A late night read for aspiring web designers

Why choose learning it the hard way?

By on Apr 13, 2021 in webdesign | 0 comments

These days, with all those new exciting on-line tools, one could ask oneself : why learn html, php, javascript and more of that stuff when I can make a website in WordPress in just a few clicks? It looks like a waste of time, or an approach from the era when the animals could still talk.

Very simple. What would you answer to a potential client when he asks you why he should hire you when his sixteen-year-old nephew can build him a website for a few bucks and an ice cream?

Of course, these out-of-the-box solutions like WP en Wix have their advantages. Even this blog is made in WordPress. In this case it’s the best tool for the job.

And let’s be honest, some WordPress sites look amazingly good, and for the DIY web-builder it’s a gift from heaven. But if you want to make a living out of web design you’ll need more at hand than some WordPress knowledge. You don’t get a job as surgeon just because you’re handy with knives, do you?

Web design requires knowledge of multiple skills from storytelling to databases. From SEO to programming a CMS. And that’s why you should learn these techniques from zero.

The benefits of mastering the technical web developing skills

 You’re flexible.

By knowing your tools you can start from a blank canvas, or you can start from other sites that inspired you. You’re not bound to the templates available on the web. This gives you the power to think out-of-the-box. You can start from the clients’ needs, and not the other way around – the boundaries of an existing playground.

Of course, you can always change an existing template to your needs, but believe me, it’s often more time consuming and frustrating than starting from scratch, because in the end you’ll have to delve into the logic of someone else and you’ll need knowledge of CSS, HTML and Javascript anyway when you start customizing.

You are convincing, and clients have faith in you.

Some so-called web designers have a very hard time when confronted in a meeting with the client. “Can we filter out this or that?” “Can we calculate the USD / EUR prices automatically?” You don’t want to answer, you’ll have to see if that is possible in WP.

The client pays you good money so he expects you to have the knowledge to solve these little problems. It’s your core business.

If you can deal with all these technical issues he’ll recommend you to others. If not, it’s a dead end street.

You can build a custom CMS.

I’ve seen clients smiling when I demonstrate to them their custom-built CMS. Simple, intuitive, fast, error free… A seven-year-old can update a website with my backend systems. A WordPress system with all whistles and bells can be overwhelming for a client, and often leads to frustration. Some even argue – and they are right – WP grows from a blog tool to a full option CMS but was never intended for that task.

You have the security in your own hand

WP, Joomla, … are used by millions. No need to say it’s a target for hackers worldwide. If they find a security hole in one site they can attack all others based on the same system. The vulnerability is not the WP or Joomla system itself but all the free (or paid) third-party plugins you’ll need to get a fully-fledged website. You have no idea how well the plugins were programmed. It’s a shot in the dark. Part of the solution is to go for a paid antivirus subscription, again with a third party. Chances are you’ll never experience any problems, but still, your fate is in their hands. I wouldn’t trust a nuclear plant running on a widespread, well-known software tool.

My backends are custom built: the potential hacker doesn’t know my logic of programming, no back doors, no third party security leaks. Attacks on a custom built, unique system are quite unlikely unless you have a website with very sensitive data. Of course, you will need to know how to build a secure CMS, how to protect a web form from virus injections and so on, or your CMS will be much worse than a widespread CMS.

I’m talking from experience here. In the old days of Joomla I had a website hacked by the PKK, and one WP site was used as a mailserver. Yes, I should have been more aware of possible security problems, but I still have that feeling that companies running an online business should go for custom-built solutions.

You can optimize performance and speed

Most widespread web-building platforms offer many whistles and bells, but that comes at a price: dozens of javascripts, web fonts, images, and stylesheets are loaded while maybe you don’t need them for your stripped down website. Collapsible menus, parallax and slider scripts … very nice, but if you choose not to use them, make sure the scripts aren’t loaded in the background.

 But even then it’s bad practice. It’s like making soup and trying to take out a flavour after blending. No. You start with adding every ingredient little by little. Just enough to get what you want. Nothing else. And yes, this is a time-consuming task, you don’t get results in five minutes. It takes hours, maybe days. But the result is easy to read code, stripped to the bare minimum, resulting in lightning fast websites, requiring little processor power. This is especially important for mobile devices. And last but not least: Google loves fast websites with simple coding as they are easier to index. So it’s very, very good practice for SEO.

In my opinion you should at least try to master

  • HTML (the fundamental bricks)
  • CSS (layout programming)
  • Mysql (web database)
  • PHP or Node.js (programming language, executes on server)
  • SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Javascript (programming language, executes in the browser)

It looks like a lot, but if you spend 8 hours a week I think you can master the basics of all this in less than a year.

Start with HTML and CSS to make static websites.

Learn PHP and Mysql to make dynamic sites storing their content in a database. You’ll need this knowledge to build a CMS too.

Later on you can study Javascript to add browser interactions, animations to your sites or perform tasks like checking if a form is filled in correctly.

And finally become SEO savvy. It’s THE buzz word in web design these days.

Good luck. Don’t be overwhelmed. It ain’t rocket science.

Read on:
The pitfalls of fast and cheap

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