Hello one and all! I'm looking for some suggestions in picking a path as I begin my self-education in web design.
I've been working in graphic design and print over the last 15 years. I've worked in various print shops and until recently where I've worked at a news paper doing page layout and display advertising over the last 5 years.
Over the last couple years I've worked with a few people to create some very simple static sites and set up a wordpress site or two; nothing too spectacular.
The experience I had setting up the Wordpress site was a good learning experience and I would like to use it again in the future but I don't think that I want to simply jump into wordpress and call myself a web designer.
What say you?
Spend the time and refine and educate myself or jump in with a CMS and join the rat-race?
A well described post.
With so much experience in Print and design, it will give you a 'leg-up' in many facets of web design.
There is a growing push in the industry to be friendlier to mobiles or 'mobile first' design, and a push away from the 'Photoshop' first types of designs that have perpetrated the web for the past 15 years. This means that a greater emphasis on content and layout using optimized C.S.S. and proper semantic structures.
As such I recommend you first familiarize yourself with 'mobile first' design and proper semantics in modern web design. Once you get a solid understanding of these, it should be time to learn HTML and CSS. It is best to start with HTML 4.4 an not drop right into HTML5 (as it is a semantic mess being so young), however it is ok to look into CSS3, although most of your CSS work will be with CSS2.
CMS do serve an important role, however please know that there is needs that go well beyond what CMS's are best at doing. Also you may be asked to convert a 'standard non-CMS' site to a CMS template so you shouldn't skip learning the craft. Also CMS's are overkill for many customers. Of note, out of the last 5 CMS customers (who paid substantially more than static sites) for their described need of 'self management', even with extensive training, not one of them manages the CMS themselves, they instead ask me to do updates for them. What is increasing clear to me, is that most customers don't understand the web, the terminology, the rules dictating traffic draw, or fequency, that their sites fail to meet their expectations unless I have made sure that they do the things they need to, on a successful schedule.
I actually have one customer that I converted their manual site that I performed regular updates to each week to a CMS and they have received and paid for 100 hours of training between 3 staff assigned to this project. After one year they still send all updates to me and ask me to update the manual site. I have asked them why they don't move to the CMS that they paid for, and even the Executive Director will say "If we start to use it then the board will expect us to take it over. None of us have the time to really do it regularly enough to get proficient at it, nor can we even carve out the time needed just to do the updates. You are more knoweldgeable, better at Internet Marketing, and even turn our articles into something our members like to read on the Web, so we did the CMS to show the board that we would try, but they now realize that you provide more value than the CMS, so we just leave it as it is".
I am very careful to recommend a cms for any new customer and I am sure to relay these stories and really test their conviction to what will be needed to make it a success.
I have one customer that has successfully taken over the majority work on their site. Although ironically they have hired a full time internal person, who they paid me to train, that all they do is handle the web work, and it costs them almost double per year for their salary versus what I used to charge them. Obviously then need a controller to 'point this out'!
I hope this helps.
ServerStorm pretty much said all I wanted to say (good on you!) but I just want to emphasize on one of his points which is the CMS vs Static site approach. It's still pretty hard for me sometimes to decide on whether or not a CMS is the way to go for a project, partly because it's truly tempting once you're into the template/themeing engine it doesn't take long and the out-of-the-box functionality of a CMS makes it look great on paper, furthermore it doesn't help that often a client has "heard someone say or has a friend that recommended" a CMS like WordPress or so, regardless of whether or not it fits the functionality description.
At the end of the day though, it's the customers needs that are in focus and here I find that often a CMS is really just plain overkill. But it's still not easy! Back in the old days there was a maintenance question, seeing as it was more expensive to host a CMS due to databases and server configs, but these days it's hard to find a host that doesn't support CMS hosting with their lowest plan.
In short, I still find it hard to decide whether or not I should use a CMS for a project... I've also experienced having created a static site for a client, only for them to contact me a few months later and ask me to convert it to Drupal (a CMS) seeing as they were putting someone in charge of updating it and wanted a CMS to "further extend the website".
So, my appologies, for the long post - but if anything, don't forget to atleast focus some of your learning energy on Content Management Systems - they are very popular these days and probably for a reason too
Thank you both for your reply.
Also thank you for reaffirming what I thought might be the right way to go. Core technologies first, then management systems later. I've gone with a simple but robust text editor called Sublimetext2 that has been a great asset for me to continue learning. Sort of like having great sound from a guitar to continue practicing? I feel comfortable.
For now I'll keep on with column layouts and seeing what I can accomplish with CSS before I open a graphics program. It seem to be the best way to learn.
Thanks again for the insightful in educational replies!
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