How do I get the skills to build websites?
August 27, 2007 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I am interested in gaining the skills needed to build great looking websites, so I could eventually design them on a freelance basis, and on a more short-term basis, incorporate them into my grad school work (I am about to start an MA in Communications/Cultural studies, hopefully focusing on media ownership and the emergence of new media) and professional work eventually. My academic background is in social sciences and visual arts (drawing).

I began to want more computer skills at my previous job at a college radio station. There I became comfortable with the Adobe Creative Suite on macs for designing posters, flyers, pdfs and images for website content. At the station, I was the project manager for a large national conference. At my job, layout/design skills were when it came to making content available through websites I had to rely on the expertise of other people to make my visions happen, which ate up a lot of time.

I am also just plain interested in building great looking and functioning websites as a personal hobby.

Beyond a little HTML and an fairly intuitive aesthetic sensibility, I don't have the skills to make websites happen. How can I begin my quest to realizing web design geekery?

Is there good documentation online for learning these types of things on my own?

What are the books to read?

Should I consider taking continuing ed classes at some point or getting certified for website design & development?

What applications and design programs are good to know?
posted by radiocontrolled to Education (9 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Learn (X)HTML, CSS, first.
Then Javascript/DOM/XML (AJAX) if so inclined.
Then, maybe PHP, Ruby, Python, etc if you need more interactivity.
Try this:
posted by signal at 8:49 AM on August 27, 2007

That link was in response to: Is there good documentation online for learning these types of things on my own?
posted by signal at 8:50 AM on August 27, 2007

You probably ought to decide if you want design websites or develop websites. They are unique and separate skillsets--most designers are not going to be well versed in Javascript or PHP and your average developer is going to be rather ignorant of Photoshop.
posted by gsh at 8:54 AM on August 27, 2007

I'd recommend against learning anything web-related in a classroom. Formalized classes tend to be uselessly outdated as the web evolves. I think the best way to learn is still just trial and error. Find sites you like, look at how they do it (view source), and research anything you don't understand.

signal's advice on what to learn first is good. A well-structured HTML document should be readable with only default styling. Then add CSS bit by bit to make it look better.

I'd definitely decide whether you want to focus on design or development, but I wouldn't stress the distinction too much as there's a lot of bleed over in either direction.
posted by scottreynen at 9:30 AM on August 27, 2007

I'd suggest a fundamental knowledge of XHTML and CSS is an absolute must, with a degree of knowledge/ability in a server side scripting language like PHP (or the usual others) and JavaScript. I say a degree because when I develop sites, I rely on programmers for anything complex because programming is all that they do, and though I can perhaps do the same, they do it much better. Knowing how scripts relate to the structure of your site, and how it works, is something you need to understand.

Designing/Developing sites can involve any number of disciplines, including Flash (where appropriate, such as video and animations for education/entertainment/etc.), video shooting/editing, databases, audio, search engine optimization, tracking, etc. Clients expect more these days (though often want to pay less of course!)

It comes down to how you respond to such things when you explore them. However, you mentioned eating up a lot of time, and handing off some tasks can help you save immense amounts of time.

Finally, I recommend using a Content Management System/Framework (there are many at no cost) such as MODx.

I find the Friends of Ed books to be generally good, online resources vary in quality, and direct training can be fabulous if the trainer knows what they are doing (and in the web industry, this is not guaranteed, I still see people using Tables for layout for example.)

Of course, when looking for contracts or work, the requirements are usually:

Photoshop, Illustrator, Video Editing Software, Flash
Some specific CMS
Fine Arts or Computer Science Degree

Rather strange. What it says is that anything beyond a fundamental site usually requires a team to build, and is better for it. So in addition to building/developing your own skills, building a team around you would help.
posted by juiceCake at 9:35 AM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

You probably ought to decide if you want design websites or develop websites. They are unique and separate skillsets-

While I understand the general idea behind this, I don't concur that they are "unique and separate". A web designer with no understanding of the capabilities and limitations of XHMTL+CSS is not a very good web designer, for example.
posted by signal at 9:40 AM on August 27, 2007

Give yourself some time to experiment if your are a "code person". You can design great stuff just using photoshop or some other design package - but then you need a coder to do all the dirty work.

I personally prefer to 'design' directly into code, but it depends always on the person which way is best for their skills and creativity.

Most webdesign can be learned from looking behind the scenes / code of good site and STEALING code. Learn from others ...

I recommend starting a blog or small website (maybe with a simple web application like Wordpress) about something that interests you - and learn as you go to expand your knowledge ... as a designer, webmaster, writer and content manager ...

signal already posted some great links ... here some more ...

PS: I wouldn't waste a single cent for books ... it's all to be found on the intranets.
posted by homodigitalis at 10:52 AM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree on the advice to avoid books, with two exceptions:
- Bulletproof Web Design by Dan Cederholm
- Designing with Web Standards by Jeffery Zeldman
posted by charmston at 12:42 PM on August 27, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'd add Web Standards Solutions also by Cederholm and CSS Mastery by by Andy Budd.

They certainly were not a waste for me but mileage varies among individuals.
posted by juiceCake at 12:53 PM on August 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

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