giving a lecture on web strategy to graphic design students [UPDATED]

Submitted by jpamental on

My good friend Mitch Goldstein (or @mgoldst as you may know him) has asked if I'd give a talk to his graphic design students in a class he's teaching at Rhode Island College. I sat in those very halls a few too many years ago than I care to remember - but since that's where I got my start (designing and developing the College's first web site), it seemed like a great opportunity. He's asked me to cover a lot of ground, but since I've been carrying on about web strategy a lot lately, it seemed like a good chance to work out some of my ideas for a course on the subject. Here's the introduction I've sent along. I hope that it's helpful to others. I plan to make the presentation available as well after the class in a few weeks.

Please comment! I think it's really important that we start teaching these concepts to design students. While it may be a while before they develop all the skills and perspective necessary to be effective strategists – if we don't plant the seeds, no future will grow.


The Space Between Pixels: Design Thinking, Web Strategy & Why You’ll Never Get a Job Without Them

Graphic design is about story-telling, communication and organizing information – in any way required. It's about meeting challenges and solving problems for your client. It's about providing the solution. It's also about empathy: being able to understand the needs of your client, their business and their customers. This began with logos, letterhead and one of the most popular forms of advertising dating back over 100 years: the poster. It's gotten more complicated.

Since the advent of the World Wide Web in 1993 it's meant that there's a lot more to think about as a designer when it comes to incorporating the web into solutions you provide to your clients or at the company where you work. Web standards, technology, social media, search engine rankings – the list goes on. How you look at and tackle all of this collectively (and how it all affects your client's business) is what I refer to as web strategy.

The notion of Web Strategy is something that is still emerging as a skill or discipline in and of itself. It's formed by understanding the client's business needs and processes and internet technologies so thoroughly that you can see where new connections can be made, new efficiencies revealed and new experiences defined. This happens by design. Your ability to use design to tell that story, communicate that strategy and organize that content tie those disparate parts of an organization together through visual and textual metaphors. You're not just building a web site – you're fundamentally changing the way the client's business functions. It's a big job – and you may not always be playing more than a small part, but unless you have a solid grasp of what that bigger picture is, you run the risk of never being as effective as you truly can be as a designer.

[NOTE: If there is interest after the talk, I'm happy to make my slides available. Email, @ me or post in the comments below - Jason]


I just came upon your organization and design and I am impressed. I am on the flip side of your work... I am a NON graphic-design person. I am a word person who had 33 years in journalism and worked closely with g.d. people, and, frankly, sometimes that's how I felt about them and they about me.

I discovered that while we were both storytellers, I thought vertically and they thought horizontally. No where did I see a clearer understanding of this than when I tested ... I saw things differently because I was forced to let images carry the story AND I had to think horizontally. Very cool.

So I run a tiny nonprofit in Vermont with many sites, but one led by students is here:   This is a design disaster, I am sure, but it has been successful in that students come to it, share work, give and receive feedback and, actually, get better at writing. Interestingly, a few really minor design changes I made, were met with howls of protest, proving to me that it's hard, even for tech-savvy kids, to change what they're used to.

A belabored point, but I am getting to it... (Oh those word people.) So it appears you are going to present to graphic design college people and are, I am surmising (I confess your the blog that you linked me to, was a little fuzzy) that you are going to propose to them how important it is to integrate design with strategy and client's intentions. That integration is important and I know there is often a conflict/tension between strategy guys, design guys and coders. Good to get them thinking about it earlier.

But I would propose another need -- one that I feel keenly. What is good design for the use of the site and for the target audience of the site. I do fear that your points here and on the linked blog, make big hay with search optimization and client's desires. From my perspective, I am always searching for ways that design can help the user(s). Period. Because if they are happy, if they are fulfilling the purpose of the site, then the site is successful. Google optimization be damned.

Hope I am not too fuzzy myself. Back to the loop: Like your work. Wanted to leave you a comment because it is always hard at the beginning. No one wants to jump in and swim in a pond unless there are people already in there.


geoff gevalt

(all good working site with some major design flaws, I might add. Would that I were more of a design person.)


I confess it's taken me a while to get back to re-read your comment and reply, and I apologize! I'm glad you like the work and the post. I'm still feeling my way through thoughts on web strategy and how to teach it, but communication is an aspect that is obviously critical and worthy of mention. It's something that gets me every time I hear a designer struggle to explain their design solution and process. The ability to put complex design solutions in clear, concise language is key to success as a designer, and I fear vastly underdeveloped in the educational process of most design students.

(and to your point - it's always about the users first! I totally agree and should have stressed that more in my post)

I'm looking forward to checking out your sites!