May 26, 2010 – Designing Web Sites

Well, if you haven’t noticed, I ran out of pre-written blog posts, and suddenly I got very quiet.  Now I must struggle to get over the one-week blog hump.  I must press on and persevere. 

Part of the reason why I didn’t post the past two days is because I had class, so I was busy with that and a long commute to north Nashville.  I had a two-day class on basic Dreamweaver.  I was glad to finally start using it, since it’s the preferred WYSIWYG editor for websites, but, frankly, I was kind of disappointed in it.  Some things were awesome, like creating image maps (so easy), but it’s like other Adobe products, in that it’s so crammed-full of options that it’s overwhelming.  And a lot of stuff (even most of it) is hidden as text in toolbars.  It’s not like other programs that I’ve used which are much more reliant on icons (like MS Word 2007, with its ribbons).  I would argue that Dreamweaver is not for beginner web designers at all, because it’s too much to try and learn how to use it and learn how to build a good web site.

It kind of reminds me of learning to drive a car.  My mother insisted that I learn to drive a stick-shift.  I got frustrated with it, though, because it seemed like it was taking forever to get proficient at it, and I was worried about operating the clutch as well as operating the car, and it was just really stressful and no fun at all.  So my dad got to taking me out in his automatic every other weekend when I went to visit, and all I had to worry about were normal things—steering, braking, turn signals—and that was much less stressful.  And because I was able to master that pretty quickly, I gained a lot more confidence with the stick-shift and eventually mastered it as well.

I think the same is true for web design.  A lot of people get hung up on the code and technical aspects and forget that a web site must have form as well as function; it must have some art to it.  You have to be creative as well as technical.  But, to me, Dreamweaver is a lot like straight-shift car; it’s really complicated to operate.  I fear that many people who were in class with me, who don’t know anything about actually designing a website, are going to get so uptight over operating Dreamweaver that they won’t learn how to design a good website—just like I once was so uptight over operating the clutch that I wasn’t learning how to drive a car very well.

I much prefer the WYSIWYG editor that I got with my Yahoo! site: Yahoo! SiteBuilder.  Unfortunately you can’t use that if you don’t buy a site through them (at least I haven’t figured out how to make it work for other sites), but a decent alternative that’s free (and will download over dial-up!) is Trellian WebPage.  It doesn’t have nearly as many buttons as Dreamweaver, but if you are just starting out designing websites, you don’t want a lot of buttons.  It’s a known fact that humans, when faced with too many choices, will shutdown and make no choices at all.  Which is why a lot of people don’t invest in their retirements; they get overwhelmed by decisions on what to do, feel the pressure of having to make a perfect choice, and then they just make none at all.

Dreamweaver is like that: if you don’t already know what a lot of the buttons do—and, even more importantly, why you would want to use them—then you can just be completely overwhelmed by them and end up not doing anything at all.

I’m sure there are other WYSIWYG editors out there that are just as good (or better) than Trellian WebPage, and just as free, but having seen a professional, high-end WYSIWYG editor, I’d recommend Trellian WebPage to anyone who is just starting out making websites.  Start with something simple, get a feel for how things go together, press the buttons and see what they do, and once you are creating with ease, then switch to something that will allow you to expand outwards.  After all, we don’t give three year olds really expensive, high-quality art supplies; they start out with finger paints and scrap paper.  Only as they mature as artists do they get the expensive paints and brushes and canvases.  Dreamweaver is an expensive art tool, made for people who are already web artists.

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