Further Directions

In addition to the HTML Level 2, the things I think any budding Web designer
would want to work on next are:

  1. CSS – SmartPlanet offers an introductory course that is an excellent place
    to begin. I still use the textbook from that course as a reference. You can
    do this without any additional software, so it is cheap.
  2. Graphics – First you need to decide on a software purchase. The top contenders
    here are Fireworks, from Macromedia, and Paint Shop Pro, from JASC. SmartPlanet
    offers courses in both. It is impossible to create good-looking pages without
    graphics, so this is one of those essential skills for any Web designer.
  3. HTML Editing software – Again, there are a number of contenders. I happen
    to think that Dreamweaver is about 10 miles ahead of any of the others in
    this category, and SmartPlanet offers courses in it. You don’t need software
    like this to create and maintain a single site of 10-15 pages. But when you
    start maintaining multiple sites, some of which are very large, you *NEED*
    something like this. And if you want to get work in the industry, it does
    help if you are accustomed to software like this.

These will give you a good basic toolkit to get started. You can create basic
websites fairly efficiently with such software and skills. If you want to go
further, though, you have to go a little deeper. And you will find that you
need to specialize. Creating a dynamic Web site, with database integration,
e-commerce, server security, professional graphic design, interactivity, etc.,
in other words, the kind of site a major corporation would want to create and
maintain, requires a team of specialists. I happen to think that this specialization
is where the major action is. The single-person all-in-one shop is being relegated
to the fringes, and unless you want to be on those fringes, you need to start
thinking about where your talent lies.

For instance, if you are most interested in the visual aspects, in how things
*look*, you would want to start looking at courses in graphic design, color
theory, typography, etc. You may not find these online. Perhaps a local college
will be the best place. Many are now creating degree programs in areas like

If you enjoy digging deep into the details of code, you might want to go further
into programming, and add things like JavaScript, Java, and Perl to your repertoire.
There is a lot of demand for people there. Some of these courses are available
online through SmartPlanet, though you might want to also look into college
courses to supplement what you find online.

If you want to make a lot of money, learn databases and how to integrate them
into Web sites. Six-figure salary for sure if you know your stuff. Again, this
requires a fairly detail-oriented person, similar to the programming type of

If you found yourself attracted to things like the discussion of FTP and server
issues, you might want to look into server administration. You have to be a
bit of a computer geek for this one. If you have a problem with your computer
and go looking for someone to fix it, you are not the kind of person for this
job. But if, when you have a problem, you take out the manual and start reading
it, thinking “I’ve got to be able to figure this out, it can’t be that hard,”
you are exactly the sort of person who would do well here. By the way, if you
wonder how an economics professor (me) got into teaching computers and such,
it is because I always got out the manuals and figured things out. 😉

If you always thought that being a Librarian was an interesting job, and categorizing
and organizing information is appealing, you might want to look into Information
Architecture. A way to test this is to ask yourself if you really found the
discussion about whether something was a header or a paragraph quite fascinating.
An Information Architect needs to think about stuff like that all of the time.
This is the sort of person who can design an XML application that makes sense.

Another useful specialty is User Interface and Usability. If the idea of studying
how people use a Web site, observing which buttons they click on and why, collecting
data on who visits a site and what they do when they get there, etc. appeals
to you, this is an area to consider.

These are the major directions you can go in if you want to be a part of one
of the teams that design the major sites out there. Of course, you may find
that none of these things appeal to you. In that case, you are looking at that
“fringe” area, which may be just fine as long as you know what you
are getting in to. You aren’t going to making the big bucks or working on the
major sites, but you can do tolerably well. You will be working as a self-employed
small business person, and will need to work hard to find clients, and will
have all of the headaches that any small-business owner has to face. Maybe you
will do this a part-time occupation to supplement your income. Or maybe it will
be a hobby that never earns much money, but lets you help out as a volunteer
for a church, a school, or a charity. In that case, basics like the CSS and
graphics, and maybe a little JavaScript, are still the best preparation for
such a goal.

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