So you’re a print designer, but you want to learn web design. Where to start …

I’ve had so many friends ask me the same question. There’s so much to learn and it’s all confusing. So where do I start?

First, let me tell you where I’ve been. I started teaching myself some html way back in 1995-96. I’ve been an online web editor and designer on and off for all these years. Web design has changed a lot in all of these years. And I have learned over the years that designing for the web is not like designing for print in a lot of ways. Web page loading speed and browser rendering and device screen size and user interface all matter. And to be a successful designer in all of those areas means considering all of those things and more. But one thing remains the same. All the skills I have learned in print design still matter in web design. The basic principles are still the same.

However, you have to take those skills and ‘rearrange’ them a bit to design for the web.

So, why is it so hard to learn web design these days? Because the people teaching it, usually know nothing about print design. And they also are the people who we could feasibly replace by learning how to do web design well. So, I don’t want to say that they are purposely making sure that we don’t learn anything, but they don’t really speak our language either.

And no one seems to care much about our learning it either way. So for the most part, we have to figure it out in bits and pieces, here and there. And who has time to do that?

I use several different sources for my learning. I sporadically use Lynda.com. I google just about everything under the sun, once I figure out what the term is for some print equivalent. I’ve been to a couple of workshops recently. Most as cheap as I could find. One was for WordPress and one was for iPad Design (which turned out was really about responsive design). I also started going to local Meetup (meetup.com) groups on WordPress and Coding and Business and Design.

It’s hard to keep up with it all, but it’s very, very necessary.

So where is one to start? Well, I like to start with the basics. You cannot fly until you learn to walk or crawl. In my opinion, WordPress is a worthy place to start. There are two parts to WordPress. WordPress.com is where ‘WordPress for dummies’ resides. You can start a free blog here, but your blog is going to live on the WordPress MultiSite. Meaning, your domain will be http://www.yoursite.wordpress.com. This is a good place to start with WordPress. You can choose from several free templates and just get in and start ‘playing around with’ the Content Management System. WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, these are all considered Content Management Systems. They all have similar qualities, however they are different systems. Kind of like how in the old days, there was Adobe Illustrator and Aldus FreeHand. Content Management in the web world is like Atex, Coyote SII, CCI, it’s a choice of what system you want to use.

And believe me when I tell you, if you could use Atex, you can figure out this CSS stuff. So don’t be afraid.

If you start a site on WordPress.com and you want to graduate up to WordPress.org, you can transfer your old blog over to your new one, so you’ve got nothing to lose by starting on WordPress.com. To start out, just create an account and pick a subject, maybe it’s your favorite TV show, maybe it’s your cat. Just start one. You are going to use this blog as a starting place. A starter house, so to speak. You will use this site to learn how WordPress works, how the admin works, how the templates work. In essence you can screw it up as much as you want to.

Once you start using it a lot, eventually, without a doubt in my mind, you will learn the limitations of it and will want to move up. WordPress.org is where you can download the software and install it for free on your own hosted website. So for this, you will need a hosting company, a domain and a little more courage. (On WordPress.com, you can have your own domain and redirect it to your WP hosted site.) If you install WordPress into your own site, you have more control and you OWN your own traffic. That is the biggest difference really. Ownership of traffic.

WordPress in my opinion is the best place to start. Because, as you use it, you have questions. How do I do this? How do I do that? You learn at your own speed. And you find things slowly that you want to learn more about.

Eventually, you’ll get to CSS and HTML and Java and PHP and on and on and on.

And starting now, is the best thing for you. Being afraid of this is not going to help you in this uncertain and scary world that we now live in. WordPress is so widely used, it won’t hurt you to learn it because so many companies now use it and it’s so similar to Drupal and others, that it will give you a leg up in a world where many people haven’t even started. I promise you, all those young people graduating from college are using one or the other.

But don’t be afraid for many reasons. One being, many of those young people don’t have your experience. They don’t have your knowledge of good design or why good design is good design. The basics still matter. Your current skills and expertise is still valid. And that will never change. The difference between us and those young people is this: once we learn how to use these tools, we immediately know what to do with them. Because for us old hands at design, we intuitively know what we could do, now that we know, if that makes any sense. And the power is returned to the designers.

The key is to get started. And don’t be afraid. Because as overwhelming as it may feel, there are many people in your shoes and you are not alone. Find people willing to help. Friendly people who don’t talk down to you and are excited to share. I like to explain things because for so many years, I’ve been out here on my own and it’s lonely. None of my friends are like me. NONE! I have started meeting with more and more coders and developers. Young people who speak about news technology, who know nothing about the news business. It’s frustrating and infuriating. But it’s fun, too. And I can’t wait until the day that we take the design world back from those young punks and teach them a thing or two. 😉

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