As you know, we are big proponents of accessibility. We believe that content should be available to anyone at any time on any device. As 2016 draws to a close, it has become apparent that many web pages rely heavily…
If you design or develop websites for a living, more than likely you’ve heard about the importance of web sites which are accessible and usable for everyone. So, what’s new and newsworthy today and why should you care?
Accessibility has a far reach
In a nutshell, today’s Web Accessibility and Usability best practices reach beyond the blind, the disabled and the hearing impaired to include today’s busy power users and a multitude of mobile devices. People want access to information. The web is the de facto “go to” location these days. This is why it is so important to make certain everyone has equal access.
Why does that matter? Accessibility is a civil right.
- Monetization – if your site is not accessible, you may face a number of issues (from complaints to lawsuits). It is so much easier to incorporate accessibility into your site development process.
- Differentiation – accessibility helps in other aspects (including helping with search engine rank and overall user experience).
Web Accessibility Summit findings
To better understand the value of what this means to today’s Web professionals, I participated in the Environment for Humans Web Accessibility Summit in early September, 2016. Here are some of the key take-aways:
- Accessibility helps the overall user experience for many who do not have a disability (consider those working in bright sunlight/ experiencing screen glare).
- It takes a team (know what aspects of accessibility you are good at and where you need help – and it is sometimes important to know when you need to ask for help).
- Individual experiences vary significantly and the way we perceive a site often has to do with the context while we experience said site (for example, consider your willingness to tolerate page loading delays while you are trying to re-book a flight because you are at the airport and yours was just cancelled).
- Some groups are working very hard to develop new technologies to assist those with disabilities.
For project managers
If you are reading this (and manage projects), it is important to champion accessibility because it improves the overall user experience at your site. One should not think of accessibility in terms of edge cases; think in terms of those who have temporary issues (whether holding an infant and trying to look up information about your product or suffering some motor impairment due to a stroke). As a project manager, you may need help developing a business case for accessibility. There are sites which can help (such as http://www.w3.org/WAI/bcase/Overview.html).
For accessibility testing
If you are testing for accessibility, it is important to include screen captures in your report. Identify the exact problem (including the snippet of code). Also provide examples of how this problem may be repaired. Keep in mind that when multiple people report a problem, they will likely word it differently. This is why screen captures are important to include. It may also be helpful to include video of you interacting with the site using tools like VoiceOver (Mac), NVDA (Windows) or ChromeVox (for Chrome browser and ChromeOS).
Smart Charts Project
During the Summit, I learned about the Smart Charts project (for example, http://describler.com/#intro is a prototype data visualizer) from Doug Schepers. Surprisingly, if you are using a screen reader, you can gain more information from a chart than is presented visually. The above site should be examined visually and with a screen reader to experience the difference.
There are many resources which one can use to test for accessibility and to better understand how to code properly. At a minimum, you should be aware of the ADA site – https://www.ada.gov/access-technology/. We are developing a list of accessibility resources which will be available via our SchoolOfWeb.org site for our members. A couple of short courses at our SchoolOfWeb.org site will soon be offered covering the fundamentals of web accessibility.
We encourage you to strive to make your sites accessible, not just for legal reasons, but because it is the right thing to do.
Community Evangelist and Executive Director
This year’s national web design contest in Louisville, KY, was another fantastic and inspiring event. It is always great to be among so many talented and passionate web designers and developers. We saw a significant improvement in the level of knowledge, skills, and abilities competitors brought.
We also trained competitors further in areas such as web accessibility, security, and web design process. Web accessibility is an area which is too often overlooked. Yet, by making your web pages accessible, you actually increase search engine rank (after all the search bots visiting your pages are blind). There was an increased awareness of ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) after our training. ARIA helps make web pages accessible when more advanced techniques are applied to these pages. Security was also highlighted in our training. Anyone reading this is likely aware of many data breaches which routinely make the news. We covered the fundamentals (such as two factor authentication and strong passwords) and also reviewed secure coding “best practices” one should employ. Many competitors also learned about the process professionals currently follow (and emerging trends) as they design websites for clients.
Best practices stressed
We believe it is critical to help set standards and confirm web design educational pathways include what is happening in the industry today. This is why we hold this national contest every year. It is also why we reach out to those running state competitions so we have a common approach. The fact that we are seeing improvement from year to year means our message is getting through (to students and those who teach these topics).
There was a palpable sense of excitement on the competition floor this year as everyone tested their knowledge and skills against other teams (each team had to win first place in their respective state to compete; we had first place winners from 29 states competing in either our contest for high school students or our contest for post-secondary students). It was inspiring to see how some approached the tasks laid out in the client work order. Some broke their time into segments and put together a project plan and measured their performance throughout the day. Others worked closely as a team. We observed some who finished each other’s sentences during the interview process. That was real teamwork in action.
