Dreeeeeeamweaver... help me make it to another job
March 5, 2009 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Graphic designer needing web skills... but what do I need?

I'm a graphic artist at a newspaper. As you may know, newspapers are not doing well, and between that and outsourcing, my job is on the endangered list. When I started training for this, everything at school was focused on print. (Which is weird, since it was 2002, and the web was already very well advanced.) But my training has served me well, at least until now. What I'm seeing pretty much everywhere is that designers need to be able to design for the web as well. I'm good at learning new stuff, so this doesn't really intimidate me. But I need to know what designers currently are expected to know. It seems that Dreamweaver (no training whatsoever) and Flash (which I do have some training on) are a given. How about coding? Scripting? Or do the designers typically design and then hand things over to the code monkeys? Other aspects of web design? Any resources you'd recommend?

posted by azpenguin to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I definitely would not waste time on Dreamweaver, or any other WYSIWYG engine. Especially in publishing, you want to make the leap to a CMS. I'm partial to Drupal myself, but there are literally hundreds of CMSes out there.

Even if you wind up in a position in which you hand off your design to a coder, as a competent Web designer you should know the basics of HTML and CSS, so you can understand what is easy to achieve and what is difficult. For instance, I've worked with very good designers--from both the aesthetic and the UI point of view--whose designs were hell to code because their notion of a grid had hundreds of grid lines and mine has tens.
posted by bricoleur at 10:43 AM on March 5, 2009

If you are just starting out, learning XHTML and CSS is a good idea. If after a while you decide to start handing things to a coder you'll at least know what's going on.
posted by Memo at 10:48 AM on March 5, 2009

Best answer: But I need to know what designers currently are expected to know.


I'm only half joking here, what with the way the economy is going, but there's some truth to it. The more irreplaceable you are the more valuable you are. Depending on how things play out, you may be called on to not only design but develop website and/or ads. If you can't, there were someone else who can, or will say they can and figure out how to do it later.

Before getting into knowing specific technologies or whatever, you need to understand how the web and print are different and what works and doesn't. I would suggest taking several print ads and rebuilding them for the web, either in Photoshop or Indesign (it exports to jpg). Type size, colors, the use of space, the size of graphics (you need to think in kilobytes as opposed to megabytes) and the lack of motion will jump out at you.

Don't listen to any advice that says ignore Dreamweaver. This doesn't mean you have to know it inside out, but you should familiar with it. Do you really want be denied a job just because some employer swears by it?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2009

Best answer: Newspaper code monkey, here.

First off, buy your newsroom developer a coffee and chat with him about what he'd want you to know. Knowing how to use Dreamweaver is like knowing how to use Word. It doesn't mean you can produce anything worth looking at, and your programmer may well be disgusted by the idea of using it at all. Or maybe that's how they do things in your shop. Find out.

Here, I'm paired with a designer. We added her position a year ago when I made it clear that while I can build things that work, they are not always optimally eye-catching. They only added my position a year and a half before that (everything used to be centrally developed by Corporate Overlords), so we're still figuring things out as we go. Other papers that have been allowed by their ownership to have local web teams may work very differently.

Sometimes our designer designs something in Illustrator/Photoshop and I take that and recreate it in HTML/CSS/Javascript. Usually she produces the HTML/CSS and I clean it up and rewrite parts of it with the template code for our web software. And she spends a lot of time making graphics ("we need a clock thingy for daylight savings time" or "we need a banner for the new blog we want to promote") and a bit of time designing logos for new sites (e.g. pets or high school niche sites).

I know at some sister newspapers, the "designers" have a lot of code monkey skills. They're HTML/CSS pros with at least basic scripting skills. Whether you need those skills yourself depends on whether you're at a big enough paper to have separate designers and developers, or a mid-size or smaller newspaper that needs an all-in-one.

If you don't know HTML (yet), I've seen jobs open up for interactive advertising designers -- making display ads for the site, designing those annoying flash rollover ads. That's all Photoshop/Illustrator/Flash work. We've got one of these guys in our ad department. He used to design the print car ads before he moved to the interactive team.

I'll let others toss you suggestions for where/how to learn those skills, but those are the basic skill sets of designers I've worked with at my paper. Email me if you want more info.
posted by katieinshoes at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2009

I work as a programmer with a graphic designer in a small web development office.

