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What’s all this talk about Web Standardistas? – interview with the authors

web standardistas

So who are Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson?

web standardistas twitter
We’re a couple of academics with a penchant for tweed. We teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate level at the University of Ulster, teaching interactive design at degree level and design theory at masters level.

On our interactive design course, we’ve been actively promoting a web standards–based curriculum for many years now. We’ve worked hard to develop a lecture program for our students that covers all of the fundamentals: a solid grounding in XHTML coupled with a strong grasp of CSS. We strive to ensure that when our students leave our courses they’re doing web design the right way: creating well-designed web sites built using a web standards approach.

In our spare time – when we can find some – we both maintain our own practice as designers, developers and artists.

Basically what is a Standardista?

web standardistas twitter
A Standardista is someone who knows and cares about their markup and who sees the semantic structuring of content and, equally importantly, the separation of content and presentation as an essential part of the design process.

How do I sign up?

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Signing up is simple: If you’d like to brandish your Web Standardistas’ credentials for the world to see you can become a card-carrying, badge-wearing Standardista by putting one of our stylish badges on your site. (Paddy has one in his sidebar)

How and when did this book idea come about? What was the driving force behind it?

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In addition to the lecture programme we deliver at the University of Ulster we occasionally take our show on the road and teach community groups, retired silversmiths and bicycle repairmen the basics of web design. The feedback we received from these workshops was overwhelmingly positive and we wanted to put the teaching materials we’d created for them to good use, developing this material further.

Our initial plan was to create an online resource, giving the material away for free, but our first draft caught the eye of friends of ED and, as they say, the rest is history.

In an industry that’s moving at warp factor 7, how difficult is it to teach students about technologies and techniques that you know will be out of date by the time they graduate?

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One thing we don’t do is teach software or frameworks. We focus on teaching fundamental principles and work hard to promote an attitude of self-motivated learning and discovery.

There is some emerging talent coming out of both your courses, Interactive Multimedia Design and MA Multi-Disciplinary Design. Who is worth watching?

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It would be unethical to comment on current students who are approaching their end of year assessments, however, there are a number of past graduates of both our BSc (Hons) course and MA course that are well worth watching.

Gareth Dickey graduated last year and is now working as a designer for Belfast based web design firm Design by Front. His final year project – The 11th Hour – was an exceptional piece of motion graphics.

David Henderson is another recent graduate and the winner of our 2008 Design Prize (a prize we sponsor every year through Web Standardistas), in no small part due to his excellent final year project The Best of Belfast, coincidentally another accomplished piece of motion graphics.

Lee Munroe and Kyle Boyd, both recent graduate of the MA Multidisciplinary Design we deliver, are also talented designers and developers worth watching. Both are currently developing businesses since graduating: Lookaly and the Disability Heroes respectively.

What would you recommend a student do to get onto the ‘worth watching’ list?

web standardistas twitter
The recipe for success is actually quite simple:

  1. Work hard.
  2. Be a nice person.

It’s all about karma.

If you could design a perfect multimedia course, what would it entail?

web standardistas twitter
It would focus on the fundamentals of design: typography, grid systems, information architecture, user interface design, usability and user experience. It’s important to cover the fundamentals without losing sight of the fact that in this industry a strong technical understanding is equally important.

We don’t believe that there should be a split between the role of designer and front end developer, at least not whilst still in education. A solid understanding of design, coupled with a firm technical ability makes for a more rounded and more employable graduate.

Mike Rundle covers this very well in his essay Designers Who Are Technical: The More You Know, The Better Your Work

How can you describe the Northern Ireland web design scene in 2009? Has it changed in any way since I left in January?

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It’s a very exciting time with a great deal of activity and a multitude of new talent emerging. Belfast is rapidly establishing itself as an emerging centre of excellence internationally and attracting the attention of respected designers from all over the world.

We’ve worked hard to develop a very successful International Guest Lecture Programme and we’ve been fortunate to have been supported by an all-star cast of designers, speaking at the university. Most recently we welcomed Nicholas Felton to Belfast for an extremely inspiring presentation on his work. We’ve also, amongst others, enjoyed presentations by Nicholas Roope of Poke and Hulger, Andy Stevens of Graphic Thought Facility and design critic Adrian Shaughnessy. All have commented on the growing vibrancy of the web design scene in Belfast.

Can you tell us a little about the book writing process?

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The book writing process is a simple one, it involves the following key ingredients: hard work, late nights and weekends, and the occasional reward of Carlsberg and sushi.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about writing a book?

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Similar advice to someone considering doing the Ironman: Are you really, really sure?

How have you used social media in promoting the book?

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By agreeing to do this interview.

Does a blank canvas in Photoshop excite you or intimidate you?

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You should come to Photoshop with your design and ideas already established. A blank napkin or a blank page in your sketchbook might be intimidating; Photoshop shouldn’t.

When was the last time you had an apricot?

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Dried, canned or fresh?

You guys are giving away some free books I hear? Want to tell people how they can win a copy?

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Our publisher, Friends of ED have very kindly given us some free copies to be distributed amongst our Twitter followers.

In a shameless drive to boost our numbers, we’ve created a carefully crafted pseudo-random-number-generator-systemâ„¢, through which we’re selecting three lucky new Twitter followers who will win a free copy of our book.

If you, or anyone you know, would appreciate a daily dose of carefully selected web design inspiration via Twitter, all you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is to follow @standardistas.

A constant dilemma is bugging me. When you have to do a smiley inside brackets, should you leave a space after it or not? (This :)) or (This :) ). Neither looks right to me.

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This problem can be resolved by always sticking your tongue out when smiling. ( :P )

So what’s next on the cards for you Mr Murphy and Mr Persson?

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Given last year’s summer was spent writing our book night and day, this summer we plan to retire to our respective dachas in Donegal and Northern Sweden where we’ve lined up a number of personal projects (which may, or may not, involve iPhone development).

What is going to be book number two?

web standardistas twitter
Web Standardistas is firmly aimed at beginners, providing a solid understanding of the benefits of a web standards approach. It’s intended as a starting point, providing a solid foundation on which to build. It’s focus was primarily on markup and our next book is intended to focus on design as applied to the web.

To get an idea of the mix of content we have in mind, stop by the Web Standardistas’ web site, where we’re publishing content daily.



Thanks guys! It was great chatting to the guys who represent web standards and tweed simultaneously.  If you’re at all interested in web design, web standards, design in general, the Internet or tweed then following @Standardistas is an easy choice to make!

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Comments (4)

  1. Useful interview Paddy,

    Nice to see the outline procedure for the book and an insight into its development.

    Having had a brief read through, I think that the book will act as an excellent resource for the budding designer / developer.

    Keep up the good work…


  2. Dave

    30 Apr

    Nice interview and well done on publishing your first book guys.

  3. Nice interview, thanks for the mention.

    I wish I was Ironman ;-)

  4. Declan

    19 May

    Nice interview. Had Nicklas as a tutor this year, seems like a nice guy, looking forward to learning more from him when I start my final year in September. Must get my hands on that book as well, could be useful when I redesign my portfolio.