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In this episode In part two of episode 51 of Design Edu Today, RJ Thompson, Assistant Professor specializing in Graphic & Interactive Design at Youngstown State University, joins Gary Rozanc to discuss the four interactive courses in YSU’s BFA design program. RJ goes into specifics on how each course builds off each other and even empowers students by giving them entrepreneurial skills. RJ also shares how he leverages grants and grant writing to create real world scenarios for student projects.

Today’s guest is RJ Thompson is a practicing graphic designer, graphic design educator, and entrepreneur currently teaching graphic, web, and interactive design at Youngstown State University. RJ, formerly taught at Edinboro University as a Full-Time Temporary Professor, Adjunct Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and La Roche College as a Visiting Professor of Graphic Design.

He has owned and operated his design practice, Zola Design LLC since 2008. Before entrepreneurship and education, RJ was a graphic designer for the H.J. Heinz Company – a Fortune 500 worldwide company.

As an educator, RJ is able to combine his hobby with his job to present design in a fun and easy to understand way, not only to students, but clients as well. RJ’s entrepreneurial spirit and initiative drive him to do work that positively impacts the community. Volunteering with the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Pittsburgh East Rotary Club (and many, many more organizations) has not only solidified his personal interest in community engagement but has instilled the need to include promote service work amongst his students and peers alike.

RJ served on the Board of Directors for AIGA Pittsburgh, the professional association of design, from 2007-2010. With AIGA’s mission “to advance designing as a professional craft, strategic tool and vital cultural force,” RJ certainly understands the needs of AIGA’s ideals amongst his students, colleagues, clients, and the industry in totality. Ever the learner, RJ seeks to learn as much he can in order to bring cutting edge knowledge of technology and design practices to the classroom.

Abridged Transcript

All right, so the first question is, there are four dedicated interactive design courses that you have at Youngstown, and it’s Introduction, Intermediate, and Advanced Interaction Design, and then a dedicated Motion for Interactive Design. That’s a lot, because I don’t feel like a lot of programs even have two, let alone four classes. How did that happen? Was that something that you did or…just the history?
No, actually…so I was teaching at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and they were one of the schools, and perhaps still are one of the schools that only had one interactive design class and my time there was coming to an end and I saw this opportunity at YSU and I applied and obviously got it, but one of the things that attracted me to their program was the fact that they had these four classes already embedded in their curriculum. I saw it was like a huge sandbox I could play in and so those were definitely there before I started and in fact I believe were even started well before my predecessor was in her position, so when I came in, I got to completely reboot all of it, and that was exciting.
 Oh wow, I couldn’t imagine that! That’d be a lot of fun.
Well, the thing is, you know how quickly Interactive Design changes; most people say, oh the design industry changes every six months. Well, it seems like Interaction Design changes every single day, sometimes several times within one day, so I’m constantly having to revise all of those classes.
Once the classes are in place, it is easy to…it’s not easy, it’s the work to actually do the class, but technically from a logistical standpoint or curricular standpoint, it’s easy to update once you’ve got that core there to work from.
Yes.
So that’s key.
Yes.
All right, I’m going to start right in then on the actual courses. In your Introduction to Interactive Design course, you are assigning print and animation projects in addition to a web design project. What is your rationale for that?