Our designer does both print and web design. He has no Dreamweaver or programming knowledge. When it comes to the web, he mostly needs to know:

- how to size graphics in pixels
- what file formats to use when sending me a site for coding: jpg vs. gif vs. png
- what fonts can and cannot be used on the web
- how to design for the average browser size (we currently use 1024x768)
- the elements of good, user friendly website design (For example, consistent navigation placement. Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think is a good place to start.)

Of course, knowing Dreamweaver, (X)HTML, CSS and Flash certainly wouldn't hurt your job prospects. Your job requirements will probably vary greatly depending on where you work.
posted by geeky at 11:19 AM on March 5, 2009

art director here.

consider one of these two options: learn flash/action script or learn html/css/etc.
become really good at either one.

flash will open up lots of positions doing banners, websites, etc to you - stuff that looks good.
css will open up the whole social web realm - things that adapt all the time.

what you're doing is essentially learning the equivalent of prepressing for the web. think of a web developer as an online version of a print producer only that these historically two roles are both often filled by one person when the web gets involved.

I'd do a little research about which route seems more interesting to you and get crackin'.
posted by krautland at 11:27 AM on March 5, 2009

Best answer: There's more to publishing on the web than just look and feel -- information architecture, user interface (UI), data integration, content management (CMS), project management, user acceptance testing, etc., not to mention networking and hardware infrastructure. You could end up freelancing for many small businesses, or as a member of a large team working on one small piece of a web presence. My personal experience is sort of a mix of all of the above. It's important to be knowledgeable enough to handle your responsibilities and flexible enough to fill in where needed.

Depending on your capacity as graphic designer you may be better suited for different aspects of the transition to web. If you're a layout person, content management might be a good fit. If you are doing illustrations/conceptualizations/advertisements, you may end up doing interactive work in flash or designing wireframe layouts for websites. Visual communications concepts are readily applied to many aspects of UI design and information architecture.

It's common to think that creatives can't be coders and coders can't be creatives. While it may be true that a jack-of-all-trades is master of none, there is a lot of convergence in this field -- websites utilize graphics, photography, page layout, animation and video to be compelling, and companies are putting the squeeze on their work force, so having a wide range of skills is probably advantageous. New technologies, frameworks and capabilities are coming out every day, so staying informed is a challenge.

That being said, being a graphic designer in this day and age means you already should have some mad computer skills. I'd recommend jumping in feet first by setting up a LAMP/WAMP (Linux or Windows plus Apache, MySQL, PHP) server on a local computer and messing around with a CMS such as Drupal or Joomla. If you don't want to run the server locally there are many good services available for cheap or free -- try 000webhost.com. From here you can either work on creating website content, or digging into the code to learn how everything works. XHTML and CSS are a must. Javascript frameworks are making a lot of functionality easily available, look up JQuery, MooTools, Scriptaculous, or the Google API.

The O'Reilly library is probably the best reference library for any of the technology buzzwords that get kicked around - PHP, HTML, Javascript, SQL, .NET, C#, ASP, Cold Fusion etc. if you want to learn the ropes for any particular platform. You could also look up "such-and-such tutorials" to find some exercises to help you get started.
posted by greensweater at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

2nding Memo. Both WYSIWYG progams and CMS's are just going to get in your way until you have a functional knowledge of the code they are producing. HTML and CSS basics are a must.
posted by Mr. Anthropomorphism at 12:24 PM on March 5, 2009

Since you work at a newspaper, you might want to look through the job ads and see what skillsets are being requested whenever a "designer" position is advertised.

Basically, the trajectory the graphic design field has taken in the past several years has been one of "jack-of-all-trades". Frankly, the self-sufficient designer in 2009 really needs to be, roughly, 75% code monkey, and 25% designer. This is because so much of web work requires overlapping knowledge of both creative and development. CSS is like this. Flash, too. And, once you get into the serious business stuff that greensweater speaks of...well...I guess you can knock that ratio down to 80/20 at best.

It's the rare GD job nowadays that actually has a separation between design and dev where the designer does the visual formatting and then hands it over to a dev. At least at the smaller places that account for most of the jobs I see out there, they want you to know everything. It's pretty daunting, really. And, honestly, not a whole lot of fun, if you aren't already pre-disposed to that sort of technical stuff.

And, honestly, you will need to know enough Dreamweaver to get by. Seriously. If you look for work outside of an actual web development shop (like, in a small business, for instance) they will probably want that skill.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:58 PM on March 5, 2009

I just want to nth that CSS is probably going to be something you want to learn. Even if you do find one of those rare jobs where you are handing off your work to a programmer, you need to know how to design for CSS. There are certain things that designers can do ahead of time to make the images/colors/content work better and more efficiently when coded.

