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:
Do all you can before you start. A basic knowledge of HTML elements and CSS selectors gave me a massive head start. Get yourself familiar with the tools and let the course teach you the technique.
As a student who had no inkling or clue as to any web design/coding before the course began I would recommend prospective students buy the required books and start reading 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.
Don’t underestimate how much work is involved. In my first year, even though I was a part-time student, when a project deadline was close, I was doing 30-35 hours a week on top of my job. In regular weeks, I spent at least 15 hours a week on work/reading/practising Illustrator and coding etc.
As a full-time student, 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.
Be prepared to work hard. I am a part-time student and work 4 days full-time. A lot of time is needed to be able to read, learn and do the assignments/course work we are given. Try to keep on top of things and not leave things to the last minute. It can feel intense when you’re trying to learn how to do something and then actually do it but if you are organised you’ll feel in control of your learning.
If people are unsure about going full-time or part-time, then I’d always suggest the part-time option. I feel that I’ve got so much more out of taking my time, absorbing things, reading around topics and applying the things I’ve been learning at work or in personal projects.
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.
Out of the entire reading list, the Book Apart series has been the most instructive, accessible and engaging—this series is essential.
The web has changed a lot in recent years. I would highly recommend reading about Responsive Design before starting the course (Ethan Marcotte’s ALA article and book are essential). RWD is difficult for those of us used to desktop computers or traditional design, but is the way things are moving.
A book that was recommended in class, The Web Designer’s Idea Book (Patrick McNeil) is a great book for layout inspiration. 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.
It’s important to realise that the course is a framework to guide you and help you if you have questions, but you shouldn’t rely on classroom time alone to become a web guru. You’ll have to do further reading in your own time about the topics covered in class, and use an actual coursework project to experiment with the techniques you read about. Even if you have previous web experience (like I did), you’ll have to put in the hours to do the coursework to a high standard. I thought I could carry on in my full time (8.5 hours a day) job while I did the course, but I realised after a while that it was too much.
Don’t burn out – either switch to part time work, or the part time course. Continue to push yourself – try something new with every piece of coursework you do, even if it’s just one small thing. Try those things you’re scared of – start planning your projects as soon as you get the brief from the tutors so that you can spend extra time working on bits you’re not as comfortable with. And finally – my favourite aspect of the course was to see other students’ work, and give and receive feedback, both positive and negative. Apart from taking the comments on board, this helps you practice critiques in general and verbalise the reasons for design decisions; after all, a client isn’t going to be content with “I did that because it looks nice”!
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 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.
If you’re not already a Twitter user then set up an account and start following other experienced designers and developers. There is a lot of useful information that is tweeted, including articles to help build your knowledge and views and comments on the latest things happening in web design.
For me, Treehouse has been the best learning support online—it covers everything that the MA does on the coding side and this really helped with things like setting up WAMPP, learning PHP basics and, at the moment, is invaluable for getting to grips with coding original WordPress themes. If students can afford it, it is well worth the approx. £15 a month subscription which can be cancelled at any time.
Attend as many web events as possible (time and money permitting), I found it to be the best source of inspiration! And of course it’s a great way to pack in a lot of knowledge in one day.
I’d always advise people to make the most of free/cheap tickets for web conferences and meet ups as the prices are eye-watering following graduation. I’ve loved the conferences I’ve been to on a student ticket and feel that this is where you get to know more about the cutting edge stuff that the course teaches. For keeping up to date at other times, Front End Rescue gives a good overview for getting started.
Regarding design, Prisca’s Eyelearn site is amazing for design links, but I’ve also learned a lot from studying the work of contributors to sites like Typography Served, Branding Served and Web Design Served. I also found UX Apprentice to be good for a UX intro.
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.
Pick a good text editor such as Sublime Text and learn it well (keyboard shortcuts, features, plugins). You’ll be using it daily so invest time now and you will be more efficient in the long run.
I learned Photoshop in the two months before I started. Absolutely essential. Also, knowledge about how a text editor such as Sublime Text works is good to know too.
Sign up to Pocket or similar. It’s hard to read everything at once and sometimes you need to go back and read things a few times. Pocket lets you save any article you see for easy reading later. You can add tags to make it easy to find and group similar articles.
Of course you can use free software to create websites and manipulate images but there’s a reason that Adobe 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.
Know when you need help and don’t suffer quietly. The support I’ve received cannot be faulted and seeking advice left me in a better position to exceed to my full potential.
Build good relationships with your class mates. Not only can you learn from sharing each others’ skills and knowledge but being sociable together can really enhance your MA experience. When the pressure is on it’s nice to have group of people you can moan to or ask advice from.
Make friends with your colleagues, they may end up being your foot in the door. Your knowledge of modern standards is rare and in high demand. Build up your network and job vacancies will find you.
Thanks to all the students who contributed to the content of this page.