Q&A: Web Design

Last week, Michelle asked,

How did you get started in web design? Was it something you learned in school? Did you go to school, or are you self-taught?

It seems like a good time to answer this question, since I've spent the last week or two giving corey marie ♥ com a complete overhaul. (If you're reading this post in a feed reader, be sure to come check it out! I'm not quite "finished" yet, but I'm really, really excited about the progress so far.)

I am completely self-taught.  I started making web sites in 1996, when I was a freshman in high school.  It started as a hobby, something that I did for fun when I was at my dad's house for the weekend.  I'm pretty sure that the first site I did was an unofficial site for our High School Marching Band, which was followed by a personal site. A Beanie Babies Fan Site (don't laugh! It was fairly popular!) came not long after.  Everything was coded in Notepad in straight HTML.

The early sites that I did were hosted on Geocities, of course.  Soon I was making friends on message boards, and a friend of mine offered to host me on her domain.  So this was back before Blogger or even Livejournal  — personal domains were a lot different than blogs as we all know them now.  If you had a page on a site like Geocities, you had to have their ads on it, and no one wanted ads on their site then.  So someone would own a domain, and they would host their friends on subdomains.  My friend's domain was narisma.nu (.coms were still really expensive then, so a lot of us got weird foreign name servers) and my subdomain was narisma.nu/electric  The narisma.nu main page linked to all of the subdomains and there was a message board that we all posted at.  It was like a rad little family and happily, I still keep in touch with a few people from these days. :)

Just for fun, here's a couple of dorky pictures of me from High School.

Around that time, I started drawing comics and naturally, started building web comic sites.  When I started, every single page had to be coded from scratch — if you were doing a daily comic strip, you not only had to draw the comic, but you also had to create the html page that it was displayed on.  When I first started, even the navigation had to be done manually: Every time I updated, I had to also edit the previous day's html page to make the "next" and "previous" links go to the right place.  (Not long after that, keenspace came around which made everything a whole lot easier.)

I got a web design job at a local engineering firm right out of high school.  I felt completely underqualified for it, but managed to fake my way through it for a year or two.  I ended up losing the job because I had a really hard time focusing on my work and didn't really know how to work in an office environment (six or seven years later, I was diagnosed with Adult ADD, and finally I understood why I couldn't hang.  I still regret losing that job, though.)

I never took any college classes specifically in web design (when I started college in '99, the courses available were too basic, and I wasn't interested or ready for programming courses at that point.) but I did take classes on Typography and Graphic Design, which taught me a lot about the theory of design.

In my early 20s, I got my own domain, poseur.org and we ran a little web 'zine and message board on that site.  There weren't "content management systems" yet (or if there were, I wasn't aware of them yet) and everything was still done manually.  Friends were contributing to the web 'zine, but everything had to be emailed to me and formatted manually.  It was a nightmare, and it made it really hard for me to keep up.  I taught myself how to use a little bit of PHP in order to simplify things.  

I was still doing web comics, and my best friend and I also opened a web store where we sold zines, screen-printed patches, handmade head-bands and one-inch buttons.  The whole thing was coded manually and used Paypal.  (This is part of the reason that I love Etsy so much!  I wish it had existed then!)  A few years later, I learned OS-commerce in order to build a slightly better web store for Young American Comics.

I think it was around 2005 when I finally found WordPress.  Wordpress is a very powerful template-based content system that can be used for a lot more than just blogs — I've used it as a base for every web site that I've made since, and consider myself something of an expert.  It allows me the complete customization that I've always had (I can literally edit every pixel, change every word and access every file on the entire site) while making things much, much simpler to update.  I've learned a lot more PHP since then, and also started really learning CSS around that time — I now work almost exclusively with CSS and know the language inside and out, backwards and forwards. 

Like I mentioned the other day, I've been building and designing web sites for 15 years now, and I still enjoy it so much.  I feel so lucky that I get to do what I love — and that I love what I do.

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