Where (and How) to Learn Web Design in ChattanoogaWeb Design & Development
Okay, so, this probably comes as no surprise, but I’m not a web designer. I work with web designers, yes, and I happen to know the basics of HTML and understand the essential terminology, but the finer points of using HTML and CSS to make things come to life on the web is largely beyond me. As our very own Ashley Frasier would say, it’s “sorcery!”
Largely due to my type A personality, I don’t like feeling out of the loop. In our daily production meetings here at Papercut, I get the gist of most of what our super-smart developers are talking about, but sometimes I do get a little lost in all of the technical lingo. So, in a quest for self-improvement, I have embarked on an adventure in learning web design.
I know that interest in code and design is growing, so I thought it might be helpful to document my experiences here on our blog. This first post will serve as an outline of what I’m doing and where I’m learning.
Quick Sidebar: The Chattanooga Public Library
Before I jump into the details, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a minute to say that I think Chattanoogans are incredibly lucky to live in a community that’s passionate about promoting code and teaching others. We’ve written about the various coding events in Chattanooga before, and back in December I attended a Code and Creativity session led by Nate Hill, Assistant Director of the Chattanooga Public Library. In a nutshell, his presentation was about the fact that, in order to stay current, libraries have to shift their focus from books and encyclopedias to providing tools and training for various forms of technology. We’re beyond fortunate that our library is doing just that.
Whether you realize it or not, we have an INCREDIBLE assortment of resources for learning code and design right at our fingertips, thanks in large part to the folks at the library.
So, long story short, if you want to learn a little bit about web design and code (and you live in Chattanooga), you can do it, and it won’t cost you a dime. That, my friends, is awesome.
Alright, now on to the business at hand. Here’s how I’m learning web design.
If you haven’t heard of it before, Treehouse is an educational program designed to “bring affordable technology education to people everywhere in order to help them achieve their dreams and change the world.” When you sign up for Treehouse, you pick a “track” to follow. Subjects include broad topics like web design and front-end development to more specialized topics like Android development and WordPress development. Typically, you’ll have to pay to use Treehouse ($25/month for a Basic subscription or $49/month for a Pro subscription with a few added features), but if you have a library card, you can access the entire program for FREE. I’m not an expert on Treehouse, and I’m not very far into the program yet, but I can already tell you that the amount of information you can learn by taking these classes is insane, and the fact that I can get it all without having to pay a cent kind of blows my mind.
A couple of weeks ago, I found out that the library was offering Treehouse for free, so I applied for a library card online. I was able to access the program using my temporary ID information, and I went to my local branch to pick up my actual card the following day. Easy peasy.
I signed up for the Web Design track, and from the looks of things, by the time I finish, I’ll not only have learned how to use HTML and CSS, but also the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as a smattering of design basics like color and typography (I’m personally really excited about this). And as if it couldn’t get any better, they’ve even got a section on purchasing a domain and setting up your site, as well as some marketing info, like SEO basics. The end goal is that by the time you finish the track, you not only know how to build a website but also how to make it visible to the rest of the world and promote it through various digital marketing channels. I’m impressed.
The courses are video based, and the instructor speaks slowly so you don’t have to worry about missing anything. You can also pause the video as often as you like to catch up or fix mistakes. You’re not expected to have any prior knowledge about anything, and they start from the ground up, which is really nice. There’s even a built-in text editor, so you don’t have to download any separate programs. You can use your own images and content for the site you build, but if you’re a total newbie like me, they have stock files already prepared for you. I don’t think it gets much easier than this.
After you’ve finished a lesson, you’ll take a short quiz to see what you’ve learned. For each lesson you complete, you get points and badges, a fun little gamification element that provides incentive to continue learning.
I’m already through the HTML basics and I’m getting ready to start on CSS, something that’s completely new to me. I know what it stands for, but that’s pretty much it. Naturally, I’m really looking forward to these lessons. I’ve been busier than I’d like over the last couple of weeks, and I can’t wait to jump back in and start learning again. I know, I know, I’m a total nerd. Chances are pretty good that after I finish the Web Design track, I’ll get started on another.
Intro to Web Design
Shortly after I signed up for Treehouse I found out that the library was offering a free Intro to Web Design class on the 4th Floor, the designated space for education in technology, design and applied arts. I actually discovered this through a post on Ashley’s Facebook, so thanks, Ashley! I signed up the day before the class started, and I think I was lucky to snag one of the few remaining slots.
The course runs for six consecutive Wednesdays from 5:30 pm until 6:30 pm and started on April 16. I actually missed the first session due to a prior commitment, but lucky for me, they let me attend anyway and I was able to jump right in last week without a problem. The course covers everything from using a text editor to creating inline styles with CSS and cropping images for the web. It’s led by James McNutt, the library’s tech education specialist, and he does a great job of explaining things and helping everyone along.
The class is small, which is nice. I’d say there were maybe 10 of us there last week, and it was a great mix of people. There were other young professionals like me, as well as some people in their 40s and 50s. There were people with some computer experience and others with none. Everyone felt comfortable being there, and that, in my opinion, was one of the best things about the class.
Last week, we spent the majority of our time talking about semantics, or the correct way to code according to the W3C, the governing body that comes up with all the web standards for design and development. We reviewed some basic HTML tags and discussed the changes in their meaning and use from HTML4 to HTML5. This was really interesting for me because I always knew that there were two tags that would italicize copy ( and ) but I never understood why there was a need for more than one. Now I know that the tag is intended to indicate emphasis, not simply italics. Even cooler than that, James told us that visually impaired people who use screen readers can (if they have a good reader) hear the emphasis when the text is read back to them if the appropriate tag is used.
Next week, we’re supposed to get into some stuff with images, which will be new for me, so we’ll see how it goes!
You Can Learn, Too!
I know I’m not alone in wanting to learn more about code and design. After I signed up for these classes, I casually mentioned them in conversation with friends, and was, to my surprise, met with “I want to do that, too!” Treehouse is always available to anyone with a library card, and I’m hoping that this Intro to Web Design course is the first of many to come. To keep tabs on what’s happening with the 4th Floor, I’d recommend following them on Twitter (@4thfloorchatt) or checking out their webpage.
My personal goal in all of this is to become a more informed and well-rounded web professional. As an SEO, I technically work in marketing, but it should come as no surprise that my work bleeds over into web design and development, and the reverse is also true. I might not ever be able to build complex websites like my co-workers (or maybe I will, and that will be awesome) but I can at least gain a better understanding of how their work affects my work. I really believe that when you work in the web, even a smattering of knowledge about subjects other than your “specialty” is invaluable, and I want to learn everything I can.
I’ll keep you all updated as I progress through Treehouse and my class at the library. I hope that these posts will show that learning web design isn’t as intimidating as it might seem and that my experience will help encourage others to get out there and start learning too.
Until next time, stay tuned!