I received my very first computer in 1998 at the age of 15. When I got bored of playing the MechWarrior and Pitfall games that came with it, I began scouring the web to learn how I could create my own website.
I struggled, a lot. I found basic how-to guides online, but I often had questions that went unanswered. I didn’t have any friends who I could ask for advice, and back then there were no classes in school that taught web design, so I couldn’t ask my teachers. I didn’t understand the concept of mailing lists. I didn’t know how IRC worked, but that didn’t matter since I didn’t know there were chat rooms out there, anyway.
There was definitely one good thing, though, about learning on a younger web. When I finally did figure it out, I was surprised at how easy it actually was. Armed with a text editor, all I really needed to learn was some basic HTML.
The learning curve was nowhere near as steep as it is today. Think about how simple browser testing was. Slapping a “Best Viewed In X” button on a splash page pretty much meant that, hey, you weren’t responsible if the site looked bad for another user. And let’s face it—expectations for design on the web were pretty rock-bottom back then. As long as your site had a few GIFs and a Webring graphic, you were pretty much good to go.
Fast-forward fifteen years. I’ve often thought about how it must feel to be a complete newbie these days who’d like to get started in web design and make really cool stuff from scratch. Today’s bar is set much, much higher.
Recently, a friend of mine decided that he wanted to learn how to make his own website. He’d heard of basic things like HTML and CSS, but a little bit of digging unearthed a whole other pile of terms he didn’t understand—wireframing, content management systems, frameworks, responsive design—the list went on. He was overwhelmed, and I certainly couldn’t blame him—even seasoned pros can’t possibly stay on top of every new thing.
As overwhelming as the web has become today, though, we’re lucky to have more resources than ever, and more importantly, we have a much stronger community. My friend was able to ask numerous people for opinions and advice, pick up a magazine, choose from a wealth of easy-to-read books, and try some basic online training courses. With some helpful guidance, he was able to get his own site up and running and learned a lot in the process.
I certainly hope that web design doesn’t become so complicated that it will discourage new talent from getting involved. Experienced designers should make the time and effort to help each other and pass their skills along to the next generation so that ten years from now, the web will be even better than we can dream of.