Considerations for virgin web developers

Most citizens of the western world are familiar with the so called "Internet bubble". To be sure you must be one of them. With increased sales of personal computers (PCs) coupled with globalization and various other attributes of capitalism, more and more people are becoming exposed to the internet. Some of them are interested in contributing their own designs and material to this perpetually growing mass media. I have prepared a few suggestions that might be useful for beginners.

When it comes to web design it is practical to divide the working process into a few categories. As a rule of thumb, before any actual design work is started a complete infrastructure of content should be ready. This is because content defines layout. Exhaust all content possibilities before reaching a final decision. If successfully done, updates or redesign can be done with minimal effort.

Now apart from the graphic design there are the technical aspects left. Graphic design isn't really my forte but the basic features of Adobe Photoshop and other graphic design programs (even Microsoft Paint, yes even Paint) aren't difficult to learn. As always, strive for originality, don't be afraid to expand on your ideas. You may or may not have heard of the Macromedia Flash plugin. I don't blame you if you're interested in "superior" vector graphics but that is a fairly specialised subject which has no home in this article IMHO.

Many people think that programming HTML is complex and taxing to learn.

They are wrong on two accounts. In fact it is simpler than say configuring your VCR and technically doesn't qualify as programming but as scripting: or embedding content between tags (tagging?). Writing HTML is very similiar to creating MS Word documents, inserting pictures, setting up tables, controlling font properties and choosing colors. A valuable resource for beginners is the source code of the page they are viewing. It can be opened in any text editor for instance in Internet Explorer by selecting View from the top menu and then Source. Manual references for HTML standards and basic tutorials are incredibly easy to find. Some are available right here on E2. If you can't find one or two then you're hardly ready for designing web pages yet.

When you are comfortable with writing HTML the next logical step would be to look at the more advanced elements of client-side scripting. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript, which combined make up DHTML (Dynamic HTML). Many developers have confessed their utter distaste for DHTML and never want to hear the word spoken aloud. This is due to various reasons; DHTML had a rough birth and since then things haven't brightened up all that much. Before, say back in 1998, when Netscape had a considerable portion of the browser market, development teams of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator competed without the steady guidance of public standards. Unsuprisingly they took matters into their own hands and so it was that these two popular browsers had annoying compatibility issues. This meant that in many cases developers had to (and still have to) make one version for different browser versions. With the emergence of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and ECMAScript things begun to make much more sense. Past differences aside DHTML is without a doubt a very powerful tool for custom UI designs. Keep it on the client side.

Last but not least is server-side programming.

This functionality could be described (simplification) as a program which outputs HTML into a file according to some variables or other thereby making the homepage dynamic and not static. Most popular are PHP, ASP, JSP and Perl/CGI. This is mostly useful when dealing with large quantities of data stored in databases.

One last note about programming. With HTML and CSS it is possible to use editors with user freindly GUIs, some of them even incorporate drag and drop features like Macromedia Dreamweaver for example. I strongly advise against using such programs because they limit creative flexibility and understanding of the HTML hierarchy. It is just an unnecessary layer made for lazy people with fat wallets (someone must actually be buying it). Instead I personally recommend advanced text editors such as TextPad. They are generally modestly priced but packed with useful features like numbered lines, syntax highlighting, multiple editing windows, various settings by document classes, macros, powerful search and replace functions with support for regular expressions and so on.