The Struggles of a New Year

Over the past few months I’ve been working on my company’s website. Essentially what they had going on was the same content (and layout) they’d had for the past six years, and in those six years there were only a handful of changes made. The webmaster had built a somewhat user-friendly access portal that allowed the employees here to make very minor changes when necessary (mostly consisting of changing some text on the main page), but for the most part all other updates would be done by him. If they needed new pricing online, they’d send him that and he’d put it up. It was an easy & convenient solution for everyone and really required no effort on their part.

After writing, re-re-revising and finally deleting most of a large pseudo-rant, I’ll just go on with saying that I am relearning web design and development.

To make a long story short, it’s like discovering Internet2. It’s the same feeling as when I first figured out not just how to upload photos in 1996; but why I was doing it and what the difference was between live and local links.

In college my focus was on design for the multimedia world, something that was just coming into being when we finished up in 2001. Our class finished with less than 20 students – mostly guinea pigs for this new Web Design & Multimedia program. We learned the basics of developing websites; JavaScript, Flash, Dreamweaver, Director, those were all in there, but nobody considered us pioneer developers by any means. I suppose we were digital artists more than anything – not saying coders today don’t make works of art in their own right, but it’s different. The majority of us came out of non-digital graphic design backgrounds and moved over to the multimedia sector where we tried to incorporate both worlds.

Skip past a lot of failed website attempts, most made with image maps and crazy Photoshoppery, and step to the world out there today. I don’t think CSS was something we even talked about conversationally during my two year tenure, which might explain where I’m at.

So now we’re at that point where I still love illustration and typography and good design, but am now trying to self-instruct myself on the industry standards for design (and do things the easy way as well). It’s a good pain, much the way an intermediate workout feels when you haven’t moved off the couch all winter. Mostly it’s frustrating because the people I’m asking for help are advanced to the point where it’s difficult to tutor me. It’s not that they can’t, but explaining your second nature to someone isn’t the easiest task in the world. I liken this to trying to teach someone to drive that’s never seen a car before.

Now for some linkage, and don’t laugh if it seems outdated. We all have to start somewhere, even if it’s for the second time.

http://www.csszengarden.com/
http://www.cssnewbie.com/
http://delicious.com/popular/css
http://elementiks.com/web_resources.php
http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2009/01/14/web-design-trends-for-2009/

To me, this feels as if I’m on the fringe of some giant inside joke. Here is my state of mind at the moment:
-I know if I like a site aesthetically when it shows up on my screen
-A lot of the sites I like aesthetically are made with CSS
-I know that not all browsers are created equal, but there are things you can do to make it so the users don’t notice
-I know you have to design for EVERYONE, even when you don’t want to
-Designing with SEO in mind is a good thing
-My main tools for building a site are Dreamweaver & Photoshop. I’ve got DW CS4 at work and DW8 at home, which makes for interesting results because you build differently.

My biggest hurdle right now is being able to build without fully understanding the process behind it. I can snag bits and pieces of other code and edit them somewhat (ex: if I need a photo gallery to work a certain way, I’ll find a template or tutorial to help me achieve results), but I can’t build things from scratch yet.

That ‘yet’ is a huge deal for me. It’s not enough that I get ‘square block goes into square space’, but I need to know why. So…

A) Do any of you novice designers have similar problems?
B) What tools/sites/resources are you using to help get through your hurdles?

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