still trimming the sails;
a work-in-progress...
drag-and-drop web design software? are you kidding me? why hire a robot when you can hire a brain? the sweetest sites are the well-thought-out, hand-coded jobs, of which is a lustrous example...

I Thought You Were a Poet?

Yes, I've written poetry and made some modest money at it, but as Robert Graves said, "There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either."

In addition to other revenue streams, I work as a graphic and web designer. I've been doing graphic work for a lifetime - my dad's a genius watercolorist, and pen-and-ink specialist, so I was raised with art being produced all the time all around, and was always given art materials for every gift opportunity. I think I'm a skillful designer, and have made some handsome money as a freelance illustrator and designer, but I'm not half the illustrator that my dad is, and I have to say, as humbly as I can, that he's not half the illustrator my son is.

But as a designer, I have faith in my good eye and feel I tend to make subtle, elegant choices (or so it has been observed)… if not also the iconoclastic choice.

I've done poster design for events small and large, such as concerts, festivals, theater shows, poetry readings, and garage sales - all sorts. I've been doing this since the days of transfer lettering, and camera-ready art with lots of blue pencil, and actual "cut-and-paste," in which one uses scissors (or a craft knife, when you take the work seriously) and a pot of glue!

I began studying web design about eight years ago. I've been working as a land manager and horticulturist for nearly the last fifteen years, and although I savor the work and the time outdoors, my body doesn't want to keep depending upon it for an income. When I am old and my hair is white and wispy, I still want to be a gardener; I don't want to wear my body out and drop in the harness, so to speak.

So I looked at other potential revenue sources. I had done this before, having spent nearly twenty years working in commercial kitchens, including a stint as the Executive Chef in a French restaurant. When I quit doing that - for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I needed some change - I had already worked my way from the kitchen to the garden, and was by then a Certified Master Gardener, so I found work doing that, and have had a great time of it.

The big questions, just like kids trying to decide what they want to study when they go off to college. How would most of them have any idea? But I looked at my skills, and my interests, and worked it out like this:

I enjoy design. I nearly crave typing (no - I do crave it, and type all the time), and used to write BASIC programs for kicks when I was young. I'm a quick study, and can assimilate large amounts of information. And I needed to find work in a field that was growing.

Seems like the obvious choice was web design.

Going to Web School

So I went to school, in a manner of speaking.

First, I looked online for "html tutorial," and got a handle on the basic ins-and-outs of html and web page structure. Really, folks, this only takes about fifteen minutes, or half an hour at most. Very basic stuff. Among other things, I embarked upon researching web design as it was changing - the old methods of laying out web pages by breaking up the elements among table cells of custom sizes, to position everything properly, were deprecated. The standards-compliance movement was gaining traction, and the use of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), a supplementary web language and protocol, used for styling html elements, was promoted for positioning and other presentation choices. The html was now exclusively content, and the stylesheet was the place for all the presentational information.

So I learned CSS as well, which was fairly more arcane to understand than html, but we managed it, and now, even hire out as a CSS consultant.

Among my early choices in my web development studies was that I would use no authoring software - I'd write all the code by hand, on a conventional text editor - likely the most rudimentary piece of software on your computer. At the time, as I discovered later, hand-coding was enjoying a bit of a renaissance, so I came along at the right time.

Why Hand-Coded?

Hand-coded sites are leaner - generally, they seem to require about a third as much code, or less, as a similar site generated with a WYSIWYG web-authoring program.

Hand coded sites tend to be much easier to understand, should you happen to be web jockey taking on a site coded by another. To make the drag-and-drop UI effective, authoring programs use all sorts of weird algorithms and strategies to code the site; it can be highly challenging to go in and sort through the myriad of colored wires, so to speak.

And there's a certain elegance to something that was done by hand. For one, to figure out how to write the code to assemble the desired design, one has to be clear about the design choices one is making; I think this facilitates a better-intended and more clearly communicative site.

All that glitters is not gold, though - I recently took a look at a website done by a local gal, who fishes in the same waters as me, so to speak, trolling for web design clients. Let's see how her work looks.

Well, right off the top, she's extolling her hand-coded virtues. That's nice; she goes on about how done-by-hand beats a machine, and I agree. So let's take a look at her code…

There was the disappointment. For one (perhaps this only applies to you web jockeys, but bear with me), I see in the head that the site is skinned on a template. Maybe not so bad; let's look further.

She had much of her styles in the head, but also links to an external style sheet. Many of the class names weren't semantic, though, and were for font variations, and named things like "style13" and things like that. One could look at the style, but a semantic class name is better. Easier to understand, and better code.

I was really disappointed when I saw that her navigation menu, a conventional unordered list, was actually coded as a paragraph for each button - not coded as a list at all. That was rather silly, as, being a list, the navigation menu is properly coded as one. I found myself further disappointed when reading, right at the top of the front page of her site, that she's been doing it since 1997, which makes her an expert. Whoops!

I learned long ago that it doesn't matter how long you've been doing something. I was hanging around with a friend of my brother's; we were playing guitars together, and he whipped out a harmonica.

"I just picked this up, like, three weeks ago," he said.

I had been playing the harp since I was about ten - something like fifteen years at that point… but for some reason, even though young, arrogant, and stupid, I didn't say it.

And boy, he blew me away. He was doing blues stuff that I certainly didn't know how to do. In fact, I didn't say a word about knowing anything at all about the harmonica, but you can bet I went home and worked at learning all the things I saw him doing.

So keep your mouth shut about how good you are - just be good at it, and we'll catch you at it.

some site designs - with no commentary... see corax design for more
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