HTML and me – when WYSIWYG is not enough

by techenet on March 9, 2009

I recently helped a friend update his site, moving him to a blog (WordPress to be exact), Italicsinstead of a traditionally created website.  By doing this; rather than designing and coding the site’s layout entirely from scratch; we could take advantage of the many predefined themes, templates, and plug-ins available.  In fact, you can find any one of hundreds of pre-designed themes, simply upload and activate them, and just like that your site design is morphed into something different entirely.  I like to think of themes as clothing “outfits,” and changing your theme is like changing into today’s “outfit.”  The trouble begins when you want to customize your “outfit,” because now, instead of just changing to a new shirt or different pair of pants, you have to actually do your own coding and customization to make tweaks to how this new blog theme, or “outfit,” looks.

In the case of my friend, as we were attempting to customize things for him, it occurred to me how the gap between “quick” site design and “real” site design has grown. In the past, it was sufficient to use MS Word or some WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor to compile pages.  With WYSIWYG you essentially manipulate the text and images on screen and all the markup and coding is done behind the scenes.  Now however; as blogging software matures, plug-ins are developed for all types of site functions, and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are employed to change everything from page color to font size all at once; it has become even easier to throw up a web site and get started on the content right away.  But at the same time, as common practice moves to this more cookie cutter cssapproach, the actual customization and editing of those themes and styles is requiring more skill and ability.  Because to edit those themes for even small changes such as color or font size, a designer needs to understand the basics of HTML and CSS, and actually be able to get in there with a text editor and manipulate the markup or code.

What’s more, even the mighty Adobe Dreamweaver, often touted in the web design arena as the premium product, seems to now fall short.  Blogger Tom Arah talks about just that over at PC Pro Magazine, saying that more and more those to whom he use to recommend Dreamweaver are now looking to Blogs and CMS’s (Content Management Systems) to accomplish their projects.  This is illustrated again in the case of my friend, as taking a page from a WordPress theme and dropping it into Dreamweaver for style editing results in a disjoined look and inability to properly lay it out.

To me it seems, HTML and CSS are like High School, in the old days having a High School diploma = HTMLeducation was all you needed, and in fact many got by in life without one, but having one was definitely good.  Now however, even McDondalds wants a High School education, it’s not just “nice” to have gradudated  – it’s essential – and so is a basic understanding of HTML and CSS to the web designer.

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