Web design is hard – and that’s a good thing.

So I had a slight crisis of faith the other day and I wrote, (whined?) about it on another, personal blog. I wrote about how much there is to learn, how I’d begun reading a forum and become hopelessly lost, how I get anxious when I read about coding stuff like frameworks and development methodologies, (I ended up reading about waterfall vs. agile just so I knew what the hell they were,) and don’t understand it… basically I’d gotten overwhelmed by it all. It happens.

The problem was that I think of myself as a pretty smart guy, I do ok in IQ tests and the like, although I didn’t excel academically, but I didn’t feel like I was ‘getting it’, or at least, not as quick as I wanted. I work in IT and I can reel off acronyms with the best of them and have trained myself over the last few years in things like network administration, desktop support, router configuration, DNS, DHCP, Active Directory, IIS, I’ve set up web servers and installed PHP and MySQL, I’ve learned enough of those two to write a call logging system… anyway, I cope well with having things thrown at me and having to go off and learn on my own.

So at the moment I read a lot of articles on everything from a beginners guide to creating a CMS in PHP to standards compliant CSS, to… whatever. I’ve bought a small shelf’s worth of books, the last one being Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think!” – an excellent book on common sense web usability, and I already plan to buy more – the next being Jeffrey Zeldman’s “Designing With Web Standards” and it’s starting to come together but, like I said, I was working on a site and I’d basically mirrored what they had and designed a logo and I took a step back and looked at it and… I hated it.

Now, I’m the sort of person that has been arty all my life. I used to draw constantly as a kid, whenever I wasn’t reading. (Or playing with Star Wars toys or Transformers.) I did art at school but never went to college for it. My drawing ability is above average but not amazing. (If you want to see something I drew, head over to my now abandoned-until-I-have-more-time-to-work-on-it comic strip, Exotic Soup, although I do other stuff.) Thing is I don’t have what you would call a natural ability with colour. I know a good colour scheme when I see one. I know a great layout when I see it, but putting a good colour scheme together is actually work for me. Putting together a layout requires some thought and planning. I can’t just reel them off.

I thought maybe I should rethink this whole web design thing. Maybe I’m just not cut out for it, I thought. I like coding sites. I’ve really enjoyed the work I’ve done so far on my company’s site converting it to CSS and XHTML from a table based design. That’s not much different from working on a photoshop comp right? Maybe I should just stick to that.

Then I was watching an episode of the West Wing, (I bought myself the full 7 series boxed set with my Christmas money, along with a few webdev books,) and there was an episode where two of the main characters meet a guy who is struggling to send his daughter to college and he turns to them and says:

It’s hard… I like that it’s hard though, it’s a man’s accomplishment.

And that got me thinking. I read the thoughts of some people in the industry and sure, some of them give the impression that it comes easily, but more often than not, they go through several pages of possible designs before they even open an editor and then they have to contend with accessibility issues, usability issues, browser inconsistancies, lack of support for fonts and a hundred other things they have to keep in mind – and that’s before the whole ‘client’ issue. They don’t generally just sit down, pop out a design on paper and then code it up. There are meetings, research, requirements surveys, accessibility testing, usability testing, debugging…

I bought some graph paper. I ran off some ideas and talked them over with my girlfriend. I tried different shapes and layouts and I’m starting to get somewhere. For colour, I went and spent some time with kuler. A friend recommended “Colour Index” by Jim Krause and it’s going on my ‘to buy’ list.

Maybe it shouldn’t be easy. Maybe, like many things, you have to work at it and earn it. Maybe, at this early stage, I can give myself a break for not knowing everything and look at what I’ve accomplished so far and say, “Not bad. I’ve taken my first steps on a long road.” The thing is, there’s only one way off the road – you can stop at any time and the road just dissapears from view in front of you. Or you can keep going, regardless of stumbles and maybe even the occasional fall and the road will keep pointing the way, onward to the horizon.

I’ve been putting off writing here because I kind of wanted to continue from where I left off and continue with the web standards trifle. That will now be next time, unless I have something else I want to say. In fact I’m going to start logging the articles I read each day as they may be of help to someone. The long ones will be the ‘ongoing story’ so to speak.

Here’s today’s:

Amusing web design pie chart. – some slight bad language, just so you’re warned.

Most used free fonts by designers.

Cheat sheets for web designers.

How to choose the right CMS.


*Edited to include the History of the Internet Video.


One response to “Web design is hard – and that’s a good thing.

  1. Thanks dear, old post but found it nice.

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