OK, so this is actually really timely, because I just assigned the print and animation project yesterday. Previous to last semester, which would have been Spring ’17, I did not actually integrate a print project into the Interactive Design class. What prompted that was I received a grant from Puffin Foundation West which is an arts based non-profit based out of Columbus and I had submitted my proposal to them based on a project I did when I taught Intro to Typography. The assignment in Intro to Typography was the students had to find a social cause topic or social issue that the city of Youngstown was experiencing and like any city in revival or post-industrial city, Youngstown’s got a lot of issues. So there’s no shortage of topics to choose from. So, the students would have to discover a topic or an issue and then fully research it and then they would have to create a visual infographic, OK? So the infographic would be laden with visual metaphors and it would look great: highly visual, stylization of numbers and statistics, etcetera, and then from that project they would have to create an advertisement that sought to call attention to their chosen issue or sought to get volunteers or seek donations, etcetera, so they experienced this whole process of finding a topic, researching it literally and understanding the social applications of it and then having to flip that on its head and create apt visual metaphors that we could then design a poster for and then print and distribute those printed posters throughout the community so in that process, it was also a legitimizing effort; it was an authentication level. Here I have sophomores in Intro to Typography creating a project that has been authenticated and it is professional, really. So, this project ultimately led to some of my students getting internships and jobs with some local area non-profits. One student in particular ended up working with the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation in a graphic design position that was exclusively created for him, so I like to think that that one specific project led to a number of tremendous successes for my students. So, that leads me to the grant. So, I applied for the grant and the Foundation gave us five hundred dollars. I actually asked for twenty five hundred but this particular organization doesn’t totally fund graphic design, so the mere fact that I got something was impressive to begin with. So, the premise behind that was that grant was exactly the same as the Intro to Typography project and last semester in my Intro to Interactive Design class, I kind of upped the anti a little bit. In our design program, I’m kind of known as a bit of a hard-ass on projects, in the sense that I expect my students to really push themselves creatively on my work, on my projects, because my projects are unlike that of my peers in the region or even my peers in my own department.
 So, the students were assigned the following. The had to choose a social issue that focused on the city of Youngstown. They had to make an infographic about that chosen social issue, then they had to make a printed poster advertisement of that social issue. Then, they had to use Adobe Animate and create animated versions of both the infographic and the poster. Those would be exported as video, uploaded to YouTube, and then they had to create a one page website that was designed in Theme in aesthetic consistency with everything else that they’d done and it shows the posters, it shows the research and it shows the videos, so it’s one huge project all wrapped up together. The extra layer of authentication here was that at the time, I had just re-branded the City of Youngstown and I was in charge of, and still am, in charge of a $100,000 grant to get that campaign off the ground and the City of Youngstown marketing campaign, the re-branding effort, essentially co-opted all of that work so then my students had to revise everything to include the City of Youngstown logo which further legitimized the work that they had done. So, the rationale, aside from what I’ve already said is, I’m really interested in how my students come to my Interactive Design class and I know you’ve experienced this and as have that of our peers, I get a little frustrated when I get print designers designing interactive media like it’s a print page layout. I cannot stand it. Obviously, magazine layout, it’s not compatible with web design. So, part of my job is to sort of…and the timing doesn’t work out because I try to break them a little bit. Yeah, you can design a nice page layout that’s printed, but that does not work for the web. Oh, by the way, this afternoon right after this class you have your publication class, so I’m trying to break the mold a little bit while simultaneously trying not to break the mold because they’re learning print and interactive simultaneously, so it’s a balancing act, so I’m trying to get them to understand how to design for the web and how to build for the web and really experience that transition and all the hardship that comes with it because it’s not exactly easy for some folks; the class that I have now, it’s literally picking them up and hanging them upside down and shaking them. And with all apologies to my students, they just turned in their first project and while their websites are coded for the most part properly, the page layout…the design of their websites are not good at all. I’ll never show you their work, Gary! I’m not proud of the visuals, but I’m proud of the process and I would show it to you under that context and that’s sort of why I assigned that print piece so it again has professional application, it has some design methodology within that transition from print to web and the students also seem to like it, it gets them little bit more interested in the class and in the work.
Yeah, that makes sense. And I think one thing that’s different, OK, so at UMBC, I have two courses to teach everything they need to know about Interactive Design in.
Which you can’t…
I would never…yeah, which you can’t, so that’s why I would never think about including a print piece alongside anything, even though there is a symbiotic relationship, you’re not going to be just…you’re not going to be doing…you will have some print pieces thrown in there and so I think the fact that you have four classes gives you the freedom to bring in something when it’s organic.

