Improving Your Online Experience with Basic Web Design Skills

To say it in short, I love the internet. I think it is a great tool for education and networking, and is just plain fun.  I have even heard that playing around on the internet is actually better for your brain than watching television, so I don’t feel so bad about spending hours on “Stumble Upon” and “Tumblr.”  However, sometimes the internet can also be a daunting place, especially when you realize that you have no idea how it works or how a website is made.  This impacted me even more while working here at Online Ed, because I was expected to troubleshoot Blackboard and other web tools and realized that I didn’t even understand some of the basics of how the interwebs work.  It may seem like something that is far too complicated for a non-techie to understand, but I’ve found that learning about web development is a fun process that is not too difficult, and can help you greatly in all aspects of your internet use.

While many facets of the internet are very complicated, the two basic tools for web development are fairly simple: HTML and CSS.  I won’t go too in depth with what these acronyms stand for or how they work, because there are tons of excellent sources online explaining this.  In a nutshell, HTML is the language used to write the content of the web page (what you’ll actually read), and CSS is the language used to design how it will look (what designs and colors you'll see).  These are often used in unison to create webpages that range from very simple to wonderfully complex and creative.  Just look at some of the examples on http://www.webcreme.com/ to see how beautiful works of art can be created on the web.  Luckily, creating basic websites is actually not that difficult, and with a little hard work, I think anyone can learn how to use these two languages to build websites.

While there are hundreds of books and webpages devoted to how to build a website, I think there are two which helped me a great deal when I was learning web development.  The first is The Site Wizard, found at http://www.thesitewizard.com/.  It is a very helpful site that tells you everything you need to know about building your own website, beginning with how to find a domain name, how to get a web host, etc.  I found this site very helpful in explaining how websites actually work, and I feel safer knowing that I understand how the internet works rather than just blindly surfing sites. Even if you don’t plan on actually building websites with this knowledge, you will at least understand the foundations of the websites that you visit regularly.

The most helpful tool for me in my learning process was a book called HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions: a Web Standardistas' Approach by Christopher Murphy and Nicklas Persson.  This can be found as an electronic source through UK’s library website, so you can start reading it right now! There are several other books about HTML and CSS in the library that are also interesting, but this book worked really well for me.  It starts with the absolute basics, and helps you set up your web domain and web host. Then it dives right into creating mark up for a sample website.  If you follow along with their examples and complete all the “homework” given in each chapter, you will end up with a fully functioning website that you made completely yourself—no Dreamweaver involved!  They take a “Web Standardistas’ Approach,” meaning that they try to meet web standards (see W3schools for more info on these standards) and write mark up completely from scratch, so that there are no unneeded garbage characters that editors such as Dreamweaver often add. I felt that the book was a truly great learning tool, and I was able to get a pretty firm grasp on the basics within a few weeks.  The only complaint I could have is that it spends a great deal of time on the content of the website and didn’t jump right into the design, but in retrospect I do think that was a good approach.  While the design aspect may be the most enjoyable part of web design, the content is really the most important aspect, and it’s good that they focus on that.

Once you’ve mastered HTML and CSS, there are many other books on other fun aspects of web design, such as PHP or Javascript.  Every bit of information that I learn about these topics helps me to understand how the sites that I visit every day are working, and helps me troubleshoot and fix issues in my own websites and with issues at work in Online Ed.  I highly recommend that anyone who is curious about web design or web development, or just anyone who frequently uses the internet, look into learning these valuable skills, because they are not nearly as difficult or scary as they might seem, and the knowledge is truly valuable in our highly-technical world.

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