Starting from scratch


I’m looking at starting out in Web Design, possibly as a career change. I’ve been on a short HTML course and bought a couple of books (incl. the sitepoint book Build Your Own Web Site the Right Way… by Ian Lloyd). I’ve also surfed the net and spoken to people… but there are a couple of things I can’t seem to find a clear answer on (maybe there isn’t one!) and would appreciate some direction before I head off in the wrong direction entirely (I have the opportunity here to learn from scratch!)…

First off… is Dreamweaver to be embraced or avoided. I have had advice from both camps. I appreciate the need to be able to understand code but starting from scratch, in 2010/11, do I really need to be able to code a site by hand - and if I can, does that render Dreamweaver redundant? People say it writes junk code - is that really the case?

Second… is there an acknowledged ‘best practice’ in terms of laying out a site design and by that I mean the visual look and feel. It seems difficult to do ‘on the fly’ (esp in a text editor) and some people seem to hint that doing layouts in Photoshop and then ‘slicing’ them is the way to go - but others say that’s the ‘old’ way of doing it.

Any help or insight on the above two points would be very, very greatly appreciated…!!


Andy, UK

I started just like you with some books, and started playing around until I knew enough to be dangerous. :slight_smile:

The truth is that different people find different approaches, and some of this is going to be developed through your own experiences. If possible, try to get with someone that already has a good system and see what they are doing.

I think learning html is really important. When you are good with html, you won’t rely on Dreamweaver as much, but you probably need something like that to get you going.

Slicing from photoshop is very common still. The only added complexity these days is often you need to work with a CMS, not just html. For phpLD (software I sell), there is a learning curve, and sometimes I have to work to find people that are good at both slicing photoshop and coding in html (with the CMS). If you get good at that, it could really pay off for you.

Hi - thanks for the quick reply. That makes things a little clearer.

It’s how beginners use Dreamweaver that is the problem, not Dreamweaver itself.

Those on a power or ego trip (the sort that say “I design in raw code, and NEVER need to view it in a browser because it will always be perfect, just like me”) always slag off dreamweaver, because in the hands of a beginner, the code it produces is rather bad. BUT the same is true of every other web tool around! When web design started to take off, dreamweaver was misused by lots of people, who simply applied inline styles everywhere, used tables for layout and had never heard of the words css and semantic code. So lots of people assume that this happens because it’s dreamweaver. No, it’s because it was used by beginners after a quick fix with no knowledge of html or css! It has become cool to slag off DW, but it does not deserve this treatment.

If you follow the advice in Ian Lloyds book while using dreamweaver, it will not produce dud code. But then, if you have read that book, you can hand code in Notepad++ anyway, so you can save yourself a lot of money and not need DW. The majority of people here hand code. By coincidence, I’ve just done some hand coding in a ten year old copy of DW, I used its excellent built in ftp to upload all related images, css files, and scripts with a single click, on twenty pages. (Pity it’s display of floated divs is so very bad that it’s often unusable in design view, that I never use that)

PS I mainly use Notepad++, probably 90% of the time, but I get annoyed at those who misunderstand why DW got its reputation. It only got a bad name once people started using css, of course, and it was a great way to show you were cool and knew hmtl and css by complaining about DW’s code - produced by users who DIDN’t know html and css.

PPS Remember, a good design comes from your head, not your software.

You need to be able to hand code because if you want to follow this path as a profession (the coding aspect) you’ll come across all-sorts of slipshod code. You will need to know how to untangle such mess efficiently. Plus within the UK you’ll have to follow the web accessibility laws.

To do that properly you’d need to be able to sift through source code to know what to target regarding semantics, etc.

What ever you do, I can really recommend the following:
(I started from scratch a few years ago also and it helped me a lot)

  • first of all you need time
  • read blogs about web development (there are many good ones out there) and again, read
  • use Firefox and its add-on Firebug
  • try to code yourself without the help of a wysiwyg editor (imho the best way to really learn to understand things)
  • validate all and even your first pages, how simple they might ever be
  • use open source or free software and codes, study them
  • since until now cross-browser compatibility is a big issue, read a lot about it and test your pages in as many browsers as possible (especially IE :wink: )
  • when ever you see sth you like on a page, look into the source code to find out how it was done to get inspired (without steeling code of course)
  • a very good source for CSS is the in my eyes god of CSS Stu Nichols (just google (or any other search engine :wink: )


Thanks guys - this is all really good advice. I’m starting to understand a lot more about the comments I’ve heard about Dremweaver!!

As for mocking up a page / design,… any tips on ‘best practice’? I’m not expecting a blow-by-blow explanation (I know its very dependent on personal approach) but is slicing stuff up in Photoshop still recommended or is there a better way?

With it being such a creative phase, I’m struggling to see how its done by jumping straight into a text editor.


I’d advise that you learn WordPress, as you’ll want to eventually graduate to a CMS of sorts. It’s very easy to learn, and saves you considerable time when you consider how many templates and themes are out there. I’ve been doing web design for a while now, and when I started, I’d create everything in Photoshop and slice it into a layout. Now I just look for templates that fit my framework, and use them with a little modifications.

Everything flows from an understanding of HTML and CSS. Wordpress, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, everything else doesn’t matter if you don’t understand how HTML and CSS work, and know how to use them to create the fundamentals of a Web site. All the templates and slicing and usage of “design view” to “create” a site dodges the fundamental need to know the code.

Absoutely right
but we should mention that once you know the code a good CMS is gorgeous and essential.

GRADUATE to CMS? No, please. One graduates to coding by hand.

Didn’t say anything about “graduating”.
Do you want to code a CMS yourself any time one of your probable clients wants a possibility to edit the pages you set up for him ?

See mmeisner’s post above. Should have quoted that entry. As far as I’m concerned, people who don’t code use CMS. Don’t get me wrong, I see their place, but I’m growing more and more concerned about an Internet that looks all the same: Pretty but very plain.

That aside, I’ve done some investigating into a CMS that is all back end, leaving a designer to be able to design a site around it. Sure there are some ‘plain’ templates, but templates nonetheless. If you know of such a thing, I’d be happy to check it out.

Also, most CMS are the equivalent of using a shotgun to kill a fly. Way too much stuff.

My two cents.

dreamweaver is useful and quick, but you should also learn css too.

Sorry, I’m old school. Learn to code html and css in notepad.exe (maybe not headers, but you should build a library of those). Then use Notepad++. If you absolutely MUST use DW, say for a job, then at least you’ll know why things go wrong and how to fix it.

Every good CMS allows a developer to design the front-end.

Which CMSes have you used?

Well, I have Joomla, WP and Drupal. Of them, I’ve only dived into Joomla. I’ve investigated the other two, to some extent.

What it seems I can’t do is something like I’ve done here:

As I’ve said, though, I suppose they have their place.

Hahaha, admittedly that’s true.

On the page you just posted here in the flash gallery under “press.html” every big pic has got the following heading: “Big title will go here…”, you might find that a bit embarrassing… :slight_smile:

no Riddle

That all used to be AJAX fed. Company/URI doesn’t exist anymore and it would break the widget. I just went and reverted it to the default.

Thanks for the heads up, though.