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. Use the material listed below to acquire a good understanding of web design basics.
Developing a good understanding of the Web landscape is a key first step. Read this book first.
Resilient Web Design
Jeremy Keith’s is one of the most important voices in contemporary web design. His book, Resilient Web Design charts the rise of the Web and defines many of the core principles of modern web development philosophy.
Familiarising yourself with the fundamentals of HTML and CSS is the second step and there’s a choice: use either the two Code Academy interactive tutorials or the Shay Howe tutorials.
Codecademy: Introduction to HTML
This is a wonderful, interactive tool for learning code. The introductions to HTML and CSS are excellent and anyone with little or no knowledge of web coding should work through these simple exercises, beginning with HTML.
Codecademy: Learn CSS
Once you have completed the introduction to HTML, move on to this introduction to CSS to develop a full understanding of how the two technologies work together to create styled websites.
Learn to Code HTML & CSS
Excellent tutorials by front-end developer Shay Howe and specifically designed for beginners. It covers all the basics and more in a simple and accessible manner.
We always aim for a balance between coding and design because in the context of the Web, the two are inseperable and, in fact, in many cases they are one and the same.
Designing for the web
Mark Boulton’s classic book on graphic design for websites, covering the design process, typography, colour and more. Now available to read for free.
Once you have covered context and coding, you’ll be ready to deepen your understanding. The two books below will help you do this.
Web Style Guide
An online version of the book by Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton. This book covers page design and layout, information architecture, site structure and editorial style, among other things.
The Shape of Design
A complete book by Frank Chimero, which covers general design principles with an emphasis on web design. Beautifully written and highly readable.
There are many online references for Web Design, some better than others. We recommend the one below.
Mozilla MDN: Learn Web Development
Not only is the Mozilla Developer Network a great place to learn web development, it also provides excellent references for web development topics, written by experts in the field.
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 books.
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 the following 2 books to start with:
HTML & CSS
Jon Duckett’s book has become a classic text and if you’re an absolute beginner to web design or you’ve only dabbled with coding for the web, this is where you should start. The book is beautifully designed but, crucially it is very clear and easy to follow. It doesn’t assume any prior knowledge but manages not to patronise the reader. Reading this book will significantly reduce your learning curve at the beginning of our programme.
Learning Web Design (5th edition)
This book by Jennifer Niederst Robbins is our key text for the Design for Web Content course and it should therefore be at the top of your shopping list. If any book could claim to be a single volume introduction to everything a beginner needs to know about web design, this book comes closer than any other. At over 700 pages long, it isn’t a short read, but it is a surprisingly light read. Robbins is obviously a teacher and her clear and logical explanations of the topics in this book are delivered at a sensible pace, which makes even complex concepts such as progressive enhancement and responsive web design easy to understand. This book is ideal if you already have some web design experience or if you completed the Jon Duckett book and are ready for more.
Of course, there are many books on web design that you could read to prepare yourself for this programme. To some extent, your choice of reading will depend on your background but you should take a look at our suggested web design books list for more ideas.
I learn best by watching videos
That’s OK too but we recommend you spread your learning across a range of media. Active learning is always best, so make sure you follow up on any examples in videos with some hands-on work rather than just watching them. Of course there are 1000’s of videos on YouTube that you could watch but ideally you should look for a series of video lessons that give a good introduction to the subject. If you’re looking for a free video course, the HTML5 & CSS3 Fundamentals track at Microsoft’s Channel 9 is very good, despite being recorded in 2012. Don’t spend any money on video training just yet because students on this programme get full access to Lynda.com, but you can get a head start using their free month trial.
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 some of our favourites below. The first two are crucial and we recommend you visit them regularly (once a week), the others are worth visiting monthly.
If you have an iPhone, iPad or an Android smartphone or tablet, we recommend the Feedly mobile app as a great way to always have the latest articles at your fingertips.
It’s not always convenient to read articles when you stumble upon them but fortunately, there’s an app for that too. Use Pocket to store useful articles so you can read them at a more convenient time.
There are plenty of design and Web related podcasts available and if you have a lengthy commute or you sit at a computer for extended periods, listening to podcasts can be an efficient use of time. Here are a couple you may find useful:
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.
Twitter is the place where web designers sound off and discuss code and design. It’s also the place to be if you want to keep up-to-date with the world of web design. We encourage all our students to get involved. Here is a starter pack of 20 people you should follow:
How do I get to meet other web designers?
In general, web designers are a very open and welcoming bunch of people. The best way to start networking is to attend meetups and conferences where you can hear talks from experts and mingle with like-minded folks.
Meetups are usually monthly evening events and most are free. Tickets go quickly so it’s best to sign up for email alerts so you know when they become available. Our favourite meetups are:
Meetups are also a really good way to get to know what’s going on in your local area, so if you live outside London, check out your local meetups—not only are they a great way to make contacts but you’re likely to hear about job opportunities before they’re even advertised.
There are an increasing number of web design conferences all over the UK and abroad. You’ll mainly be going to hear world-renowned speakers talk about their work. Most of these talks are inspirational and you’re likely to go home feeling creatively energised. Conferences are usually one-day events but some extend over 2 or 3 days. Most conferences are not free and typically cost £100-£200 but most have substantial student discounts and/or allow student volunteers free access to the talks. There are too many good conferences to list them all, but here are a few to look out for:
- State of the Browser (London in September)
- Generate Conference (London in September)
- New Adventures (Nottingham in January)
Some of the best conferences are scheduled at the beginning of September, before the start of the academic year but it would be worthwhile attending at least one of these (say State of the Browser) in order to kick-start your education in web design and meet up with current students. If you can’t do that you should definitely check out the archive of the wonderful dConstruct conference series.
Do I need my own laptop?
The short answer is “yes”. Most of our students find having their own Windows laptop or MacBook incredibly useful and convenient as it means they can easily work between home and class seamlessly. It also makes our teaching/learning environment more flexible, allowing you to get the most out of the programme. Most web designers tend to favour Macs but a Windows laptop will be just fine; we support both. Web design is not particularly demanding in computing terms, so any mid-range computer less than about 3 years old will be ideal.
What about software?
It’s a good idea to become familiar with a text editor specifically designed for writing code. There is a lot of choice but we recommend Sublime Text (Windows/OS X/Linux). However, an excellent free alternative is Atom (Windows/OS X). If you use a Mac, you should also take a look at Espresso. There’s no need to change if you already have a favourite editor that you love working with.
Don’t spend a lot of money on software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator before you begin the programme. As a student, you will be eligible for free versions of these applications.
The only other thing you’ll need is a FTP client. There are lots to choose from but Filezilla will do to begin with.
If you’re unsure about any of the software described here, don’t worry, we cover all the details and will help you install everything during Welcome Week.
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’ll help you get set up with your own hosting during Welcome Week. If you don’t already have hosting in place and you’d like to have something organised ahead of time, we recommend the shared-0 hosting account at Clook. It has everything you need at a reasonable price (£25 for a year) and their support is great.
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.