What employers look for
Our efforts are also important to employers. We are helping competitors understand the knowledge, skills, and abilities employers look for in applicants these days. Those who conduct the onsite interviews of teams are the same individuals who hire web professionals. They asked many of the same questions one would anticipate in an actual interview. This means competitors had a chance to experience an actual interview (many for their first time). They should be better prepared when they are actually seeking employment in the field.
We are helping competitors better understand what is expected of them in the workforce, but we are also helping industry by raising the bar so those competing are better prepared when they enter the workforce in this dynamic and rapidly changing field. We are also helping them better understand what tools employers look for when hiring.
Gold, silver, bronze medals awarded
Winners were announced as part of the SkillsUSA National awards ceremony on Friday at the Kentucky Exposition Center. Roughly 18,000 people applauded those who earned gold, silver, and bronze medals in Web Design. First place winners received an annual subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. Many thanks to Adobe for providing these. Winners also received a number of scholarships from various schools.
Riley Johnson (part of the team which won gold in our contest for secondary students) told us why he participated in the contest. “I participated in this competition to gain valuable web design and business skills from industry professionals. I also participated in it to meet and network with some of the other most talented web design students from around the country.”
Riley also offered this advice to those planning to compete next year. “To do well in this competition you have to focus on more than just web design. There were many skills being tested including interview ability as well as creating and presenting your development process. I think this competition is an excellent opportunity for aspiring web and software developers and I have been able to use the skills I gained here in other competitions as well as interviews.”
“Thank you” to those who helped
We also want to give a big shout out to all who helped with our competition. Jon, Steve, Chris, David, and Jonathan were onsite and did an amazing job of helping me coordinate the competitions. Shari, Brandy, Chandler, James and others spent hours analyzing the work of the competitors. We mention these 4 judging super stars as they have been judges for multiple years and always step up to the challenge (even though it means a couple of very long nights for them – and they all have day jobs). We appreciate your efforts immensely.
Every year, we ask members of the Web Professional community to help us review our competition rubric; serve as judges (we do all the judging remotely), and help in many related tasks. If you are reading this, what do you plan to do to help us next year? Sure, we are all busy, but we must make an effort to consistently train the next generation (and train them well). Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat past mistakes. We look forward to your involvement next year. You can always get in touch with us at: https://webprofessionals.org/about/contact/.
Prepares Students for both College and Career
By Tinka Davi
When seeking shops and services, hunting for health advice or pursuing potential clients most people turn to the Web. And those companies and individuals who are the most successful in gaining new business and finding clients have websites that are attractive and attention-getting and trustworthy.
That’s why Web design is so important and is a key class in many schools and colleges. The successful student creates sites that entice the viewer to hire someone, buy their services or product or pay attention to the news and views offered. They also incorporate components to ensure that Web sites are secure and privacy is protected. For the past 15 years, over 3,000 students have utilized their Web design skills and accepted a challenge offered by WebProfessionals.org.
They’ve participated in the National Web Design Contest, established and sponsored by the WebProfessionals.org (aka World Organization of Webmasters). It challenges high school and college students to work in teams and build functional and secure Web sites for non-profit agencies.
This year’s contest will be held June 22-25 in Louisville, KY.
Each participating team is required to meet a series of challenges that focus on several areas. They include layout, story board and design, team work, project management and Web site accessibility issues. There’s also an emphasis on creative aspects, CSS and coding and client side scripting.
The purpose of the Web Design Contest is to evaluate each contestant’s preparation for employment and to recognize outstanding students for excellence and professionalism in the field of Web design, Web development and Webmastering, said Bill Cullifer, who served as executive director of WebProfessionals.org for 17 years before retiring in 2015.
The contest includes project management, interview and presentation and promotes professionalism.
“It’s not just about good looks and design; it’s also about user experience, functionality and security,” said Mark DuBois, the current Executive Director of WebProfessionals.org.
Teams invited to the Nationals in Louisville consist of individuals who fill the roles of Web Designer, Webmaster and Web Developer.
Past Winner from Nevada
Clark Milholland was a contest participant in 2006 and 2007. He won a “Spirit Award” his first year with a teammate he still is in contact with. In 2007, he and another teammate who were 11th graders at Carson High School in Nevada, won a Gold Medal.
“The national competition was timed, with rules limiting us to creating everything from scratch based off of a scope of work that we were provided on the day of the competition,” Milholland said. “I don’t remember the exact amount of time we were allowed to work but I imagine it was in the range of six hours or so.”
The first time Milholland saw a mouse move across a screen, he was hooked. That was when he had a Gateway 2000 running Windows 95.
