Ok so here's where I'm at. I am a noob to this whole game. I have a basic understanding of (X)HTML and CSS (basically I have worked through Ian Lloyd's sitepoint book-Build your own website the right way using HTML & CSS). Now I have made a couple of very basic websites on my own laptop but I can't seem to give them that extra wow effect (for want of a better term!).
My question is this: Where do I go from here? More specifically how can I best further my skills? Would you suggest I work more at (X)HTML and CSS or perhaps something else to widen my skillset? A final note to add is that I am on an extremely tight budget (meaning little to no money :P) but I am time rich at the moment. All I really have is the internet and a personal laptop at my disposal.
Anyway any advice is much appreciated.
PS. I know this is a little long winded and perhaps I'm not making myself clear so if there is any further info needed I will be happy to expand on an already lengthy question.
Alex, I agree with you there, but with the preponderance of "plug and play" jQuery, MooTools, and other ways to implement nifty JS effects by thumb-fingered dolts such as myself, to my mind, learning JS should only begin after one masters (to an extent) HTML and CSS. (I know you're not saying anything different, I'm just being clear for other readers. Call me Captain Obvious.)
There's some websites I regularly visit for inspiration, they have given me an endless source of ideas:
Looking at other peoples work (and code) teaches you more than you can imagine!
I suggest you master HTML/CSS first.
I think the way to master this is to muck around on your own computer locally creating websites strictly in HTML/CSS. What I mean by that is no Photoshop, no background images, no pictures. Just try make a site that looks appealing with only text and colours with a well presented layout. This will teach you a lot faster as you have to rely on your CSS skills to make the website look good, you can't fall back on Photoshop.
I also suggest getting a screen capture add-on for your web browser and everytime you browse the web and you come across a website that you find appealing take a screenshot and save them all on your computer in a folder called Inspiration.
Just a few ideas!
The best way to go about it is to look at other sites, find what you like and what you don't like, and think about how you can use those techniques in your site.
I don't just mean thinking "that site looks good" - look at what makes it good. Is it the colour scheme? Is it the typography, the layout, the spacing, the volume of text? Is it the graphic elements or the effects? Is it the way they've set the menu up? Is it little things like having slight, almost imperceptible, gradients?
I know it's old hat to a lot of people, but if you're new to the game it might be a good place to start - www.csszengarden.com has a lot of quite intensively graphic designs, which may be a step too far for you, but it could give you some useful tips to make a start with.
Ian Lloyd's book is one of the best of its kind, but going through it merely scratches the surface of what you can do with HTML/CSS. You might consider other, more in-depth books such as "Sexy Web Design," "Principles of Beautiful Web Design," and "Designing Without Tables," or, off the SP reservation, any of Dan Cederholm's books, Craig Grannell's "Essential HTML and CSS," and others. Many of them have tutorials and walkthroughs that are useful.
You could try a little PHP if you want to add to your skill-set even if it is for validating forms or including common navigations files, etc. It might not make your pages look amazing but it could enhance them or make them easier to manage in the long-run if they expand. Design has already been mentioned above so I've broadened your horizons in another direction.
Apart from reading through these forums, one thing I found very useful was to study sites I really liked. Make sure you have the Firebug addon for Firefox and start to look under the hood of sites you like. Study how the creators went about creating certain layouts and effects. It's very revealing. Learn from the masters, as it were.
Dickie, this is why we do it. Glad to have you aboard, and when you run into problems, don't hesitate to ask for help!
Guys thanks so much for all the excellent advice. Again I have to say this forum really is one of the best I have ever been a part of and it is so helpful. I'll take all the advice on board and move forward from here