I participated in the WOW/ Web Professionals web design contest in Kansas City last week (June 21 – 24). I wanted to take a moment and share my observations and include a few comments received from the judges. I am providing these hoping that we will continue to see gradual improvements in the competition every year.
First (and most importantly), I believe everyone competing at the contest demonstrated significant professionalism and enthusiasm. The contest is all about employing web standards, demonstrating professionalism and exhibiting a positive attitude. I observed these traits many times during the week.
Obviously, everyone participating had to win first place in their respective state competitions in order to participate in the national contest. The fact that you competed in Kansas City means you are a winner. We held separate contests for high school (secondary) students and college (post-secondary) students. Although both competitions had some similarities, there were a number of differences. Both competitions consisted of a series of 6 challenges (per competition). When all are combined, one would have many of the components of a working website.
Much of the contest is about professionalism. That is why we ask for copies of software licenses (operating system and applications – such as Adobe Creative Suite). This is also what we stress during the interview process. The following comments are meant to provide some feedback to participants (and to help those who plan to compete again next year). These notes are not comprehensive (only some of the common observations from judges). Obviously, a large part of this competition also focuses on adherence to web standards and established best practices in our industry.
First (and most importantly), focus on accessibility. This is important when choosing fonts and colors and when designing the structure of the site. Best practice is to include leveled headings and image descriptions (alternate text). Red/ green color schemes should be avoided as they will not appear as you think to those who are color blind. Similarly, one should stick with common sans-serif or serif fonts. Tightly spaced or script fonts can be difficult to read for those with poor eyesight.
Color schemes should support the type of website (for example, one would typically use a different set of colors for a bakery compared with a florist). Once you have a color scheme, it should be used consistently throughout the challenges (unless there is a specific reason to vary).
From a validation perspective, it might be easier to rely on the HTML5 doctype instead of XHTML 1.1 strict. The former is much more forgiving to the validator. Regardless of the doctype employed, don’t forget to include meta elements to help with search engine ranking (keywords and descriptions). When comments are included in the HTML and CSS code, they should be concise and provided to make the site easier to maintain. The purpose of each comment should also be evident.
If you design for a smaller screen size (such as a smartphone), don’t forget to use responsive web design techniques (perhaps percentages) to reduce the amount of horizontal scrolling.
Lastly, there were some challenges with a title of “Untitled Document.” This should definitely be avoided.
Overall, many of the teams provided interesting approaches to each challenge. Many mentioned during their interview that lack of resources was actually helpful to their team (they could be much more creative). A number also mentioned that it would be helpful to have discussions with an actual client.
I appreciated all the feedback received during the debriefing and we will be making changes to this competition next year to reflect some of those comments. Overall, it was a great week and I hope everyone present enjoyed the competition as much as I did. Until next year…