The WebMaster Course

Although I could read half a dozen books or go through a load of online HTML and CSS learning websites of dubious quality, I felt I needed something structured to make sure I do learn the basics from the ground up. So I enrolled with the Distance Learning Centre’s Webmaster Course (available from a few providers). Some online sites warned against the rigidity of many of the courses out there and to a degree they’re right. The course is delivered through a DVD containing 10 lessons of 4-8 hours each, which you can do in your own time. By the end of the 10 lessons, I had built a basic website. I started the course  in January, and intend to go on to the WebMaestro course afterwards which is a more advanced follow up.

It is clear from my reading  that web standards are constantly changing  and that the course is already a bit dated (dating before HTML5 and CSS3), but I’m aware that there are newer standards and newer ways of doing things, so I guess it’s not so bad. It’s important to be aware of this though and I certainly wouldn’t rely on the course alone. Back it up by reading some books from your local library or buy a couple of books on HTML5 or CSS3.

The course is a bit old-fashioned and in some ways I feel like I have learnt how things used to be done. I laid out  web page using tables (didtinctly not the done thing these days) and used Photoshop to create rollover buttons  (now more easily done using CSS if you are sticking to basics). Still, I’m glad I have completed the WebMaster course. I have designed a website – for an imagined seaside gift shop – and now know the basics. I’ve played a bit with DreamWeaver, Shopify an other bits if software and I have started to get to grips with JavaScript too, which is where the WebMaestro course kicks off.

Notepad++ and Paint.net

If you do the course, download Notepad++.  It’s a big improvement over the basic text editor, Notepad, which comes as standard with Windows, and which the WebMaster makes you use as a default. By using colours to display codes and attributes (e.g. the <P> tag is displayed in blue), it makes it a lot easier to see what you are doing. I’ve also downloaded, paint.net, again, an improvement over the standard Paint you get with Windows. I got to play a bit with DreamWeaver  in the course which was great but it’s best to try to work through the course  learning raw code to really get to know it – so avoid any fancy web software and stick to basics!

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Web Design in Easy Steps and other good reads

Web Design in Easy Steps

Still having an affection for the traditional physical hardcopy book, I began my quest for web design knowledge in my local library  and to my surprise found some decent books.  I can heartily recommend Web design in easy steps by Sean McManus, which is clear, concise and covers a lot of ground from planning a site and creating effective content to HTML and shopping carts. A very good introduction. Its fifth edition is bang up to date featuring HTML5 and CSS3.

Styling Web Pages with CSS

I tried creating a home web page using an example from the book Styling Web Pages with CSS by Negrino and Smith.  I’m getting to know that different web browsers respond differently to the same bits of code, so that for example, an image that I have coded to move or float to the right of the screen using CSS, does so perfectly well in Chrome but not so in Internet Explorer or Firefox. I’ve probably made a typo or an error somewhere along the line which Chrome can cope with but not the other two. It can be frustrating to see something work in one browser and not another. It’s the way of the world apparently!

The book itself could be more helpful in advising you on how to adapt the techniques it shows to your own pages, and not all the code for the example pages it shows, are in the book . If you do use the book, google ‘Alpaca Repo’ and you’ll find a version of the site online (but they don’t tell you this!), and this will also save you having to type in all the code. The book shows you how to build a quick website using CSS much more than in the course, and it shows you how to use divs to style the different sections of a page.

Brilliant HTML5 and CSS3

However, a quick glance this morning at Brilliant HTML5 and CSS3 by Josh Hill and James A Brannan tells me that although the <div> tag offered ‘much greater control and nicer looking web pages, it still wasn’t a solid structural framework’.  It’s still widely used and accepted but is outmoded and has been replaced by more understandable tags using sections, footers, nav etc. It does look an improvement but I will still learn how the <div> tag works first so I’m in the know as it looks like most current web pages have used these. Brilliant HTML5 and CSS3 is a good reference guide with useful exercises to try out but I wouldn’t buy it – borrow it from the library and then buy……

HTML5 in Easy Steps

I highly recommend HTML5 in Easy Steps  by Mike McGrath. I wouldn’t start with this book though, and I’m glad I read this a bit later than the other books. I think it would help to know a little bit about HTML, CSS and JavaScript first, because one of the great things about its approach is that it integrates all these throughout the book, rather than keeping them separate. In this sense, it’s got a more realistic approach but it may be a bit much to take in for a beginner.

It also has a much more contemporary feel about it and focusses much more on the new aspects of HTML in HTML5 and has good reference sections at the back. All the code is available online too.

The In Easy Steps books are clearly laid out and great value so if money’s too tight to mention, they’re a good buy.

A Web Design for Life

If you want to learn about web design, they say, a good start is to set up a blog on WordPress. That’s what they say, that is the people who claim to be in the know in the books and on the web. So here goes. This will be a blog about my aim to get into web design. I’m a long man living in Sussex and ‘between jobs’. I’ve dabbled with blogs and wikis in the past,  and used the odd content management system to edit or upload small bits of information or photos, but have never really got to know the nitty-gritty.  I can already see that there’s loads of information and advice out there, no doubt some good, some bad, so I’ll see what I make of it all and record my thoughts here.

As a qualified librarian with the ingrained need to list/organise information, I’ve set up a useful resources page on this blog so that I have somewhere to list the most useful information I discover over the coming weeks, months or years and can stick it  on these pages!