by fffunction

18 Jul 2014

What you see is all you get

I am relatively new to front end development and with every task I take on I am learning something new. I am experiencing a series of eureka moments which are intoxicating and motivating in equal measure. Having come from an almost exclusively print design background, when crossing the road to digital I was faced with a choice. Namely, to code or not to code.

There are a number of wysiwyg (What you see is what you get) website editors now on the market from Adobe Muse to Macaw and as some one who’s primary tool has been InDesign for many years now, wysiwyg initially seemed like a tempting path. I mean what’s better than designing a site as if it is a print document and getting an application to translate it into browser ready code? Why would anyone risk getting their hands dirty by going under the hood?

The primary reason I chose to pay the iron price and learn how this stuff actually fits together, is that I don’t simply want to make something that (magically) works, I want to understand why and how it does what it does, in as much detail as possible.

There is an intellectual satisfaction in learning how the web languages work. By teaching myself to think in a systematic and logical way about how the code is semantically structured, I am not just making a website. I am improving my thinking and my approach to the work I do. Learning new ways to think about solving problems rather than treading old ground.

The benefits are tangible too, by getting knee deep in the code I am learning when and how to use templating logic to keep the content and the structure elegantly separate. I am learning about accessibility and how to ensure the content is easily reached by those who need to find it. I am learning how to design systems of information that first and foremost serve the user in the best way possible. What you see is not all that you get but merely the tip of the iceberg.

I am not saying that wysiwyg editing is entirely without merit. I can see myself finding Adobe Muse or Macaw very useful for rapid prototyping or proof of concept work. Macaw also does a much better job of showing you what it is doing under the hood as you edit and I can see it being a useful gateway into learning the structure and logic of code. However I have made a personal choice to speak web languages whenever I can and it is my intention to keep speaking them until I have achieved a high level of fluency, without the need for an interpreter.

Post by Martin Coote of @fffunction. Martin tweets from @martincoote.

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