“I built my very first website when I was 14 or so. Its purpose was to showcase prank calls that my friends and I had spent the summer making and recording. Probably not the best use of a summer but it laid the foundation to what turned into a career in Technology,” he said. Later, in high school, a class he wanted was dropped and he was randomly relocated into a Web Design class.
“I am not one for superstition or fate, but still to this date I look back on it as a very odd and specifically perfect occurrence,” he said. “I ended up taking all four Web Design classes through high school. These classes not only allowed me a facet to push myself to success but also provided me with an internship working in technology.” He currently works for a government agency in Carson City, Nevada. as an IT Systems Technician. He also serves as a freelance Web designer in his spare time and supported the Webprofessionals.org as a volunteer Web designer.
Winner at Vanderbilt
Derek Roberts, member of the class of 2016 at Vanderbilt University, was a participant in the 2012 contest just after he graduated from high school.
Here’s an excerpt from his conclusions about the contest:
“The preparation for the Web Design Contest definitely taught me what real practice, or studying, actually means. On the day before the contest, we spent eight hours in a hotel room creating a website from a prompt our faculty advisor had given us. And that wasn’t the first time we’d done a trial run! The actual competition was incredibly intense,” Roberts said.
“The most valuable thing I took away from the competition was definitely confidence. I had never been pushed with such an immediate deadline, but our team actually came through.
“Although we didn’t win the competition, we finished the project and never gave up out of frustration. The focus that required was immense, and I’m proud to know that I have that capability.”
He hopes to work for a major company as a consultant.
For Web design newbies, he recommends finding a fantastic teacher and learning everything from him or her.
“The work ethic and standard of excellence that my teacher/mentor instilled in me is what I still use for every project I do today,” he said.
“Web design competitions gave me intangible skills that I will use for the rest of my life. I would definitely not have gotten to where I am today if I had given up early or not participated at all.”
Students and contest organizers cite several benefits to participating in the contest, including:
- Preparation for Employment
- Recognition and Personal Satisfaction
- Professionalism and Skills
- Demonstration of Industry Best Practices
- Growing your Network and Linkages
- To Have Fun
Who supports the Contest?
- Leading Web and technology companies and those that hire
- Hundreds of high schools and colleges across the U.S.
- The not-for-profit membership supported WebProfessionals.org, the contest’s biggest supporter.
- The SchoolofWeb.org, a training resource for students and those that teach.
- Dozens of volunteer Web professionals who serve as contest experts, coordinators and judges.
The Web Design Contests are designed to promote Web standards, industry best practices, professionalism and the elevation of profession, which Cullifer calls “one of the hottest career pathways in the world.”
The role of education
“The goal of Web design classes in schools and colleges is to meet the growing demand and the skills gap through education and delivering to industry and to those that hire Web professionals,” Cullifer said.
And the goal of the contest is to emphasize those skills by putting them into practice in a competition that recognizes the top students in the country.
Changing of the guard
Before his retirement, Bill Cullifer served Director of Webprofessionals.org. He established the Web Design Contest to support the Web professional community with the goal of leaving behind a legacy of something meaningful for both students and those that hire.
The all-volunteer, not- for-profit organization is now headed up by Mark DuBois, the current Executive Director and Webprofessionals.org Community Evangelist. He also holds title as Professor, Business & Information Systems Department, Illinois Central College, East Peoria.
If you are curious, this is an example of one of the challenges from a prior national web design contest.
Challenge Number 1 – Design Process and Communication
Purpose: Demonstrate your understanding of the design process and communicate what you are intending to create and develop with your team mate.
- Create and design storyboard including wireframe based on input from the client as outlined by the work order.
- Create your storyboard and wireframe on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.
- Your storyboard should include your form of navigation, illustrations or images sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing your work.
- You will bring and present your completed storyboard to your interview with the contest judges during the interview phase.
- You will be asked to present your Web design and development company to the review team. In short, why should we hire your team.
- You will share your scaffolding of process including storyboard and wireframe.
- Present your resume.
- You will be allowed to ask questions of the contest organizers and the client.
Professional organizations and associations throughout history establish some sort of standard of operation or minimum standards of conduct which are considered acceptable for the profession and the members they represent. A generally agreed upon Code of Ethics can define the overall aim of the profession, and the ideals to which Web professional workers aspire.
As a membership supported organization for practicing and aspiring Web Professionals, we should adhere to a “higher standard.” We should “set the bar” for professionalism for our members. As such, we propose an adherence to a code of ethics and we invite you to participate in on the discussion.
Essentially, we should define our roles, rights and responsibilities in our relationships with other practicing professionals, those who rely on our services, and those who teach the next generation of Web professionals. Although we have espoused these since our inception, we have not formalized our “code of ethics” and we believe it’s time to do so.
Why is this important now?
