Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular feature on Wednesdays.It’s no longer enough to simply learn a little bit of technology and put up a web site these days. The site needs to be inviting and compelling, accessible and easy to use, serve specific purposes and be attractive to the eye, or visitors are likely to move on.

Designing a site that meets these criteria requires a different set of skills than that held by most tech heads and computer geeks. It requires training in and understanding of the fundamentals of graphic design, as well as knowledge of basic computer applications.

In response to this growing need, the Art Institute of Charlotte created a Multimedia and Web Design Program in fall 2000. Students may earn an Associates Degree in Applied Arts, a full-time, seven-quarter program, or a Web Design Certificate, a six-quarter program with evening classes. There are about 125 students enrolled in the two programs, a little more than half in the Associate Degree program.

“We are not a technical school — we focus on the design side of the website,” explains Chris Gagliardo, director of the Multimedia and Website Program. “Of course our students are exposed to the technical side, but we don’t just teach software and technical components. We teach our students how to think creatively. We don’t just teach them to push buttons, we also teach them to think ascetically and through the eyes of the user and the client.”

Nevertheless, the technical part of the program is strong. (And those earning an Associate Degree also take general education classes, such as English and math.) Students are taught HTML and Java, as well as some programming languages. They take classes in such topics as network systems, and learn a variety of skills, including database integration, transfer file protocol and how to set up and maintain a server.

Fundamentals of web design include information architecture and site architecture. Students also learn audio and video production, both digital and analog, and are exposed to print design as well.

“Our students have a well-rounded skill set — that’s what employers are looking for, someone who can do it all,” Gagliardo says. “Almost all of our graduates get jobs, usually in entry level web developer and designer positions.”

Learning the practical aspects

In addition, the Art Institute places a great focus on learning how to apply these skills in the real world. For example, each student creates a portfolio, with both online ad offline components, to show potential employers how they can use what they’ve learned. The online component includes a web site with five applications — a commercial brochure, an information or community site, e-commerce, distance learning and sequential animation. The paper-based component includes a business card and an ID campaign that complements the website.

Students take a class in project management, where they become part of a working creative team that produces a web site for a nonprofit client. So far, students have completed projects for the Trinity Wish Foundation and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Schools.

Those in the Associate Degree program are also required to complete an internship; they are placed in such firms as web design companies and TV stations.

Industry input and involvement

The curriculum is kept up-to-date with ongoing input from a program advisory committee, made up of local professionals in the industry. Says Gagliardo, “They will help us make changes in the curriculum, especially in the types of applications we teach, so that we stay current with technology industry standards. We want our students to have a strong set of skills in their tool belt.”

Gagliardo brings that kind of experience to the program, with graphic design and web design experience at AT&T, Bank of America and at a web development firm. In addition to him, the program has five full-time faculty members and two-part time instructors. All continue to work professionally outside the classroom.

The Art Institute of Charlotte is one 26 art institutes nationwide owned by the Education Management Corporation, one of the largest providers of private post-secondary education in North America with 42 locations in 26 cities ad 43,000 students. The art institutes offer training programs for the design, media arts, fashion and culinary professions. The Charlotte school is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools and is licensed y the North Carolina State Board of Community Colleges and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Art Institutes: www.artinstitutes.edu