A Tale of two Posts

I was perusing through my RSS feeds the other day and came upon two posts that caused polar opposite feelings for the future of web design in relation to web standards, CSS and what I hope to do with my life.

The first was Smashing Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful CSS-Based Web Designs in 2006.   Seeing some of the beautiful, cutting edge and still standards compliant sites that people can design is uplifting.  I can learn a great deal and draw lots of inspiration from more then a few on the list.  I thought it might be a sign that the days of the past – nested table designs, tag soup and such – might finally be starting to move into the past.

Unfortunately I came upon a separate post that leans 180 degrees the other way – Are Web Standards Bad for Business.  I had hoped this was a post written by someone new to the field or ignorant of the benefits.  This was not to be.  The writer is well versed on what standards compliance means and, in fact, someone who practices designing compliant sites.

Coming from a site that had a lot of “legacy” code that I spent a lot of time upgrading – as well as my as yet limited skills could – to more compliant CSS/XHTML form, a lot of the points he made hit home.  Sometimes you have no control.  Sometimes what the customer buys before you’re even involved handcuffs you with regard to design and no matter how hard you fight you can’t always win.

It’s hard enough setting yourself apart from the pack when (quote from same blog) “print based designers with no desire or experience in web standards design can churn out “pretty” cookie cutter web sites via using various automated software product.”  To have to teach about why standards compliance are worth it as well just makes it that much more difficult.

If Molly and Meyer can’t come up with a better solution, I don’t think I can.  I just hope that I see more of the former in the future, rather then the latter.

Random Tidbit: Since this post is already talking about explaining programming/design to the non-programmer/designer I wanted to list an interesting post along the same line.  Check out The Iceberg Secret, Revealed on Joel on Software.

Don’t Panic

I’ve been reading an excellent book recently that I saw on a list of the 5 books every geek should read and wanted to recommend it as the best on the list. It is also one of the few books I would actually recommend that you see the movie first – simply because of how odd the book is. It is the 6 books of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy – better known as the The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Be forewarned that it can be odd and seemingly pointless at times, but if you get it, it can be one of funnier books that you will read. It also has some interesting bits of philosophy in it – mostly poking fun at or exploring the oddity that is life.

I have read 4 of the other books and would recommend them as well. Neuromancer seems to be where they get a lot of the ideas for the Shadowrun books. Ringworld also seems to be an idea well for several other series. Finally, Asimov was always a good science fiction writer.

Enjoy. And remember – don’t panic.

Random Tidbit: It’s always important to remember The Ten Commandments of Web Design.

The Power of Photoshop (Or Why I’m not a Graphic Designer)

Many of the positions locally for Web Designer – or as the various titles I’ve seen used Web Developer, HTML Programmer, UI Developer, etc – call for some experience in Photoshop.  Most of the descriptions seem like they want a graphic designer almost – someone to whom Photoshop is a second home – rather that a web designer who has a basic understanding of the software.  Being rather rusty with the program, I decided now would be a good time – especially with using my site as a template site and my templates being rather bland – to port in my text (and sole graphic) and create a basic Photoshop template in which to muck around in the future.  The hope being of course that I will design something brilliant that will be recognized by all and the offers for various lucrative front end positions will come flooding in.

Early experience leads me to believe that unless I find a magic button in Photoshop that does that then I potentially have a better shot of winning the lottery.

Regardless, both in my “mucking around” and experience in working with an actual graphic designer in my last position I managed to find a few neat tools / uses that I found interested and useful – especially with a mindset of a front end designer.  Warning: if you have more then a basic knowledge of Photoshop these are probably old hat to you – these are geared more towards people that are just starting to play with the program.

Of course one of the most powerful features of the product is the ability to create layers.  These function basically as their name would lead you to believe – they create a layer with some graphic and/or text on it and you are able to manipulate the layers in your template much like they were in 3-dimensional space – bringing levels to the front, back, etc.  Even more powerful is the ability to create layer sets – grouping multiple layers together.

Basically, using my site as an example, I created a layer set called bwd (BogeyWebDesign) for the whole site.  Then inside that set I created other sets logically and simply – links 1 (containing link title 1 and links 1), paragraph 1 (containing paragraph title 1 and paragraph 1), etc.  Not only does this organize the site much as you would in a style sheet – allowing someone like me to visualize, move and manipulate the template logically – but you can even hide sets / layers, move them as a group etc.

One useful trick with this?  You could add two different buttons for the links, make them on a layer in your link set, then switch off hiding one or the other – allowing you to see how each fits in with the rest of the design.  You could continue to do this with different banners, graphics, backgrounds, etc.  Then once all the options you like are “on” you have a finished mock and can proceed.  You can even save those hidden layers for future projects, updates, etc.

Simple, intuitive and something you probably already knew – but maybe you didn’t.  I don’t envy the graphic designers – which is why I’m staying with the front end – but definitely appreciate their skills.  And if anyone knows where that magic button is, please feel free to let me know.

Random Tidbit: I’ve mentioned my recent job searching and found an interesting article about how online personas can come back and haunt people doing the same thing.  Basically things like MySpace and Facebook profiles or even college essays that you’ve put out on the web can hurt you in the eyes of recruiters.  But you can also turn this online marketing to your advantage.  I direct recruiters to my site – containing links to templates, sites, blogs and other examples of my work – so that they can see an extended form of my resume.  Others are even more adept at this sort of thing.