 

 When two classes wouldn’t let you do that and I have the same frustration because the way I used to teach, my beginning Web Design, Interactive Design, whatever you want to call it, I focus more on the front end development side of it because I really want them to understand the medium of the web and yay, great technically they coded something, but we never had time to critique, should they have even built it in the first place because visually it was terrible. And there was obviously no way they were going to be able to produce anything visually sophisticated, because they didn’t have the skills, so since I’m still really dealing with, I’ve got one class because the other class is really more user research and interface design, so there’s this one web class I have, I’ve kind of flipped it now where I just teach a little bit of HTML and CSS so they can get their type up on the screen and see, oh yeah, it works. Or, OK, these web fonts work like I want and then we focus more on creating visual mock-ups that we look…and clickable prototypes in InVision. So, what’s your approach now? In your web class where I saw that you’re using Dreamweaver; I saw that you’re teaching in heavy HTML and CSS. What’s your rationale for your approach to teaching that?
So, a little bit more background on me. I actually started doing web design when I was eleven. I’m thirty two now so that was a way back, but when I was younger I did not have a logical approach to learning how to code. In fact, I kind of learned how to reverse engineer HTML, so to speak. I know that’s a really kind of lofty word for breaking shit and then trying to figure out how to fix it, but that was my process and it probably took me twice as long to learn how to do HTML than someone just taking a class but nevertheless, one of the things that I sort of reinforce with my students is, yes, you have four Interactive Design classes, but that does not necessarily mean you’re going to graduate from here and be a web developer. So, I automatically start off by differentiating the roles of what post-graduate career looks like, or post-baccalaureate careers look like, so I tell my students listen: I’m not training you to be a developer, I’m training you to be what is effectively a front end designer. You’re going to design interfaces, you’re going for websites, for mobile apps, for kiosks, whatever, but you need to be aware of how these things are built on the development side because a happy developer is a happy designer, and vice-versa. There’s no situation, and I reiterate this frequently with my students: there’s no situation where they will be employed and working completely alone. Now, there’s some nuance to that. I always have to preface it by saying, if you work for a good company, a smart company, they won’t let you code a website from nothing. They would hire a developer to work with you and then you both produce that deliverable at its highest level. Obviously shifts in the industry and the expectations of our students when they graduate to be able to be masters of HTML and CSS has sort of created a different narrative but in reality, even the people that want that, they don’t really even know, at least in my opinion, they don’t even really know the level of mastery involved. Because I could have a student that takes two Interactive Design classes and they can put HTML and CSS under their skills and the employer will be like, OK, that’s nice, they hit the check-marks and then they get employed and then they never use those skills. So, it really depends but I start off my first project with…it’s less user interface, less graphic design, and more coding because I really want them to understand the foundation behind which the web is created. They kick and scream the whole time: they hate it. It doesn’t make sense to them, I’m teaching artists and designers Math and Logic; it doesn’t necessarily gel with their creative process. And furthermore, most graphic designers, when I get them, have never even thought about designing for the web so it’s really a total adjustment for them.
 So, I go into this knowing full well that the aesthetics are going to be less than ideal but if I can get them to avoid creating left-hand navigation: great! And I still deal with some of that page layout, print composition stuff and I get that out of the way but once they understand the foundation of that, the HTML and the CSS and how it works, and how patterns work with code, they tend to flourish in the rest of the classes and the rest of the projects so there’s a bit of aggravation up-front and then it actually gets easier as time moves on. The projects get more involved and more time intensive but the foundation of code is there and it allows the creative process to flourish a bit more. So, that’s sort of the rhyme and reason behind my HTML class, or my intro class being HTML and CSS heavy. Furthermore to that point, the sequel courses, I don’t really deal much with coding at all in the sequel classes, which may be a complete reversal of what our peers are doing. They may start of light, like you are, focusing on the aesthetics and then move into the code. But I kind of flipped that upside down.
Well, if I had multiple classes, I would actually do the way you did it because like I said, that’s the way I did it: teach them the medium and then in one class, and it takes pretty much all semester for them just to get used to the medium and then you could start going…now that they can actually make something, now you can start critiquing that visually, so, ultimately, I’d like to do that over several courses. But when I don’t have that, I just shoot for, OK, do they need to be front end developers? No. OK: what can they do? What HTML…what kind of code do they really need to look at in the browser to ensure their static mock-ups are accurate? And I boil it down to just, OK, they need to see if they put things in three columns and they change around the size of the screen, when do they need to make a new break-point?
