How well do you keep up with the latest and greatest technologies? Do you use them in practice as soon as possible? Learn them for when the time is right? Wait until everyone says they’re ok to use?
Before I was in business as a web designer I was learning how to become one. After a full day of work I’d read through various books on design and development or search out tutorials online. I even earned web design and c++ certificates through the University of Colorado.
At the time most sites online were developed with a table-based layout and it was not uncommon for sites to be built using framesets as well. In fact the certificate required one (maybe two?) classes working with frames.
The first client site I ever built involved myself and my then partner going back and forth inside Dreamweaver and Photoshop. I’d add some custom code where necessary, but we mainly let the tools spit out the code.
It took longer to build than necessary, in part due to our inexperience, though more due to following an approach that was about to fall out of practice.
Once the site was finished I thought to myself there had to be a better way and within a few days I realized the better way was hand coding sites using a combination of (x)html and css along with a bit of client and server side scripting.
In between that first site and our next one I poured over a few books on css, most notably Eric Meyer on CSS. I read the book, typed in every line of code manipulated that code, and generally did everything I could to make that code my own.
With each new site I made sure to try and learn at least one new technique. I’d spend hours late at night figuring out how to make something work and then understanding why it worked. I learned how different code worked across browsers and think I grew to be a very good css coder.
By no means was I the foremost authority, but looking around at most sites at the time, I think I could work with css 2.1 as well as anyone. I had pushed myself toward the cutting edge.
Letting Things Slide
Then a funny thing happened. By necessity I needed to refine my practices to better serve my freelance business. By this time I was going it alone and didn’t have the luxury of staying up all night researching how to get one small thing to work.
I needed to get projects done quickly to serve clients and my own business and continued to use the same techniques that I knew would work.
About a year or so ago I started realizing another change happening in web development. Technologies like html5 and css3 had matured enough and had gained enough support to be used on live sites.
Terms like progressive enhancement and responsive design were being tossed about in design and development circles as a new approach to building sites.
I’d read or scan through articles on all of them, often bookmarking pages and thinking I’ll get around to really learning this when I have more time or when browser support is completely there.
Ultimately I was pushing myself away from the cutting edge and toward the late adopters without even realizing it. I still thought of myself as a very good coder when it finally dawned on me that those thoughts were based on a reputation and not the current situation.
In fairness to me this slide wasn’t me being lazy. Out of necessity I was learning how to better run and market a business. I was learning more about graphic design. And I added a forum that I needed to manage.
I’ve been trying to get better at many things and given where I was as a coder at the time it was easy to feel like I could ignore it for a bit.
Earlier this year I began working on a redesign of this site. January began the planning phase. I rethought business goals, planned a new direction, and architected the information structure for a new site.
February saw a surge in client activity forcing the redesign to the back burner for a time, though I did manage to generate ideas, sketches, and wireframes.
When I was finally able to devote more time to it again I realized how many of the things I wanted to do were going to require me to learn many of the things I’d been neglecting the last couple of years.
It’s easy to decide your site must work well across a variety of devices and screen resolutions and quite another to develop a site that actually does those things. It’s easy to think this html5 stuff doesn’t look to hard and another to use html5 elements well.
Back in March I came across a post by Tyler Tevooren on Problogger, The Better Blogging Formula: Think, Do, Write, which boiled down is about writing what you know.
In other words your writing will improve when you have a deeper understanding of your subject. If you don’t have that understanding then acquire it and write about it. Put things into practice and then tell others about them. I took Tyler’s post as a challenge.
A number of posts here the last few months are my attempt to respond to that challenge. I ran a series of posts on how to develop different css layouts mostly in an effort to remind myself how and to reacquire some lost knowledge.
When I began experimenting with html5 and responsive design you saw posts here about those very subjects. Lately this blog has been a strong reflection of the things I’m learning and relearning. It’s my way of multi-tasking; putting one task to multiple purposes.
I hadn’t realized when I first started, but this redesign is leading me to completely rethink how I build websites and the process I used to develop them. There is a change happening in web design and I’m doing my best to prepare for that change.
Why am I telling you all of this now? A few reasons.
First, simply to share something of my story. We’re all on our own journey, which isn’t always visible to others. I hope giving you a glimpse into my journey helps you with yours in some way.
I also wanted to give you an idea of some of what’s coming. I don’t have specific posts written yet, but I’d like to take deeper looks at most of the following
- Progressive enhancement
- Mobile first philosophy
- More html5 exploration
- More responsive design exploration
- ARIA and other accessibility issues
Expect several css3 related posts in the coming weeks and I’ll mix in some of the other topics in between.
Most importantly I don’t want you to do what I did and let your skills lag while others in the industry move forward. I’m sharing my story as an example of what not to do.
I don’t think most of us need to be on the bleeding edge, though I do think it’s good to be early adopters where web development technologies are concerned and to learn new things to prepare you for the future.
Back when I started learning to build websites a change was happening and I was fortunate enough to see that change and prepare for its arrival.
A similar change is happening today. The way you build a website a year or two from now probably won’t be the way you build one today, unless you don’t mind getting left behind.
It won’t be long before most sites you develop will need to respond and adapt to different devices. The best sites will build from an html5 structure, build for the minimal first and progressively enhance for the more capable.
The designers of those sites will then watch as the rest of the industry catches up and clients demand sites be built with these new technologies.
I’m probably preaching to choir with many of you, but I suspect many more out there have been doing what I have these last few years and putting off the learning until there was more time, more support, more demand.
It’s time to stop waiting though. It’s time to start doing.