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Web Design - Where to get started?
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sdilley14
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Sep 22, 2008, 12:15 PM
 
To make a long story short, I’d like to start getting into web design. I have some light experience building websites (Dreamweaver), but nothing too awfully extensive. I’ve followed almost every link posted on the website design sticky thread on here. There’s a TON of useful information there and I’m sure I’ll resort to a lot of it once I get going, but it’s a lot to sift through and I feel the deeper I go, the more lost I get.

So I guess my questions is this; where should I get started? I really liked working with Dreamweaver for that time that I did use it. I wouldn’t be at all opposed to using it again (I see CS4 is coming out tomorrow actually, so maybe it’d be a good time to pick it up?). I’ve noticed that almost everybody who’s serious about web design recommends hand-coding. I know very little (basic HTML) about hand-coding. Also, I have marginal experience with Photoshop.

My intentions are to build relatively basic, good quality websites. Nothing extremely intricate or complex (though I’d like to get more complex as I get more experience). I’d like to design mostly for small businesses and service driven organizations that need a web presence. My big goal is to make this my own full time business some day. I don’t plan on making a fortune (I’d be happy making $40k/yr if I could work on my own and have my own business). I’m open to buying books, going through tutorials, etc.

I realize I need to start slowly from the ground up. Any suggestions on a good starting point, suggestions on software, books, etc., anything that will help me get a good start is very much appreciated!
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Synotic
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Sep 22, 2008, 02:20 PM
 
I feel like I have more to say about this, but probably the hardest part of web design/development is finding and keeping up the motivation to do it. The code and the technical skills are necessary, but generally not that interesting and (thankfully) not too difficult. Your motivation will depend on what you want out of it but here are just a few thoughts—

Culture — Read and read widely. Zeldman's Designing with Web Standards and Krug's Don't Make Me Think are good ones to start with. Zeldman.com, Alistapart.com, Mezzoblue.com, Codinghorror.com, etc... are also good blogs to read. From there you'll find links to other blogs and you'll build a nice portfolio of sites to read. I know it can be cost-prohibitive, but if you can make it, try to go out to one of the web design conferences. It's a good way of seeing some of the faces behind the web development scene and can also do wonders for your motivation.

Projects — Don't wait until you're "ready" to do a particular kind of website. You'll never be ready. This doesn't mean that you should entirely mislead your client, but don't be afraid of a little challenge. Be upfront with your client and let them know that you're still learning and they'll be a lot more willing to work with you and help you develop your skills. Until you have projects and ideas that you want to carry out, you probably won't find much interest in things like PHP, MySQL, or even JavaScript (or whatever the kids are using these days).

Design — Designers have (I like to think ) a kind of edge when it comes to web development. I like to think of the designers as the architects and the coders as the construction workers. Design what you want to build and learning the tools to build them will be easy.

So... design what you want to build, find projects (or create them yourself) and engage in the culture and you'll have no problem learning what you need to know. And it might actually be enjoyable.
     
sdilley14  (op)
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Sep 22, 2008, 03:55 PM
 
Originally Posted by Synotic View Post
I feel like I have more to say about this, but probably the hardest part of web design/development is finding and keeping up the motivation to do it. The code and the technical skills are necessary, but generally not that interesting and (thankfully) not too difficult. Your motivation will depend on what you want out of it but here are just a few thoughts—
In my brief experience, and talking to friends who have dabbled in this, I couldn't agree with this more.

Thank you very much for the response.
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shifuimam
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Sep 22, 2008, 04:24 PM
 
Originally Posted by sdilley14 View Post
My big goal is to make this my own full time business some day. I don’t plan on making a fortune (I’d be happy making $40k/yr if I could work on my own and have my own business). I’m open to buying books, going through tutorials, etc.
If you really want to make a career out of website design and development, you need to find a place where you can work doing this stuff. It's the only way you'll be able to really pick up the experience and awareness of what it takes to make commercial websites.