Right.
When do they need to adjust the picture, if their using the picture element, art direct that image and just simply testing their typography. OK, do the web fonts have all the ligatures that I thought it was going to have? To me, that I thought was the bare minimum.
Yeah, and that’s actually a good baseline. On the topic of web typography, I continually emphasize in my classes, especially on that first project, none…we do use a little bit of Photoshop to demonstrate slicing and user interface and things like that and I tell them, your final site should not have any image-based type. The only area where you should have image-based type is the logo. And the other day, it was actually yesterday as a matter of fact, I had this one student who was just exasperated. She just does not understand the process and I kind of blame that on not taking notes, missing classes and generally not paying attention, but her entire site was image-based text and I said, I’m not going to grade this! I’m not going to grade it until you fix it in…she’s like, “It’s due today!”. I’m like, “Well, I hate to harp on you about it but again, you cannot have image-based text. It looks nice in Photoshop but in practice it is completely wrong.” And that’s when melt-downs occur; not that she had one but generally that’s when that happens. Because again, I’m basically saying to them: “Hey, that really nice user interface you made: it’s compromised and you have to sacrifice all of it because you’re going to rebuild it from scratch in Dreamweaver and it’s not going to look much like anything that you had actually envisioned. Sorry! You’ll get there eventually. But not in this first pass.”
 Oh yeah, I had not a similar moment, but yeah, sort of similar; I didn’t know whether to be proud though or cry but I would harp on the students to actually when I taught it as heavily front end, skewed toward front end development, I made them use SVGs and one student did, I don’t know, somehow they managed to come up with a one megabyte SVG and I was like, how do I handle this? Am I mad at them because they made a one megabyte file, or am I proud of them because they were actually trying to use the SVG? So, anyway, it’s off-topic. But correct me if I’m wrong; I was looking at your Intermediate, or the second level Interactive Design course and it looks like you focus on CMSs; Drupal and WordPress.
So, do you have students tweak existing templates, or build their own? What’s the process for that for you?
OK, so here’s the basic…this is where it diverges, so I apologize if this is nebulous or confusing. So, in Intermediate Interactive Design, my core focus is on content management systems and user interface and user experience. So, the first two projects are WordPress and Drupal and it’s training wheels level stuff, so it’s here’s how you use WordPress and here’s how you can manipulate plug-ins and manipulate themes and I’m just talking about through the process, not hard-coding anything and then eventually I get into some of the more complex things like, all right, here’s how you connect…well, they’d know this at this point, but here’s how you connect to your site via FTP, download all of your files, and this is how you hack some of the PHP and some of the JavaScript and some of the CSS and this is how the whole WordPress system connects together and I explain a little bit about databases and MySQL and things like that and for the most part, especially when I get into the database stuff, it goes over their heads and they tune out, and I don’t blame them for that. But I have had some students express interest in developing their own themes and that interest has spiraled directly out of conversations that we have about design entrepreneurship, so I’ve owned four design service LLCs in my time; I’ve sold all but three because the fourth one I’m still operating but design entrepreneurship is a really big thing for me and incentivizing these students to become active professionals, active freelancers; it just opens so many more doors for them much more quickly and you know as well as I do that it takes a very special type of student to embrace that level of ambition and then actually take the risk and act on it. I would say…I can’t even say it’s one or two people per class; it might be one or two people per academic year out of a class of, I don’t know, let’s say a hundred and fifty people, whatever. But I make mention of the Avada theme on ThemeForest and how that developer is a multi-millionaire because he made a theme that cost fifty bucks but it’s been sold half a million times.
