The Wonder of Web Design

I got into web design many, many years ago after taking my first HTML class in college. It was a requirement for the Management Information Systems business degree. During one of the assignments, we were to create our own web page, and I was hooked. That was back in 1996, when animated gifs and flashing text were a novelty. I embedded a clip of Tommy Boy singing “Fat Guy in a Little Coat”, and I thought I was the bomb.

Corny home pages aside, what I discovered about web design was that it was the perfect mix of art and science. I have always been a creative – music, sketching, even painting have always been a passion. However, I’m often way too practical for the artist’s lifestyle. I like order and puzzles and making things work in a logical way.

Another of my classes was a programming class in COBALT. It’s archaic, but still being used as a legacy program. I loved THAT too! Going through pages of code (printed out using dot matrix printers with the perforated guides at the side – ah, the good old days) to find that missing semi-colon or “and” was daunting and frustrating, but, at the same time, it was exhilarating to actually find it! When you compiled it for the hundredth time and it worked!

I still love that feeling. And sometimes it’s still a missing semi-colon or ‘and’.  I like making things work, solving problems. It’s what makes me good at freelancing. So often clients show up with a mess. Messes happen with coding, especially when you are working with so many moving targets such as hosting, php versions, Joomla frameworks, extensions coded by 50 different people. Let’s leave out hardware issues. Straightening things out takes a bit of science in that it’s fairly methodical. You analyze and synthesize.

And yet, my creativity gets to stretch its feet as well, and that makes this job fun! To tell you the truth, it’s also what makes it work! Being creative, at least for me, is hard. There are less constrictors. You have to force yourself to think outside the confines of the norm. When you’ve been head-down in code all day, it can be a difficult transition. One I wouldn’t trade.

Getting the right design relies heavily on strict standards because of browser and user compatibility. There are rules, and making your art follow those rules takes a effort and will. However, getting it to feel right on the screen, to other users, potential clients, is an art. It can’t be described usually. Sometimes just adjusting a pixel is the difference between “something’s off” and “just right”. When something is off, the site has an unfinished, unprofessional look. It may not be as bad as my first home page, but it can mean the difference between a visitor and a customer. A browser and a reader. A click somewhere else or a sale.

Making that magic happen takes the technical know-how to apply it.

So it’s both really. The perfect blend. Art and Science.

Do you have any stories about your venture into web design? Which do you gravitate to? The creative, arty side or the geek-out technical side? Leave a comment and tell us.

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