I have been doing web design in some form or another for a really freaking long time. I’m obviously not that good, or I’d be doing it professionally and making bank. Still, I know my way around most things. Like the theme on this site. If when you’re reading this, the theme is still red with the Tree of Life showing up, then I made that from scratch using a tutorial about making WordPress themes. That particular theme is called Geburah, ’cause it’s red. I also made the previous theme that adorned this website, which was called Orange Halftone for obvious reasons.
I think I started messing around with web stuff when I was about ten. My father had America Online, and they had their webpage builder, which I used to death. I never had any major content to put on the pages, but I made them nonetheless. I also knew nothing about graphics, so I remember using the default Microsoft clouds background on the pages. It was stupid but fun, and I wasted hours doing it. The thing you have to remember is that, at that point in time (around 1996) most websites looked pretty pathetic like that, so if in fact my pages had been graced with content, people probably would have visited them
When I got a little older, I was thrown into my school’s program for gifted kids. It was basically a weekly one-day respite from coursework and such, as we had no grades in the gifted program and basically did whatever we wanted all the time. I distinctly remember spending an entire Thursday playing Oregon Trail, for example. At some point, though, we were told to make websites. Not to put on the web, mind you, but websites nonetheless. We were given a WYSIWYG converter to use for the task. I remember everyone being really impressed because I managed to pull coordinated graphics from the web and use those for a semi-professional (at the time) look.
Thus began my history of using other people’s work. At around 7th grade I began mining the web for graphics to use in sites, and there were many places that would happily oblige me. Here I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Moyra’s Web Jewels. Nobody knew much about her, but Moyra made stunning (for the time) web graphics that were available as linkware. Her site was quite mysterious, as there was so little information about her on the web, which is strange for a designer. She might have been German; that’s all we knew for sure. But, anyways. I used her layouts extensively in several projects.
I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to be like Moyra. Actually doing it was more difficult, and it was ultimately a goal I did not achieve at all. I remember, though, how happy I was when I finally managed to get Paint Shop Pro (stolen, of course) working on my dad’s computer. I couldn’t do much with it at first, but soon I had Bladepro running on it and a dozen other plugins, too, and was making pretty hideous monstrosities with it.
I started finding websites that needed help and offering to redesign them. The first of these was an X-files fansite called Skipper’s Revenge, that focused on Scully and Krycek. I met some really weird people through that site, but I eventually moved on to a His Dark Materials fansite, which the owner actually gave to me.
I was really interested in an online group of designers and webmasters called the Digital Divas. Moyra was a member at one point, and they showcased good sites, sites with lots of content. I remember that I was somewhat devastated when one of them committed suicide. The Digital Divas were all female, and mostly graphics sites, pretenders to Moyra’s throne or something. I aspired to be one of theme, another dream I did not fulfill, because they went under not long after I started getting good.
Some of the Digital Divas had blogs. Blogging was a pretty new invention at the time, and fairly rare. I knew immediately that I wanted a blog. Luckily, one of the Diva people made a blogging tutorial, and I dutifully registered yet another Geocities account to hold the thing. In those days, Blogger was the only game in town, so I used that. My first efforts were mixed, mainly because I didn’t know what I was supposed to talk about, and wanted every post to be perfect. Over the next few months, though, I began to learn CSS, which was the new thing in town, and growing fairly popular. As I moved from Geocities to a series of free hosts, I gradually started making my own layouts. They were crappy, but I did them.
It was around that time that the teenage website craze really got going. Every kid worth their salt had a website, and most of them were pretty good, design-wise. I moved from Blogger to Greymatter, and then to MovableType. The idea of using a layout someone else had made became inconceivable, so I spent many hours working on mine. This was before CSS 3, so a lot of things still weren’t possible, but I was still just happy I could make links that changed color when you rolled over them.
Eventually, WordPress became the default blogging platform. I’m not sure how exactly this happened, but it did, in about 2004. WordPress was different than the earlier blogging platforms in that it had tons of pre-made layouts, or themes, to use. Of course, I didn’t use them, not really. Okay, maybe I sort of did. My big thing was to take the default theme and screw with it until I got it looking the way I wanted.
Since then, lots of things have improved in the area of web design, and I like to think I have improved, too. I made the red an black layout I mentioned earlier by following a tutorial to make WordPress themes. It’s actually a lot easier to start from scratch than to tweak someone else’s work, I’m finding.