WOW Web Design Contest – Illinois, 2011

I just completed supervising the 11th annual WOW web design contest for the state of Illinois. I have done this every year (with the exception of 2008 when I was giving a pre-conference seminar at the 17th International WWW Conference in Beijing). There are separate competitions for secondary and post-secondary aspiring web professionals. This contest is held as part of the SkillsUSA competitions in Springfield every April. The contest consists of a series of challenges, a quiz and an interview.The contest itself would not happen without the support of the World Organization of Webmasters (WOW). I am Director of Education for WOW. Prizes for this contest were donated by My sincere thanks to everyone on the team for going the extra mile to support aspiring professionals in the web design field.

To the contestants themselves let me offer my congratulations. You are all winners. I mean that. It takes an extra spark to put forth the effort to travel to Springfield, Illinois and spend two days away from family and friends. Of course, there can be only one winning team at each level. These two teams will be going on to the national contest in Kansas City in June. That being said, everyone present demonstrated their courage to test their knowledge, skills, and abilities related to web design against others in the state.  Everyone who participated demonstrated their willingness to put forth an extra effort. That is precisely what employers are looking for today. For those who are considering entering this contest next year – do so. Be passionate and committed to your profession. Demonstrate that you are willing to take risks.

To the judges (Brandy and Jonathan) I express my gratitude. Your assistance was greatly appreciated. The fact that you both took a day off work to judge is impressive in these tough economic times. I also appreciate that you are practicing professionals and are so willing to “give back” to help the next generation of web professionals. Having you there as part of the de-briefing session at the end of the competition was a distinct plus. This allowed the participants to directly hear your comments and suggestions.

Every year, I try to impart some observations and insights to those who participated. Surprisingly many of the same items come up year after year. I will only touch on some of these points below. I have tried to group them into technical (coding) and professional (non-coding) areas. For those reading this who are advisers and teachers, feel free to contact me if you would like to learn more about any of these items. We at WOW are always willing to help faculty by reviewing curricula and verifying class materials focus on web standards and modern design techniques. This is why we stress web standards as part of this competition every year.


  • Ask questions. Ask insightful questions. Verify that you really understand the challenge. If you don’t understand a response, ask again.
  • Don’t forget to diagram your work before diving into the actual coding. Scaffolding and wire framing are quite helpful techniques to allow you to focus on those aspects of each challenge which must be completed first (and which aspects should be consistent across all challenges).
  • If you are told not to use templates (such as those found within Adobe Dreamweaver) and frameworks (such as Spry or jQuery) – Don’t use them. Yes, the judges notice this in a heartbeat and you lose points quickly.
  • Divide and conquer – each team member has strengths and weaknesses. Identify those and play to your strengths. Don’t both work on the same aspect of a challenge at the same time.
  • Keep on top of emerging trends (yes there were some questions about HTML5 on the quiz). Even if HTML5 is not yet a W3 recommendation, many browsers are starting to support. Yes, it takes time to learn new materials. This constant change is typically what attracts us to this profession.
  • Make certain you take the time to thank your teachers and advisers for help they provided you to prepare you for this competition (and for your entry into the field of web professionals).


  • Review your work. Make certain you have no “Untitled Document” in the <title>. Yes, the judges saw a number of these this year.
  • Similarly, rely on CSS (not &nbsp;) for properly arranging materials on the page.
  • Think progressive enhancement and graceful degradation as you develop pages for multiple browser environments (and different screen sizes and resolutions).
  • Don’t rely exclusively on the design view in Dreamweaver. Know how to directly manipulate the code. It can be much faster to change CSS (for example – if you know how to code this directly).
  • Regarding CSS – rely on inheritance and the cascade. Keep classitis to a minimum (this would be the use of a class for every item).
  • Use the tool (Dreamweaver) to validate your code. I know the judges valiated the code and every team had multiple validation errors in basic HTML.
  • There were not a lot of entries which relied on tables for their overall layout (but there were a few). Please learn CSS and web standards. Tables make it incredibly difficult for those using accessible browsers to navigate your pages and glean content (among other reasons why tables are not a good idea).

As the supervisor of this competition, I was glad to see that all teams competing relied extensively on Adobe tools. In my opinion, these are the best in terms of helping with web design. Yes, I am an Adobe Education Leader, but I said that long before I was chosen for that honor. The overall distribution of versions this year was the following:

  • Creative Suite 5 – 55%
  • Creative Suite 4 – 10%
  • Creative Suite 3 – 35%

I provide a link to some photos I took during the competition. I hope you enjoy them (view them as a slideshow at Flickr). I also hope they convey the intensity and desire and passion present during the competition. Just follow the link below to view the photos in larger dimensions (and as a slideshow).

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