When it comes to making a living doing freelance work, please at least stay grounded. In the web design program at my university, I saw so many people who had dreams of making a living designing websites. Most of them had Geocities-level design skills, and none of them could do site development. The thing is, everyone and their brother wants to design websites for a living. Only a very small percentage of that pool actually makes a worthwhile living doing it. It's like any other art-related field - everyone thinks they can be the next Da Vinci or Mozart or Beatles; very few actually succeed. It's just that with site design, it's a lot more accessible since the tools are usually easily acquired.

My advice would be to get into database-driven website and web application development. You'll still be able to get your fingers in the pretty design stuff, but you'll be able to actually build a skill that you can take elsewhere (and that will get you decently-paying jobs).

The other thing with something like this is that the best way to get into it is to start doing it for real (e.g. not just for fun). When you have an actual project with real content and a real goal, it's a lot easier to put your all into it and learn a lot from it. I had a three-month summer internship in college designing a couple intranet websites for a big Fortune 500 corporation. I'd never touched PHP or MySQL before that summer - within two weeks I'd taught myself everything I needed to make some websites that later won departmental awards for usability. It's just a lot easier to learn this stuff when you have tangible results and customers who can provide actual feedback (you may think that x and y are the greatest things ever - but that doesn't matter, if your customers don't agree).

Good luck!
     
sdilley14  (op)
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Sep 22, 2008, 09:02 PM
 
Originally Posted by shifuimam View Post

My advice would be to get into database-driven website and web application development. You'll still be able to get your fingers in the pretty design stuff, but you'll be able to actually build a skill that you can take elsewhere (and that will get you decently-paying jobs).
Thank you very much for the input.

What would be a good starting point for this...as far as beginning to learn database applications?
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selowitch
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Sep 23, 2008, 03:54 PM
 
Originally Posted by sdilley14 View Post
What would be a good starting point for this...as far as beginning to learn database applications?
I would start with a free, open-source, LAMP/MAMP environment: Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (or Macintosh, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) along with CSS and ECMAScript (the latter of which is basically standards-compliant JavaScript). Get some decent books on the subject, such as those by Molly Holzschlag, Eric Meyer (esp. with regard to Cascading Style Sheets), and Jeremy Zeldman, and read their websites and pay attention the Web Standards Project. Later, you can explore topics like AJAX.

Always strive to write code that validates and which is as universally accessible as possible. You'll make the Web a better place if you do. Write code to fit the standards, not any one particular browser. Test with Firefox, Opera, Safari, and IE when you can.

Get yourself a free or cheap MySQL hosting account and start playing around with PHPmyAdmin, a free tool to get you started creating databases. Then learn to use PHP (or some other scripting language) to start drawing data out of it to populate your web pages. Pretty soon you'll be taking input from the user via forms and executing queries based on that input. Fun stuff!
( Last edited by selowitch; Sep 23, 2008 at 04:05 PM. )
     
sdilley14  (op)
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Sep 24, 2008, 12:26 AM
 
I'm going to be using a MAMP environment. I've been following along with some tutorials on the PHP website.

Just so I have this right, the most logical and "best" way to go about learning quality web design would be to learn PHP/MySQL and CSS first, then take that knowledge and start learning/integrating it with Dreamweaver (or something of the like)?

I'm a little worried about all of this because I don't have a lot of graphic design experience and I'm afraid that I'm going to get all of this technical knowledge and acquire all of this back-end education, and I'm not going to be able to develop the logos and graphics needed to bring pages to life.
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selowitch
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Sep 24, 2008, 12:34 AM
 
The graphic-design aspect is something you will need to develop separately. If you don't feel you can learn it by doing, consider taking a class or two.

Forget Dreamweaver, FrontPage, and the like. Strictly for amateurs. Learn to hand-code from the outset, and validate what you write using the World Wide Web Consortium's tools. The reason is you will write leaner, more standards-compliant code and you will be able to take responsibility for what each line of code does instead of entrusting it to a WYSIWYG tool that tends to write bloated, outdated, one-size-fits-all code that will bog you down.
     
sdilley14  (op)
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Sep 24, 2008, 12:28 PM
 
Originally Posted by selowitch View Post
The graphic-design aspect is something you will need to develop separately. If you don't feel you can learn it by doing, consider taking a class or two.

