Confessions of a Designer Developer

11-03-13 Philip Zastrow

Coming from a design background can be a great asset to a developer, but the journey to build developer chops isn't easy. Philip confesses some bad practices, misconceptions, and failures from his journey.

I’m a designer by trade. As a web developer, this isn’t anything unusual. Many developers I have known never formally trained for this type of job. They studied to be musicians, sociologists, biologists, as well as fellow graphic designers.

There was a point in time when some of these folks became intrigued by the whole Internet thing and wondered how it worked. Others just needed a job, and they were able to stitch lines of HTML together to make a buck. A few were just really good at customizing MySpace pages.

My road to web development ran parallel with my design education. Largely, I’m self-taught. Something I know many others can say. With self-education comes the teaching tools of bad practices, misconceptions, and failures, which litter the byways I’ve traversed. Thankfully, I’ve learned from these and have hopefully bettered my abilities.

Today, I confess to you some of my own bad practices, misconceptions, and failures. These span the gamut of my career from my young bullheaded Flash days to my current struggles as a Git novice.

Confession One: WYSIWYG is the primary way to make a website

I started learning how to make websites as a high school sophomore in the late 90s. I was already experimenting with Photoshop 5.5, following years of using Corel Draw. GUI was my understanding of creating with a computer. When I was given a copy of Microsoft FrontPage, HTML was far from my mind. Subsequently, I started using Adobe ImageReady to create HTML pages by using the Export to Web feature. I was more impressed that I could make graphics come to life in a browser and less concerned with the underlying code.

Thankfully, I found some mentors who encouraged me to understand HTML. As I learned how to write clean HTML, I realized the markup created by my previous WYSIWYG methods was a convoluted mess. Even then, I still relied on the WYSIWYG features found in Macromedia Dreamweaver. I soon discovered that web browsers displayed HTML pages quite differently than the Dreamweaver preview. At that point, I stopped using WYSIWYG web editors and took control of the quality of my HTML.

Confession Two: Cas–what stylesheets?

I didn’t use CSS until probably 2006 or 2007. At least not with any regularity or comprehension. Up until that point, I only ever used HTML to create websites, occasionally utilizing a style attribute. I made my site designs using tags,