 for Web Designers by Jeremy Keith I considered very good reading as well. Something I should have done is to start reading .net Magazine before the programme began. I've been reading articles constantly from A List Apart and subscribed to the newsletter at Sitepoint; those are, in my opinion, the best websites and I think the sooner new students get to know them the better.
There are so many important books to read that I would suggest new students start reading them as early as possible. Then get into the habit of reading for an hour or so every day. These books, in my opinion would be CSS and HTML Web Design by Craig Grannell and The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird. Also, it would be good to start reading .net Magazine, Smashing Magazine and the Sitepoint newsletter. Finally, if there is time, I would suggest you start practicing Photoshop.
Hardware and software
Get yourself setup with a decent laptop and key software before the course starts as there's not much time to mess about once its underway.
I learned Photoshop in the two months before I started. Absolutely essential. Also, knowledge about how a text editor such as Dreamweaver works is good to know too.
Of course you can use free software to create websites and manipulate images but there's a reason that Adobe Dreamweaver, Flash and Photoshop are the software packges of choice to the web design and creative communities. Using your student card you can pick all the key packages bundled up for less than a third of the price of the commercial version. Work this in to your course budget up-front and you'll be ahead of the game.
Thanks to all the students who contributed to the content of this page.