And I had to explain to them, well, you know, he might be wealthy and this might be the only thing he does for two weeks of an entire year, but he’s got royalties to pay; he may have a staff, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But the students see that and they’re like, wow, I never realized I can make that much money from design and I have to say, well, you can make that much money and you can make more but the risk is equivalent to the reward, or inversely proportional, the more risk ever. So, I have had some students have an interest in developing custom WordPress themes. I did have one student a few years ago in my Advanced Interactive class say to me: “Hey, RJ, I’m really interested in the curriculum for Advanced Interactive but all I want to do this semester is build one custom-based WordPress theme and I want to try to get it on ThemeForest and sell it.” And I had to give in and say, absolutely, let’s do it. And he didn’t get it on ThemeForest because they have a really rigorous review process and he’s an amateur. But he did make his own WordPress theme and it worked and it looked good for his level of skill, so I definitely try to reward that when I can.
 Most students though, it’s just, let’s just get this project over. WordPress is better than Drupal but they both suck, and a lot of that quite frankly has to deal with their lack of exposure to design entrepreneurship, professional experiences and maturity, simply put. My program is still very print-heavy, despite the fact that there are four interactive classes, so at any given time I’ve got interactive students that are also taking two other print classes and they’re losing their mind with stress because they’re like, oh my God, I’m never going to get this print project done, and they sort of resign themselves to the fact that, well, I’ll get the interactive project done. It won’t be anywhere near where I want it to but it’ll be about a C-grade, so that is kind of frustrating for me but every once in a while I’ve got a student that really levels up the quality, so yeah.
Two thoughts on that. The first one: I don’t understand it but it is a pattern with my students and now you’ve pointed out it’s a pattern with your students. Why are they mailing in the interactive design course and taking their print courses more seriously? Because let’s face it, the jobs are inverse. If you’re going to take one thing seriously, you take the interactive part seriously, but they don’t.
Yeah, and I’m so glad you said that because recently, I took it upon myself to create a survey for our Alumni and out of the Alumni that I surveyed, most of them…there are two points here. One: most of them had interactive jobs first before they had print jobs. Two: those that had a higher level of skill in interactive in my classes got those jobs first and quicker. So, at least in the Mahoning Valley, or the Tri-state area, those web skills can’t be competed with. So, you’re absolutely right in that that situation is inverse and I wish my students would take more initiative in leveling up their work. But, quite frankly, I think it comes down to the path of least resistance. I know Illustrator and Photoshop like the back of my hand, or I’m a student that’s taken three classes that have all included Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, whereas I’d only taken one class at the current point in time that included Dreamweaver. So, they’re just used to the print programs and because they use them daily. I have students that will take Intro to Interactive in the Fall, let’s say Fall 2017, or Fall 2016 and then they won’t take Intermediate until Fall 2017, a year later, and the retention is gone; they remember nothing. Not only do they not remember any of the software but they don’t remember any of the principles behind web design and it just comes down to, oh, instinctively, that looks nice. So, some people just completely drop off. Those people that don’t take Intermediate Interactive almost immediately after are folks that either are in a weird scheduling rhythm where they just can’t take it until a year after or they purposely avoid taking Intermediate because they don’t…at which point it’s infinitely more harder on them when they do take it. If you take Intro in the Spring and then Intermediate in the Fall, you’re going to do OK but those people that have that huge gap, they just get frustrated with everything.
And so, the other point that I wanted to bring up. I’ve been thinking about this ever since the last design educator I interviewed for the podcast, Lauren Meranda, she talked a lot about…OK, so I guess the product of a student I’m trying to produce is somebody who’s going to get a job, an entry-level job at an interactive design firm.
 But Lauren was thinking more like she’s trying to prepare them more for freelance work and I never really thought about what I was…the end goal for my students and so the more I’ve been thinking about it, so I’ve personally been thinking about, huh, maybe what if I started teaching Squarespace, because everybody wants a Squarespace website, and Shopify, because there is a lot of micro-manufacturing going along and I thought…but then I struggle…so, I was thinking about that but then I struggle with the idea of, again, limited. I’ve got two courses and so am I teaching them…am I doing them a disservice by teaching them how to hack existing templates that aren’t really their designs?
What do you think about that whole debate?
