Relearning HTML and building a site: start from scratch, utilize a template, or learn Dreamweaver?
February 18, 2010 10:48 AM   Subscribe

Best way to make a web site: (re)learn HTML from online resources, then make a site from scratch, find and modify a pre-made freebie template, or learn DreamWeaver?

My husband and I are working on a web based project. He has the technical skill to configure the back-end software and he knows how to make pages, but his expertise is not in layout and design. It falls on me to make something far prettier and more user-friendly. I'm excited to do this, and I want to do a great job.

Years ago, I had enough familiarity with HTML and CSS to heavily modify pre-made templates for Blogger blogs and play with some basic stuff on my own. That was a while ago, though, and I would need to relearn and update most of what I knew.

I want to make something solid. I'm willing to learn to make a site from the ground up, but I wonder if starting with somebody else's work as a base or reference point would be a better way to go. I have an old copy of Dreamweaver that I've never used, and I wonder if it would be a worthwhile tool to learn.

Hubby is doing the back end. All I need to do is create representative HTML with example content. He will configure the back-end to produce the same HTML with the database-driven content. We would like the site to look good in all the latest browsers, and to be readable on, say, an iPhone.
posted by moira to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Neither. Creating websites from scratch is 90's-tech.

Pick a CMS and modify one of their templates if you must. No one* does it by hand any more.

* Obviously there are exceptions.
posted by unixrat at 10:53 AM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

We had a very similar conversation a couple days ago. I said there what I would say here.
posted by adamrice at 11:01 AM on February 18, 2010

I'd disagree that no one does it by hand anymore (or maybe I just enjoy the punishment), but yes, in your situation it sounds like you really just want to use a CMS. Getting back up-to-date on your CSS is the only thing I'd recommend. There's some great new stuff out there.
posted by june made him a gemini at 11:11 AM on February 18, 2010

I actually do html and css for a living. But guess what I use for my personal site?

I used a nice template of theirs out of the box, then added a few lines of css of my own (site is in the profile if you're interested.) My reasoning was this: I program all day, and I don't want to do it in my spare time. I want to focus on the content of my blog, and getting it up with as little effort as possible. I even let host it for me. Now they worry about upgrading to new versions, fighting off hackers (major blogging softwares are always tempting targets), etc. etc.

It's important to consider not only the one-time work of making a site, but the general upkeep, and effort involved in posting new content. I don't want to do maintenance. I don't want to write code. I want to post my stuff and be done with it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:24 AM on February 18, 2010

Also, as was noted in the other thread, it doesn't matter how much code you know, a site only looks good if it's designed well. Maybe you are more skilled than me, but I have neither the design sense nor the patience to make a great design from scratch.

However, starting from a WP theme gave me a "solid" base to work from. I added two background images and changed the font to something I found more readable, and the result was something that I think looks good and feels like "me," with only a few hours of work. Starting from scratch would have taken me weeks of experimenting with layouts and colors.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:31 AM on February 18, 2010

I love Wordpress too. If you're somewhat familiar with creating blog templates already, you can use a system like Wordpress to create a site that doesn't look like a blog at all (just use pages, turn off comments). Might be less of a learning curve than a more complex CMS, and if you decide to use something else one day, you can always export the content.
posted by beyond_pink at 11:33 AM on February 18, 2010

I just want to head off the answers recommending CMS. Our project is such that we do have to program our own back end. I'll pop back in with something a little more articulate, but for now, assume that CMS isn't going to work for us.
posted by moira at 11:34 AM on February 18, 2010

I would combine "find and modify a pre-made freebie template" and "learn Dreamweaver" together.

To modify a pre-made template, you're going to need to edit it in some kind of html editor. (or notepad..) Dreamweaver will help you there, and also help you with the WYSIWYG aspect.

I taught myself html by taking other people's sites and modifying them.
posted by royalsong at 11:42 AM on February 18, 2010

Additional information regarding the Content being Managed by the System: the site will allow the users to interact with and manage complex objects in non-sql storage. There will be more relationships between users and content than the usual ownership and group permissions. Also, (in our dreams) the site will need to scale to multiple hosts in a cluster and to disparate data centers (sez hubby.) Also sez hubby: the above description will throw lots of red flags to the web savvy regarding premature optimization and not-invented-here-syndrome but he is determined and believes he has good reasons. Hubby invites participation in design and aesthetics and I want to help.
posted by moira at 12:29 PM on February 18, 2010

How about a framework? It leaves you to brush up on your css and ui skills, but layout and cross browser compatibility will be taken care of. is a snap to use. There is also grids by Yahoo, a little more complex, but you can have more complex layouts.
posted by tobiaswright at 2:25 PM on February 18, 2010

Hate to say it, but I disagree with everyone else in this thread, based on your project description. You're building an app, not a blog.

Since you're building a site that will "allow the users to interact with and manage complex objects", you're probably going to need a pretty complicated UI, most likely AJAX-y and javascript heavy.

You're going to need to have a clear, well-understood page structure, so you can drop in the hooks to your javascript libraries and make sure you don't have weird CSS ID conflicts with your selectors from some random include file you didn't realize you were picking up.

Frankly, I'd start from scratch- get a simple HTML editor and a reference manual, drop in jquery, and start coding. If you're building an app, you're not building something where generic wordpress templates are useful. Keep it simple, you'll get it going quickly.

Depending on your technology choices, you may find some benefit in looking at Google Web Toolkit- I've looked at it and rejected it several times for my projects, but it may be worth checking out for yours.

Finally, you may want to look at using Adobe's Flex for the data manipulation portions of the site. It let's you declaratively set up a user interface, and generates flash files for your website. If you have complex interactions for your site, it may be worth looking at it.
posted by jenkinsEar at 4:08 PM on February 18, 2010

I would take a few sites that you like, and look at it using Firebug, which allows you to really break down the CSS. Not using Firebug is idiotic as far as I am concerned. You probably also want to learn JQuery if your doing any javascript.

From there, I would write my HTML and CSS from scratch, continuing to use Firebug in your development. Read up on web standards but learn when to break the rules. Maybe get a copy of Zeldman's book or related publications.

Did I mention Firebug. Seriously, it will really help you decipher the CSS and get you out of many jams.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:26 PM on February 18, 2010

I prefer to code by hand from scratch on my own projects, but have found wordpress to be convenient for starter businesses. It's free, and they can update it easily on their own, once the menu system is figured-out.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:39 AM on February 19, 2010

Creating websites from scratch is 90's-tech

posted by Aquaman at 9:07 AM on February 19, 2010


I'm not saying there aren't good tools out there, but what we had here is a bad case of ill-defined objectives.

If you want to create a page, to learn some HTML, sure, fine.

If you wanted to create a website, a multi-user, multi-paged dynamic system then you want a CMS.

These people want to create a big ol' application, using a rookie for front-end work. It'll be... complicated.
posted by unixrat at 2:51 PM on February 19, 2010

("We people" have well-defined objectives, which include my contribution to the construction of the site by providing CSS and static, representative HTML of the web pages that will eventually be dynamically produced.)

To all, thanks for the suggestions. I'm thinking I'll start with a basic framework and work from there using other templates as reference. Firebug looks like a blast to use, and I'm really looking forward to trying it out.

We'll put it up on Projects in a couple of months and you can point and laugh/applaud then.
posted by moira at 7:03 PM on February 19, 2010

« Older Where should I live in NYC on a very tight budget?   |   Do I need a vet? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.