Today the world wide web plays an essential role in commerce, government, research, education, medicine, communication systems, entertainment and many other areas of our world. Web professionals who contribute to the development, design, implementation, analysis, specification, maintenance and evaluation of the many different applications of Web systems have a significant impact on society, making beneficial contributions to the customers they serve. However, some of these impacts may be less than positive for some clients.
To ensure that their efforts will be used for the the common good, Web professionals should commit themselves to making practicing within the of the profession a beneficial and respected one, including promoting an ethical approach to their practice.
As practicing professionals (and teachers), we are often in positions of great influence. Our students and clients look to us to guide them through a complex process. At a minimum, we should commit to a standard of conduct which should be generally agreed upon. Although we recognize that our Code of Ethics are not enforceable by law, we hope and should at a high level expect everyone to adhere to the highest standards when working in our field.
Why do we need it now?
As I recently mentioned on our blog, the lines are blurring for web professionals, tools are evolving rapidly; many Web professionals are expected to be experts in many different disciplines which increasingly challenging for both the practitioner and the customers we serve.
At the end.of the day, we need to be responsible to our clients and to our profession to be honest when we are not an expert in a given area. For our own sake, the sake of our clients and the sustainability of the profession we should consider of putting those clients when appropriate in touch with another professional who may specialise in the areas we are the weakest.
Furthermore, we should refrain from trying to “be all things to all clients.” We need to clearly identify our strengths and clearly communicate those to our clients. For example, those who know me, know that I am “graphically challenged.” I would never try to develop a logo for a client. Instead, I would contract graphic artists I know and have them design the logo. While this is an obvious example, we often see web professionals try to interpret website analytics with limited knowledge of the underlying statistics and associated math.
If a Webprofessionals.org member works for you full time, part time or by contract, you should expect them to:
- Be open and truthful. Although we cannot guarantee that all of the members of the Webprofessionals.org community subscribe to this code of ethics, as a professional association we aspire to instill in our members and non members alike the highest ethical standards.
- Respect and protect your intellectual property. As web professionals and more specifically WebProfessionals.org members it’s our responsibility to protect the intellectual property rights of others including personal data and all electronic media and files. As web professionals we have a duty and a fiduciary responsible to protect the integrity by adopting and implementing best practices of our customer’s data and to keep it secure. We should keep client information confidential (whether we have signed a nondisclosure agreement or not).
- Be responsive. As web professionals we owe it to our clients and stakeholders to respond to inquires in a timely manner. WebProfessionals.org members should candid about their available response time and communicate that to customers in advance. It is important we set proper expectations in all communications with our clients and peers.
- Written communications: As Web professionals it is our responsibility to effectively communicate to our clients and stakeholders. When making request of the customer or when making promises put them in writing. Despite our best efforts, disputes sometimes happen. Having a well documented and agreed upon relationship will serve both parties. This should include all conversations about who does what and when, work to be performed, timelines, cost and change orders.
Why is this important to Web Professionals?
As practicing professionals, it is important we be recognized for the time, money, and effort we have devoted to staying current in a rapidly changing technology field. We recognize that we have specific areas of expertise and we need to convey those to our customers. We also need to formalize how we will interact with peers. It is to no one’s benefit to have deceitful practices or to promise more than one can deliver. The whole of our profession is harmed when there are such “bad apples.”
Why is this important to consumers?
You are hiring a professional (or committing to learn from a professional teacher). If you are planning to comparison shop and base your decision solely on price, we wish you all the best with that. Designing web sites is a complicated process. Do not hire an amateur. Practicing professionals have years of experience in user experience design, search engine optimization, accessibility, and a host of additional skills. When you meet with an amateur, you will likely find they ask a limited number of questions. They may also not be able to share their overall process. They may even offer to do some initial work for free. Practicing professionals will ask a host of questions to better understand your business goals and objectives and how a website can help you realize these. They will share their overall process and help you better understand why aspects such as user experience design need to be conducted. They will also not do work for free. As a professional, they have spent a great deal of personal time and money keeping their skills up to date (no small feat in today’s rapidly changing field). You are paying for their expertise and current knowledge.
Why is this important to those who teach the next generation?
As teachers, we have a special responsibility to stay knowledgeable as technology changes. We also need to focus on a solid foundation and understanding of these technologies so our students have a firm basis to learn. We also need to encourage our students to develop a habit of lifelong learning. We should not provide all the answers, but should point our students in the proper direction and encourage them to think for themselves. This field changes so quickly, it is not possible to keep up on all aspects of these technologies. We need to recognize that and show our students how to learn. We do our students a disservice if we provide all the answers and “spoon feed” all the materials. We should point them in the proper direction and mentor as needed so they develop the necessary skills to succeed.
When you work with a web professional, ask them if they have signed a code of ethics. Ask your teacher as well (if you are an aspiring web professional).
Mark DuBois, Community Evangelist and Director of Education
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