What is a Web Design Degree?

Web design is about making websites that work. Degree programs in the field produce web designers capable of making that happen. They teach students the essential principles of modern design, visual and user experience, motion graphics, and related software technology. They teach them to understand how users interact with websites, how they think, and how they behave.

Program Options

At many schools, web design and web development are both part of the same degree program. There is, however, a distinction to be made between the two. Web design focuses on front end or aesthetic design, on how a website looks and feels. Web development is concerned with the back end construction of a website, on the technical aspects which make it function.

Certificate in Web Design – Six Weeks to Six Month Duration
Certificate programs in web design vary greatly in both content and duration. Some are targeted at students with some previous knowledge in the subject area and others provide a basic introduction to the field. While available courses at this level resemble those offered in associate degree programs (see below), it is important to note that the typical web design certificate program is not comprehensive in scope. It is more exclusive and limited to a specific selection of topics. Many of these programs can be completed online.

Associate Degree in Web Design – Two Year Duration
Associate programs in web design guide students through the fundamentals of design for digital media. Students are introduced to core visual and user experience principles, web design, motion graphics, and the latest software and technology. Graduates are well prepared to pursue entry-level roles in the field or to continue their education at the bachelor’s level.

Here is a snapshot of the associate curriculum in web design:

  • Digital Photography – composition, color theory, lighting; composing and manipulating images that can be used for art, digital media, and print projects
  • Design Technology: Digital Publishing Tools – theory and function of industry-standard computer hardware and software; the digital design principles used to produce professional visual communications digital products
  • Visual Communication I – the formal skills designers need to generate quality images and identify the best graphic techniques; arranging images and graphics
  • Design Technology: Visual Design Tools – industry-standard design and production skills: vector graphics and typography, color manipulation, workflow techniques, and presentation and output methods
  • Ideation Techniques – the art of idea creation; developing compelling concepts to create ads and products
  • Color Fundamentals – enhancing imagery using color schemes, color psychology, simultaneous contrast, proportion, desaturation (making colors more muted, more black or white added), atmospheric depth, light temperature, composition, and harmony
  • Composition for the Artist – foundational writing skills; expressing artistic identity, process, and vision through writing; grammar, style, revision, and research
  • User Experience I – user-centered design techniques to create visually appealing prototypes: research, personas (fictitious representations of target users which help guide decisions about design and functionality), user journeys (outline what personas and customers will experience once they enter your website), use cases (written descriptions of how users will take steps and perform tasks on your website) and wireframes (simplified visual guides / blueprints that represent the skeletal framework of a website)
    -Visual Design I – using industry-leading design tools to design visually pleasing, intuitive, and interactive interfaces and publications; using visual design principles to compose compelling screen layouts, brand identities, evocative typographic treatments, and interactive prototypes
  • Web Design I – introduction to two of the core technologies for building web pages: HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets); coding skills and strategies in site architecture, navigation, and file management
  • Designing Careers – honing communication skills through collaboration, self-promotion, and other professional interactions; writing a persuasive project proposal and conducting industry research in pursuit of employee-based jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities
  • Motion Graphics I – basic 2D animation of type, symbols, shapes, and color; industry-leading motion software
  • Web Design II – HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, focusing on functionality, mobility, and scalability; creating web experiences optimized for devices from mobile to desktop; using web standards and design fundamentals to create web-based apps
  • Visual Design II – combining technologies with traditional design techniques; using visual structures like type, imagery, graphics, interface design, brand identity, and interactive product design
  • Digital Imaging II – developing composition and creative imaging skills; high concept digital photography (high concept photography goes beyond simple representation of the subject; it creatively uses light, composition, mood, and color), creative problem-solving skills
  • Art History through the 15th Century – examination of the major styles of art and architecture in Western civilization from prehistory to the late Gothic and early renaissance period
  • Art History through the 19th Century – examination of the major styles of art and architecture in Western civilization from the high Renaissance through the 19th Century
  • Human-Centered Design – designing digital spaces that satisfy the physical, physiological, and psychological needs of consumers
  • Portfolio Project – creating, revising, updating, and presenting your own portfolio website and personal branding system
  • Motion Graphics II – advanced motion graphics; using industry-standard software to design and produce compelling time-based motion experiences for broadcast, web, and mobile platforms
  • Web Design III – building professional websites using current web standards and scripting tools; you will develop the design, user interaction, user experience, and coding skills needed to produce large scale websites using standard frameworks, libraries, and content management systems

Bachelor’s Degree in Web Design – Four Year Duration
The web design bachelor’s program provides students with a broad education in the principles of contemporary web design and media. The typical curriculum focuses on visual design, user experience, design strategies, web design, and motion graphics.

