Learning The Code

One of the most common questions I receive every semester from students is how can they “really” learn web design. Most are set aback by the daunting task of learning to hand code. Let it be said: “I hear your cry! I feel your pain.”

Simply put, there’s no short cut to learning [x]html or css. In truth, it is a flaky language and add to it the inconsistencies that the various browsers have when interpreting the code, it makes for an arduous journey to say the least. I do, however, have a couple of thoughts on some methods that may be helpful.

  • Spend time at it; preferably a lot! I am only half joking here. Like anything else one wishes to become proficient at, there’s no short cut to a time-intensive discipline, and web design is certainly that. Like the kung-fu student who carries buckets of water up a slippery slope at the beckoning of his master, s/he may wonder, “why in the hell am I doing this?” And yet, when the student has developed rock-hard muscles, toughness, endurance, and more importantly, has digested the moves or techniques such that they become second nature, all those long trips up the stairs become something to laugh and tell his or her children about some day.
  • Each of us moves at a different pace. Some of us will pick up components of this at different speeds than others. So be patient with yourself.
  • One of the best ways to learn how something works is to take it apart and put it back together again. While there are a number of fine books on the market they one, often lag behind what’s “cool” now, and two, never provide the endless number of design possibilities and configurations that the web can. So in many ways, it’s your biggest and cheapest bookstore or library. Crack upon a site, look at what they’re doing, take it apart, line by line, and reassemble it.

Oh, yeah, and do your homework.

That being said, let me make a comment or two on software, specifically applications such as Abobe’s Dreamweaver. While Dreamweaver is a wonderful and powerful tool, it does provide the beginning student with a number of handicaps. One such handicap is the auto-filling of code. Many if not most of my students have trouble grasping and remembering all the code that should go where and when. Dreamweaver, though the powerful tool it maybe be, is still only a tool. A wrench can never tell you what to tighten up or loosen. So it is with Dreamweaver. It can never tell you what is and is not semantic – such decisions need be made by you, the designer. It also handicaps you in that it auto flls your code which can make it much harder for you to get over the hump of having to memorize code.

So what do I recommend then? Well, there are a number of fine products out there but one that has caught my eye as of recently is Flow, by Extendmac. More than just a simple FTP client, Flow can edit content/files directly on the server as well as allow for previewing. The text is color coded to help for identifying but it does not auto-fill. In my opinion, it’s a great tool and I also dig the interface. It’s only available for the Mac. If you’re on a PC, I recommend Filezilla, configured to use Notepad as the viewer/editor.

Hopefully, with these few tips, you the beginner can begin to overcome some of those initial humps.

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