Forget Dreamweaver, FrontPage, and the like. Strictly for amateurs. Learn to hand-code from the outset, and validate what you write using the World Wide Web Consortium's tools. The reason is you will write leaner, more standards-compliant code and you will be able to take responsibility for what each line of code does instead of entrusting it to a WYSIWYG tool that tends to write bloated, outdated, one-size-fits-all code that will bog you down.
Would you suggest learning Photoshop or Fireworks? Or both?

Keep in mind, I'm not trying to take all of this on at once. I'm trying to set up a logical, attainable path to learning all of this, one step at a time without overwhelming myself.

Also, I don't really have any intentions on building/working on enormous, dynamic, enterprise level websites. I want to work in a small market with small businesses and make a modest living.
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itistoday
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Sep 24, 2008, 12:37 PM
 
There's lot of software out there that will make websites for you, like Dreamweaver, Rapidweaver (hey I just noticed their names are similar..), etc. My advice would be to stay away form those.

The problem with using software that generates sites for you is that it becomes a crutch. You end up being very limited in what you can do, and your creative juices are sortof backed up and cannot flow freely.

Believe it or not making websites from scratch is not hard at all, if you're starting from scratch it should take you about a week of studying. This is just my personal approach and it's worked very well for me. I like to know everything about how something works so that no confusion develops later on.

Learning just about anything, be it webdesign, programming, cooking, etc. is cheap. You don't need to pay any money for any books but you can if you want. The internet has all of that information already and it's much more accessible than a book. Have a question? Just google it.

My personal enterprise into web design went like this:

The Basics - HTML

Read some tutorials. To do this there are lots of great sites that will help you.

Try it out! Make sure you actually follow along with the tutorials and do what they tell you.

Next - CSS

The next step from HTML is CSS. Again, google is your friend. Follow the same steps as before, find tutorials on google and try them out.

Finally - Examples

At this point you'll know enough about the topic to get to the real meat of things, and that's real-life examples. Go to any site that you like and view the source for that page. See how the pros do things. Today CSS is the way to go, many things that were once done using HTML are now done using CSS. Javascript is also a big player but you can learn that later if you want.

If you're looking to be a real web developer this is the route I would recommend. Good luck!
     
selowitch
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Sep 24, 2008, 12:37 PM
 
Originally Posted by sdilley14 View Post
Would you suggest learning Photoshop or Fireworks? Or both?
I think PS is smarter because it's so nearly universal. It's expensive, though, so think about using an alternative like FW or Gimp. PS skills are very sought after in the job market, so it may be worth the time and investment.
Keep in mind, I'm not trying to take all of this on at once. I'm trying to set up a logical, attainable path to learning all of this, one step at a time without overwhelming myself.
A wise approach.
Also, I don't really have any intentions on building/working on enormous, dynamic, enterprise level websites.
Neither do I. But even a small, mom-and-pop website will usually benefit from a database-driven site if they are selling several different items.
I want to work in a small market with small businesses and make a modest living.
In this economy, making a modest living is easy to do. Just start out making a really good living, and you'll be down to modest in no time LOL.
     
itistoday
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Sep 24, 2008, 12:43 PM
 
Oh, also, to add to my previous post, I should mention...

The Tools

* TextMate (not free, but amazing)
* Smultron (free!)
* CSSEdit

For doing image design I think that Photoshop, unfortunately, is still the best way to go, but keep an eye on Pixelmator.

Also, Safari's developer mode is amazing. If you're using Firefox the equivalent is Firebug.
     
sdilley14  (op)
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Sep 24, 2008, 08:10 PM
 
Thank you very much for the replies everybody.

I have the direction and good support to turn to. Now to address maybe the biggest part of all.