And I think you absolutely do need to learn Dreamweaver. It's a great environment to learn CSS in. I started out by downloading a CMS (back then it was Mambo..now it's Joomla) and learning to develop for it. This will get you hands-on with a CMS, CSS and designing for the web.

Flash is helpful, but has a steep learning curve.

If I were in your position, the steps I would take are as follows:
-Learn what makes a good website and see what trends are out there
Resources: www.webdesignerwall.com
-Download a trial version of Dreamweaver CS4. Learn how it works (not indepth...just get comfortable with it) and then get started on HTML/CSS.
Resources: W3 Schools CSS, Lynda.com, CSS Tricks and Adobe's website.
-Get thee a webhost as greensweater described above and install a CMS on it. I like Joomla, but there are many choices.
-Take the Lynda.com "Developing for Joomla" tutorials (they also have tutorials for Drupal and Wordpress).

There's a lot more to making this transition, though. So many things to consider! If you would like to know more, you can MeMail me. I'm currently working with a designer friend who is trying to make the transition as well.
posted by bristolcat at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2009

If you plan to be on the design side of things you should definitely be able to understand HTML/CSS although I wouldn't say you have to be an expert. We actually have a pretty strict line between designers and developers at my shop (we have about 3 designers and 3 developers). I'll typically design something in Photoshop and hand it off to a developer who will cut it up and code it. I don't know if this typical of most web development companies though.

I would recommend knowing at least basic flash (how to manipulate the timeline and creating simple animations). A lot of our work ends up having some flash in it. If you can learn Actionscript it is a HUGE plus. There are not that many designers who are also Actionscript experts so it would give you an invaluable skill.

I got started by taking some classes specifically teaching HTML, Photoshop, Flash, Illustrator and Dreamweaver. These days I wouldn't say that Dreamweaver is a given. You should learn to hand code basic HTML/CSS and then if you ever have to use Dreamweaver it really won't be difficult.
posted by bingwah at 1:57 PM on March 5, 2009

Some resources:

There are also tons of sites that feature really nicely designed websites. They're great to look at for inspiration and ideas:
posted by bingwah at 2:03 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some of these people are trying to turn you into a developer. Which if you want to do that, great.

But if your interests and skills are primarily in graphic design, and you just want to be able to do that work on the web, you absolutely do not need to know anything about serverside programming, how to run or install a CMS, how to set up apache, you don't have to care what MVC is or which developer frameworks are hot right now or most of the other acronyms people are throwing at you here. It's great if you do understand that stuff, it never hurts to have more knowledge, but none of that is going to be part of your job description.

What you do absolutely need is a thorough understanding of HTML (in all its flavors), and CSS. (While (in my opinion) the days of the 'jack of all trades' are coming to an end, these aren't the bad old days when designers who knew nothing about code could throw a design over the wall to the coders who knew nothing about design: even if you never touch the HTML personally you can't make a good web design without understanding something about how it will be implemented.)

You'll also need to relearn photoshop somewhat: unlearn some of your print-oriented habits, learn which file formats compress best in which situations, how best to slice up an image for use in a web layout, etc. This is mostly a matter of practice.

Learning Dreamweaver will actively interfere with your understanding of HTML and CSS, because it will do that stuff for you, and not always in the best way. I would very strongly recommend against learning Dreamweaver until you already have a solid grasp of what it's doing under the hood, if you bother to learn it at all; you may never need it. I can't think of any companies I've worked with that do use it (though that may say more about the companies I work with than about the industry as a whole.)

Javascript expertise is optional. You should certainly learn enough to do simple effects -- and learning a framework such as jQuery is an excellent way to do that. And if you find you have a talent for it, that will certainly increase your job prospects and desirability -- but I work with several companies who don't allow their designers to do javascript work even if they're able to, because they have specialists in charge of clientside scripting.

As for Flash: this is sort of a specialty on its own. You can make a career out of doing nothing but Flash, or make a career where you never touch Flash. Again, knowing it will increase your hireability and give you more job options, but it's by no means mandatory. If you do choose to focus on Flash, there are subspecialties of flash designers (primarily timeline animators) and flash scripters (who work primarily with actionscript) -- the line's a little blurrier between these two than in other areas of the web, so if you're going to do Flash at all you should do your best to get a handle on actionscript too.
posted by ook at 2:49 PM on March 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Is the Norelco t980 dual voltage?   |   ChatFilter Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.