2013 Illinois Web Design Contest

Now that the 2013 Illinois Web Design Contest is history, I thought it might be appropriate to share some thoughts and observations. First, congratulations to everyone who participated (in either the secondary or post-secondary contest). You took the extra effort to grow and learn. Those who are taking classes in web technologies and not participating – why not? This is a great opportunity to learn from web professionals. It is also a great networking opportunity. Whether you earn a medal or not, you have tested your self and your knowledge and grown in the process.

Let’s look at the overall process. Our industry is constantly evolving. At the present time, many individuals with a limited knowledge of HTML and CSS and scripting technologies are able to carve out a niche (and make a living) by utilizing tools (such as content management systems) to create websites for others. Often templates need to be customized and functionality/ plugins added (and modified). In such environments, the planning process becomes much more crucial. This is why it is so important to have a solid understanding of what the client wants. Tools such as wireframes help in this initial design concept. Mood boards and style tiles are other examples of this initial planning process. This is why our emphasis was placed on the initial planning and design aspects in the Illinois contest this year. Curiously, some experience these concepts in their classes, but many do not. It has been observed that spending more time in the initial planning and analysis phases of a project means less time needs to be spent in later phases of the project.

As part of this initial design process, I asked several interview questions of each team. One of the questions I often asked dealt with how individuals might find the site they were developing. Standard answers included search engines and appending .com to the name of the business. All well and good, but many didn’t think about the kind of technology likely to be used in 2013 – mobile devices. Mobile can not be an afterthought in the design process these days. It must be incorporated from inception. Decisions need to be made whether the site is going to follow responsive design or adaptive design (and the site must be developed accordingly).

For those who have been involved in these contests over a few years (this year represented the 13th year for the Illinois web design contest), they may have noted we emphasize design some years and development other years. We continue to try and focus on those areas where we perceive a need to remind everyone of established and emerging industry “best practices.” Obviously, there needs to be a blend of both design and development aspects to creating websites. Given the emergence of content management systems as a venue for rapidly developing websites, it made sense to us to focus on design aspects (particularly the initial planning and analysis) in this state contest this year.

One aspect (which probably applies to many contests) is the need for participants to identify how much time to spend on specific parts of the competition. If there are doubts, ask. In future years, we may well return to specifically listing how long we anticipate individuals to spend on each part of the contest.

As the contest proceeded, I spent some time reviewing tools being used. I thought this was an interesting mix. These are the tools I observed being used during the contest:

  • Adobe Creative Suite (CS3, CS4, CS5.5, CS 6 versions)
  • Adobe MUSE
  • Komodo Edit
  • MS Expression Studio 4
  • Notepad++
  • Sublime Text 2

For those who were not able to participate in the contest, I provide some images (below) which should give you a clearer understanding of the level of intensity and professionalism present during the competition. As mentioned at the start of this blog post, I commend all who participated as they demonstrated both courage to step up to the challenge and professionalism as they participated. Congratulations to all.


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