What tips do you have to stay motivated? I'm going to be studying and working on all of this almost exclusively at home before and after work. I've always had a bit of trouble staying focused when working on things at home (watching TV is so much easier!) Are there any little things that you do to stay focused? I know, it probably seems like a stupid thing to ask and I need to just suck it up and jump into it, but any tips from people with experience help.
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selowitch
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Sep 24, 2008, 08:31 PM
 
Originally Posted by sdilley14 View Post
What tips do you have to stay motivated? I'm going to be studying and working on all of this almost exclusively at home before and after work.
Dude, that's a tough one. If you're working full time, many of us are too tuckered out to do all that much in our spare time. See if you can eliminate other drains on your energy, though. Exercise and good diet, coupled with therapies you find helpful, like acupuncture or yoga. Do you have a spouse and/or kids? I've been stay-at-home dad for a long while now, and while I really like it, it's sometimes a battle to stay motivated for work projects.
     
itistoday
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Sep 24, 2008, 09:25 PM
 
Originally Posted by sdilley14 View Post
Thank you very much for the replies everybody.

I have the direction and good support to turn to. Now to address maybe the biggest part of all.

What tips do you have to stay motivated? I'm going to be studying and working on all of this almost exclusively at home before and after work. I've always had a bit of trouble staying focused when working on things at home (watching TV is so much easier!) Are there any little things that you do to stay focused? I know, it probably seems like a stupid thing to ask and I need to just suck it up and jump into it, but any tips from people with experience help.
Zen Habits
     
sdilley14  (op)
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Sep 25, 2008, 01:31 PM
 
Originally Posted by selowitch View Post
Dude, that's a tough one. If you're working full time, many of us are too tuckered out to do all that much in our spare time. See if you can eliminate other drains on your energy, though. Exercise and good diet, coupled with therapies you find helpful, like acupuncture or yoga. Do you have a spouse and/or kids? I've been stay-at-home dad for a long while now, and while I really like it, it's sometimes a battle to stay motivated for work projects.
It's just me, myself, and I. I work 8:30am-5:30pm, and I like to squeeze in an hour or two for working out either during the work day or after work. I think the biggest thing will be finding it in myself to keep the TV turned off when I'm trying to learn.
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selowitch
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Sep 26, 2008, 12:01 AM
 
Originally Posted by sdilley14 View Post
I think the biggest thing will be finding it in myself to keep the TV turned off when I'm trying to learn.
  1. Open nearby window.
  2. Push television out window (being sure to disconnect the power cord first).
  3. Presto! More time for work and the gym.
     
Gavin
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Oct 9, 2008, 05:34 AM
 
I know this is a little late -

My advice would be to dive into a project you are interested in.

Say you like guitars - you could write a small website about that. ( or kittens, naked chicks, potato guns - whatever you are in to. ) ;-)

Keep it simple with just a few goals:
1. store item info in a small database
2. have a page to list all the items
3. each item in the list links to a detail page

So, now you are:

1. setting up a server
2. creating a database
3. building a dynamic web page with a language like PHP
4. learning css to make it look cool
5. learning photoshop to make icons, etc
6. figuring out how it all has to interact

all marketable skills. And most importantly you have something you are interesting in that will keep you motivated. It will be more like a hobby.

Later you can trick it out - add a blog, hook in a photo gallery package, write a user log in system for private areas, allow user comments, ajax toys, mashups, etc.
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Arkham_c
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Oct 9, 2008, 10:29 AM
 
My advice is to pick one side of the fence or another. You can either be a graphic designer/human factors engineer, or you can be a developer. Pick the side that you want to learn, and dedicate yourself it it.

HTML is a valuable skill for either side, but otherwise the paths don't cross much. I've been doing server-side development for about a decade now, and I chose the development path over the UI design path. Anyone can learn Photoshop, but to actually have an idea about continuity and spacial layout takes some formal training. The same thing goes for software development. You can teach yourself to deploy a LAMP stack and develop a database-driven web site, but you won't easily learn the tenets of object orientation, code reuse, or Model-view-controller separation without some sort of education, and without these sorts of things your code will grow a lot of cruft over time.
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