I don’t…for me, there is no debate. It is, first off, those within the debate have to acknowledge the change of technology over time. For example, when I started doing app design, you had to have a knowledge of Objective-C. Specifically for iOS. There was no other way to do it; you had to learn Objective-C, you had to use Xcode and you had to follow Apple’s rules to the letter, if you wanted to see something on the App Store. And over time, well, Objective-C went away; Swift came about because the app industry obviously boomed and they wanted to decrease the barrier for entry into app design and development and I’m not saying Swift is any easier by any rate, but if you look at some of these companies online that…hey, we’ll make your app for you, or, you can use our proprietary software to build your app, which is effectively a website, that’s where the technology’s going. There’ll come a point when we can design our own interfaces within the simple, easy-to-use proprietary software and get the same result as we would if we had hard-coded the thing from the ground up. Obviously, that approach is more palatable for graphic design students and I don’t fight that. Is it less original? Absolutely. But I want my students to be able to say, I made an app in college. It doesn’t have to be a good app; it doesn’t have to look great, but I want my students to be able to say that they had that experience and if that is the contemporary practice or at least the most popular contemporary practice of app design and development, so be it.
I embrace that and that’s why I reach out to groups like AppSpotter and actively try to form partnerships with them, not because I want to take advantage of their software or anything like that but because I feel that their software has opened doors for my students that were not previously able to be opened and as a result of AppSpotter’s technology, I’ve had students release their apps to iOS and Android. I’ve had students create their own developer accounts and learned how to negotiate that system and they can go to an employer and say, well I did bring my printed portfolio, but why don’t you just download my mobile app and let me know what you think. Is that super-cocky? Yeah, maybe. But, it’s awesome that my people can do that and that’s a goal that I have for all of my students, so by the end of my Intermediate Class, the goal is they each have their own portfolio app on the App Store using AppSpotter technology. Now, the other side to that is, if I’m emphasizing design entrepreneurship, I could say, you can use AppSpotter technology and charge a client five grand to make their app, provided you’re extremely clear on how your service operates and the limitations within it. You don’t want to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, so to speak, or be fraudulent or even…I think the operative word there is misleading, so my students can see that as a profit center and create apps for people and that experience is just as valid in my opinion as any other experience.
 Now, when it comes to Wix and Squarespace, I take a pretty hard stand on that. I run the Youngstown Design Works Program, which is an elite-level student-run graphic and interactive design agency. We build print and web deliverables for clients in the Mahoning Valley. Now, if we have a client that says, all right, well I want a WordPress website. Great, we can build you a WordPress website, we’re very clear and transparent on how all this operates. We can build a custom theme for you from the ground up for starting at ten thousand dollars, because that is an involved process. Or, we can go to ThemeForest, find a few templates that you may like, consult with you, we purchase it and it reduce your costs, gets your website online quicker and we can manipulate those templates to accommodate your brand and everyone’s happy. Those are the kind of projects that I like because I can fit those within a semester. If they come to me and say, well we have a Wix site, can you work with that? I’m not going to say “No”. Same with Squarespace, or any other website builder. And…because it’s important that our students recognize that those tools are out there and that they shouldn’t perceive them as taking work away from them; they should perceive those web-builders as tools that can get them work. So, I’m adamantly against using them in class but in professional practice, I’m for it. Not enthusiastically for it, but I’m for it nevertheless.
Why are you…so why would you use WordPress in class but you wouldn’t use Squarespace?
WordPress and Drupal are Open Source. They’re not completely Open Source, obviously, Automatic owns WordPress and Drupal’s owned by another company, but their delivery is very Open Source-like. So, for example, I want my students to be able to download the WordPress platform and I want to show them the code and I want to show them how they can manipulate it. I want to show them that they can be a third party developer of themes or plug-ins and profit off of that. So, I like the community based perspective of both WordPress and Drupal. Squarespace and Wix are full-on proprietary; their goals are not to democratize the web, so to speak. Their goals are for profit off the web. So that’s why I don’t use them.
No, and that makes sense. I guess I was kinda like looking for the magic bullet because one thing that I’ve heard from lots of different…Squarespace versus WordPress, I would pick WordPress because I would like to teach my students WordPress and I’ve heard some bad corporate…Squarespace, their culture’s kinda like the same as Uber’s, which is not good.