In addition to courses like those described in the associate degree section above, bachelor’s students also take courses such as:

  • History of Gaming
  • History of Graphic Design
  • Interactive Applications
  • Advanced Motion Graphics
  • Dynamic Aerial Imagery with Drones
  • Mobile UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience)
  • Writing the Short Story
  • Storytelling: From Telephone to Transmedia
  • Marketing Essentials
  • Advanced Web Design
  • Advanced User Experience Design
  • Advanced Visual Design
  • Introduction to Physical Computing / The Internet of Things
  • Virtual Reality Experiences and Prototyping
  • E-Commerce
  • Interactive Media Production and Entrepreneurship

The typical bachelor’s level web design program concludes with these three components:

  • Senior Project – exploration of selected design work; students use their own concepts to create production schedules, storyboards, user research, design tests, prototypes, and marketing plans
  • Portfolio Fine Tuning – students perfect their professional portfolio
  • Internship – students put the knowledge and skills they have acquired in the classroom to work in a real-world setting

Degrees Similar to Web Design

Animators are artists. Their art is producing images or ‘frames’ that when combined in sequence create an illusion of movement called ‘animation.’ Degree programs in the field teach students how to use animation software and hardware to create characters and stories for the motion picture, television, and video game industries. Typical components of the curriculum include two-dimensional and three-dimensional art and animation, storyboarding, life/human and background drawing, layout, and digital painting.

Commercial Art
Professionals in this field combine art and business by using their creative skills to market and sell products and services. The degree gives students a background in branding, account planning and management, as well as the aesthetic concepts of color theory and composition.

Computer and Information Sciences
Students who major in computer and information sciences learn how to build systems to retrieve and store information. They take courses in database architecture and management, multimedia systems, and human/computer interaction.

Computer Graphics
This degree field teaches students how to develop graphics software. Coursework includes drawing, graphic design, digital modeling, multimedia applications, and software engineering.

Desktop and Web Publishing
Programs in desktop and web publishing teach the design and layout of printed and digital documents. Coursework includes web design, multimedia design, writing, and editing.

Game Design
Degree programs in game design teach students how to create, develop, and produce video and computer games. Foundations of a game design curriculum typically include game theory and history, pre-production and production techniques, storytelling, graphics, animation, digital music and sound, and programming.

Graphic Design
The goal of graphic design is to produce visual concepts to communicate messages. The discipline uses layout, color, and other creative concepts to design logos and branding packages that inspire and captivate consumers.

Illustration degree programs teach students how to tell stories and communicate ideas visually. They cover traditional manual drawing, digital art technologies, and art and illustration history. Some programs may include painting classes or offer concentrations in a specific kind of illustration, such as book illustration, fashion illustration, exhibit drawing, animation and cartoon drawing, and medical illustration.

Multimedia Arts
This degree program involves creating images and content using the latest design techniques and technology. Animation, audio, interactivity, still images, text, and video are examples of multimedia arts. The core curriculum consists of courses in 3D digital art, animation, design concepts, interactive design, storytelling, and writing for media.

Photography degree programs teach the technical, creative, and business skills required to be a professional photographer. Courses cover the history of photography, black-and-white photography, color photography, lighting techniques, materials and processes, two-dimensional design, digital photography, and photography as a business.

Visual Communication
Visual communication degree programs combine instruction in diverse media, such as photojournalism, painting, sculpture, and graphic design.

Skills You’ll Learn

While earning their degree, students of web design gain skills that are valued in the world at large. They learn to:

  • be creative and to appreciate creativity, art, and design
  • develop spatial reasoning
  • look at the world through many different lenses
  • develop and express their own style
  • understand that everyone has a different viewpoint
  • observe and pay attention to details
  • look for ways to improve their work
  • accept and use criticism
  • be courageous in proposing sometimes bold and daring ideas
  • collaborate and work in teams
  • interpret data concerning consumer psychology and behavior
  • use and learn creative and publishing software
  • be organized project managers, able to work to deadlines
  • be entrepreneurial and effective negotiators
  • use computers, printers, scanners, and other technologies

What Can You Do with a Web Design Degree?

Web design graduates most often work in the areas of interactive design, motion design, and graphic design. Here are brief summaries of each of these sectors:

Interactive Design
Interactive designers focus on optimizing the look, feel, and responsiveness of web and mobile applications. The tools they use to solve problems include design thinking, interactive design, IoT (Internet of Things), user research, and other UX and UI techniques. Specific careers and titles include:

  • UX Designer / UI Designer
  • Interactive Designer
  • Mobile and Web Designer
  • Front-End Engineer
  • Product Designer
  • Design Director
  • UX Architect
  • Web Designer

Motion Design
Motion designers use principles of animation and graphic design to tell stories. They use cinematic techniques and apply design and visual effects to create short stories, commercials, videos, game trailers, and title sequences. Specific careers and titles include:

  • Motion Graphic Artist
  • 3D Artist
  • 2D Animator
  • UI Interface Designer
  • Videographer
  • VR (Virtual Reality) / AR (Augmented Reality) Animator
  • Compositor
  • Multimedia Designer / Producer
  • Web Designer

Graphic Design
Like web design, graphic design uses design fundamentals like color mixing, composition, typography, art direction, layout design, and communication technologies to inspire, inform, and captivate consumers. Graphic designers create a visual identity of companies, brands, and products. Specific careers and titles include:

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