Recommendations for Teaching Yourself Web Design

Question

I’ve been planning on talking to an IT counselor at my local college about taking a class or two, or three… in web design. I don’t want to take the wrong classes and in the wrong order, but quite a lot can be learned for free via web. Much of what I know now is self taught, but I really need to buckle down and get some more education.

Do you recommend any subjects/code I should look into first?

Answer

There is not a quick answer to this question. It really depends on what route you want to take. The good news is that you have a lot of options, and if you are driven, you can learn it all without formal education. However, there is something to be said for paying for the formalized structure of school.

First, make a decision (if you can) on which part of web design mosts interests you. The two major areas are design and programming, but I think I should throw in General Interest in the Internet for good measure. You may find you have an interest in one area or a combination of areas.

You are interested in the design part of web design.

You are a “touchy-feely” type and you love the idea of doing the design and layout and making the world look pretty.

If you are interested in the “design” aspect of web design, you definitely need to get some basic design training as well as some programming experience to get started.

Basics:

  • Design knowledge
  • Web design knowledge
  • Photoshop
  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Dreamweaver (you can write all of your code in any text editor, but if you are a creative type, you’ll probably want to see it visually)
  • Flash (optional unless you specifically want to be a Flash designer – then this should be at the top of the list)

Beyond the Basics:

  • Learn to read the code. Dreamweaver is great visually and for starting out because it will write code for you. BUT, if you don’t know how to read it you’ll leave garbage all over the place. Bad code will hang out in the background and play hell with you as soon as you need to make a change or test your site in other browsers.
  • Learn to implement other code: Javascript, PHP, AJAX, Audio, Video… the more the merrier.
  • Learn to install module and components: Calendars, mailing lists, etc.

Possible next steps if you love it:

  • Advanced Flash
  • Mobile Web (designing for iPhones, Blackberries, and other mobile devices)
  • Accessibility (making your sites accessible for people with disabilities)
  • Working with Databases
  • Maybe it’s time to try some programming?

You have an interest in programming.

Basics:

  • HTML
  • XHTML
  • PHP
  • CSS

Beyond the Basics:

  • Scripting and AJAX
  • Javascript
  • RoR (Ruby on Rails)
  • Databases (phpMyAdmin)

You have a general interest in the internet.

You love being online and would like to have a job that has something to do with the internet. Two types of jobs spring to mind here: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Social Media.

SEO

SEO is learning about what drives people to websites and converts visits to sales for businesses. It involves learning about keywords, titles, content, and what people are searching for. See this article for a better overview of the basics on this one.

Basics:

  • HTML (to edit files)
  • Good research skills
  • General SEO course to get you started
  • Patience and thoroughness

Social Media

Social Media is “getting the word out” for a business. This could be writing articles for their blog, posting on Facebook, or Tweeting about events.

Basics:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • MySpace
  • Familiarity with blogging software and how to post articles (WordPress, Blogger, etc.)
  • Good writing skills
  • Good research skills
  • Desire to keep on top of what is new in social media

Sources:

  • The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
  • Lynda.com (for training in programs. Look for free trial specials with Google. Sometimes they are available.)
  • Adobe.com (for 30 day trials of programs)
  • Library (Our library has a huge computer section full of how-to books. You can learn anything from Photoshop to HTML to Javascript to SEO)
  • Google and Youtube.com. I’m constantly amazed at people’s generosity with tutorials. You can learn so much.

Lena Shore

Lena is a full-time freelancer and nerd that specializes in web development, graphic design, and illustration. She enjoys building things, learning new things, pursuing creative endeavors, and giving free advice.

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