It’s kind of like how GoDaddy’s ad campaigns were sexist and that’s one of the reasons why I was actually against people using GoDaddy because I took a philosophical stance against them. And then, they dropped the ad campaign and they added cPanel to their UI and I’m like, OK, they’re not so bad any more!
Yeah, I know, that’s why I stopped using MT: they bought the hosting company MT but MT kept its brand, its name. Media Temple, I’m sorry.
Oh, don’t get me started on subsidiaries of bigger corporations like Endurance International Group. Arvixe was a really great service, website hosting service out based out of San Francisco and then Endurance International Group came along, bought them, laid off half the company, destroyed their customer service and all of my students that were on Arvixe at the time were losing their shit and of course, I was getting the brunt of this because I recommended it to them and it’s just like, I’m sorry, these things happen, I had no idea: I’m experiencing the same level of difficulty as you are, so be aware of EIG and their poaching of smaller privately-owned start-ups.
 Well, you know how I avoided all that? Because I had the same thing happen, I had students using some other hosting company that literally overnight just went away. They crashed the server and went away. So, now I actually use Digital Ocean; I have a droplet on DigitalOcean; I’ve found an Open Source cPanel and so I…and it’s called Sentora for anybody who does come back and find this, I spinned up a one-gigabyte memory droplet at ten bucks a month on Digital Ocean, I installed Sentora hosting panel on it and I give all my students free hosting.
And the panel is close…the panel resembles most other hosting panels enough that, OK, from a learning perspective, if they use Sentora, they could go use cPanel and GoDaddy; they could go use Parallel, I think is the other one.
…so they could go and use another one. But back onto the original thing. It’s Shopify. That’s the one that that I can’t really…because there is a lot of work, there’s a lot of small businesses who want e-commerce websites and WooCommerce just isn’t as powerful, as flexible for the business as Shopify.
You know what? That’s such a great point. I get e-comm requests constantly. Not a week goes by where I don’t get at least one e-commerce request and I’m at the point now where I’m just frustrated that these business owners, instead of taking the time to research it on their own, they just call up the local University and expect someone to answer that question for them. Which, in all fairness, that’s part of why we’re here but I do get frustrated because this just happened: I said to a person, we can build an e-commerce site for you but you’re going to have to get a Virtual Private Network, you’re going to have to get a secure site link, you’re going to have to get a dedicated IP, that one is going to cost you probably about a thousand dollars. You’re going to have to get some redundant back-ups and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, technical jargon. Oh, and then you’re going to have to pay us another five to ten thousand dollars just to put all this stuff together because the second that a credit-card transaction is compromised, you’re responsible for it and you know as well as I do that a client will defer that responsibility onto the designer or developer that made their site. Which puts the University in a bad situation which effectively puts me in a bad situation so I’ve actually sworn off doing e-commerce completely in my role as the Director of Design Works. But also as a professional, I just don’t do it. I just say, go to Shopify. If you don’t like it, there are other out of the box solutions that you can use but the operative thing you need to understand is that one of those services, you’re going to have to use if you want to do it right.
And so there comes my internal struggle and I think I actually just worked it out listening to you is that Shopify is the best entry-level tool for anybody who wants to start an e-commerce that I can come across. So, if I have my students learn how to manipulate existing templates for Shopify or build them from scratch, they’re then using the Liquid templating engine, which is different than PHP, which is different than the JSon back-end for Squarespace. So, now they’re stuck to a proprietary thing but the one that I just thought of that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it is my class blog: I use Jekyll. Jekyll uses the same Liquid templating that Shopify does. There are now…actually there’s now a panel for Jekyll websites and there’s some companies that’ll host a Jekyll website that’ll add a back-end to it so clients could go in and change it, so maybe I might go down that route, a Shopify/ or Jekyll website for the static side of things, but anyway, I’ve way digressed!
 I don’t know, but these are like the things I’m constantly going through in my mind that all these things would be fantastic for the students to know but we get absolutely no time to teach all of this which would be crazy-beneficial and then the students are like, they take the making the postage stamp or the poster more seriously than they do the website!