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Myths About "the Web," and How to Get on It

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Myths About "the Web," and How to Get on It

By Sandee Cohen

Sandee Cohen Tell me what's wrong with the following: A fellow with a business goes to a designer, or an ad agency, or someone who does promotion and says, "Please create a print job for me." That's all he says.

What's wrong with that? Well, you do not create a "print job." You create a print ad, or an annual report, or a flyer, or a book, or one of hundreds of different kinds of print materials. A comic book is a print job. So is a detergent box. And so is a business card. But they all involve totally different design principles, printing techniques, and cost considerations. There are loads of different types of print jobs. There isn't anything called "the Print."

So why then are people talking about doing stuff for "the Web"? It doesn't make sense. There are Web sites that act as corporate directories, and others that function as direct-mail catalogs. Still others feature games. Each type of site has its own characteristics. The mere fact that they are all viewed through the same medium doesn't mean they are the same.

Getting on the Web

How many of you have worked on Web projects? A lot of you, I'd guess. Today, there are two types of designers: Those who are working on the Web, and those who will be. Until very recently, I was in the second group. But I've taken the plunge and am now on the Web.

If you are just getting your feet wet on the Web, there are a few things you should know. First, there's the question of software. The old timers on the Web (those people who have been designing Web pages for over a year) will tell you that all you need to know is HTML, and you can create an entire Web site with SimpleText or BBEdit, shareware like GIF Builder, and maybe a few other shareware tools.

Yes, it's possible, but it reminds me of the people who used to code PostScript by hand. I remember coding PostScript into Word documents to create text on an angle. But I quickly threw all that aside when QuarkXPress let me rotate text without having to write a line of code.

So what tools do I suggest you use to build your own Web site?

  • If you want to create Web pages, you don't need to compose the HTML code. In the past few years, some excellent Web layout programs have appeared that write the code for you. I started with Adobe PageMill, but I expect to switch to Macromedia's Dreamweaver shortly because I find PageMill very limited - I'm already discovering things it cannot do.

  • Next, you'll need a program for creating graphics. You might want to convert scans into GIF files, or design little buttons that people press to go from one page to another. You might also want to create the simple animations that you've seen on other Web pages. I've found that Macromedia's Fireworks does everything I need. I have come to really appreciate Fireworks for the power of its JavaScript rollovers (graphics that change when you move your mouse over them) and mixed-graphic slices (graphics you can split into GIF and JPEG portions).

  • One of the biggest questions I had about the Web was, how do I get the files up onto the Web server? (The Web server is the computer that holds all the files for the Web site.) Would I mail my ISP a disk of the files? Would I call them up on the phone? I had absolutely no idea. Whenever people spoke about putting their files onto a server, they simply said they uploaded them.

  • Finally, someone explained it to me: You use an FTP program. An FTP (file transfer protocol) program is like a Web browser in that it makes a connection to a Web server. But unlike a browser, which can only receive information, an FTP program can send and receive stuff. I downloaded the shareware program Fetch ($25) as my FTP program. And without too much trouble, I was able to change my Web site and view those changes immediately.

  • If you are a real Web novice, you ought to buy The Non-Designer's Web Book by Robin Williams and John Tollett. I don't think I could have gotten on the Web without this book.

One last thing. I've been wondering what the fascination is about the Web. And I think I've partly figured it out. Unlike print, or television, or radio, or any other creative medium, the Web allows you to take a project from start to finish all by yourself. There is no waiting for the press operator to finish, or problems picking the paper. There are no compromises with the cameraman or director, and no problems with musicians. There is no need for an FCC license. As long as you pay your money, you can create an entire Web site that you can do with what you want. This is a great feeling of power. You can truly be master of your own domain.

© Sandee Cohen, 1998. Printed with permission by Peachpit Press.

Learn how to create graphic slices with Fireworks, in this excerpt from Sandee Cohen's Fireworks for Windows and Macintosh: Visual QuickStart Guide.

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