Why choose learning it the hard way?

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 early days of web design.

I’ll tell you something. Clients who are looking for a professional web designer, expect you to have more up your sleeve, than just some basic WP knowledge. They want you to exceed the moderate template based web design. Most likely, they have special requests, which require profound knowledge of programming. They expect you to be able to turn their idea into reality, without any technical barriers. In fact, I rarely talk about the technical parts. It’s boring and the client assumes that I’m well acquainted with it.

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 it, you will need much greater knowledge, in order to create tailor-made web sites. To stand out of the crowd. To be ahead of the competition.

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 the ground up.

The benefits of mastering the art of web design.

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 – limited by the boundaries of a theme based CMS.

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. 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?” The client pays you good money so he expects you to have the knowledge to solve these little problems. If you can deal with all these technical issues he’ll recommend you to others.

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 grew from a blog tool to a full option CMS but was never intended for that task.

You have the security in your hands

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 even worse than a widespread open source version.

You can optimize performance and speed

Most 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, it is a time-consuming task, you don’t get results in five minutes. It takes days, maybe weeks. 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 SEO practice too.

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.

Then 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.

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