sick and/or tired

Feb 12, 04:01 PM

'I am a God, here.'

I should tell you that I'm not too bright. Well, I am, but not too. I make dumb decisions, and they usually end up costing me. I'm referring here to web design, though less-specific and -nerdy examples abound.

Many of the projects I tackle are exercises I use to keep in top form, programming-wise. I see or think of something that I'd like to try, and I try it. Sound simple?

uh...

I wish. I mean, the experience and the know-how are invaluable; this goes without saying. You don't get better at doing anything except by doing. We all only wish we could do the Lawnmower Man/Matrix thing and just download a set of skills, but if wishes were horses, we'd all be neck-deep in horsey poo.

Which is all to say: the old roll-up-your-sleeves DIY thing is all good and fine, but when it comes to web design, I seriously question its usefulness past a certain point.

Take this website, for instance. There's not a whole lot to it: a few sections, some content, this lame blog. So you'd think that'd be easy as heck, right?

Wrong. To make it "easier" to add blogs & projects & reviews, I set up a whole back end. This thing is basically a home-grown CMS, now. Not too complicated, no. But did it take a while to think it through and debug all of the code? You bet.

standards

Standards? Don't talk to me about standards. (OK: do, but softly.)

You need to implement standards from the start, I've found (again, and again!). Otherwise, you're basically rewriting the entire site. Luckily, with this site I'd implemented HTML & CSS best practices almost across the board... more or less. Otherwise, I would have been redesigning this whole thing (this is the fourth incarnation, believe it or not). Even the limited amount of fancy-schmancy JavaScript and Flash is extra: if you don't have either, you can still get around the site. Although it may not be as pleasing of an experience IMHO.

the point

"So what?" I sense you thinking. "Quit your bellyaching!" Well, my tummy is upset. But I digress. Here's my point: doing it myself, though edifying, has set me back.

Don't get me wrong: doing websites the hard way is good for the brain. More often than not, it results in faster, cleaner design, better search results, and greater usability. Since you're "down in the trenches", you really, really know how things are put together. And I think that this step is a must for beginning designers. In fact: this should be a required step before novice designers are even allowed to use bloated web design products like Dreamweaver or the several Microsoft behemoths. (I have found, however, that sites designed this way are either really well thought out, or a mishmash.)

But once one gets past that step, it's time to use well-established, mature solutions to common online products. Want a blog with all the trimmings? WordPress or [any of a hundred other products] out there should suffice. A complete content management system? Already done. Picture galleries, ad management, to-do lists, calendars: it's all been done! As long as the documentation is good, the end product is stable and secure, and the thing is configurable (as any product of a certain level of maturity should be), why reinvent the wheel? The icing on the cake is that a lot of these tools are standards compliant or easily made so.

Doing it yourself has it's advantages, sure. But that's mostly a learning exercise, and should be treated as such. Once you've passed that level, it's either time to adopt someone else's better and immediately available solutions, or roll your own. Not to mention: there are plenty of ready-made solutions that are hardly as easy to install and configure as advertised. Applying your programming prowess to that would be worthwhile indeed.

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