Web Design

Being an HTMLer is no longer the highly specialised skill it once was
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The Independent Online

When I got my first full-time job in the Internet business back in1996, my title was "Web Designer". That job title meant I coveredjust about every role on a website project.

When I got my first full-time job in the Internet business back in1996, my title was "Web Designer". That job title meant I coveredjust about every role on a website project.

I talked to the client aboutwhat the site was being developed for; created flow charts and outlines;collected or created content as needed; designed the user interface and allof the graphics; built the interface in HTML; built out all of the pagesfor the entire site; tested it and got feedback from the client; maderevisions; and then, finally, deployed the site on to the Web.

I did everything but the back-end engineering stuff like CGI and PERL.For the smaller sites I was creating at the time, this was no problem. Icould handle the amount of work that this required, and was often working onseveral projects at the same time.

But times have changed andlarge-scale websites require a team of experts in various fields to producethem on time and on budget. These Web design teams need informationarchitects (IA) to help identify the site's audience, purpose andcontent as well as to create the structure and user interface. They need artdirectors to worry about how the site looks and corporate branding issues,and to work with the IA on creating an attractive and usable interface. Theyneed programmers to deal with back-end software, database management andservers. They also need "HTMLers" to take the work of the others andintegrate this into the finished website.

HTMLers need to know how to useHTML and JavaScript, of course, but they must also be able to use graphicprograms to create the site's widgets (all of the graphics used to makethe interface). In addition, many HTMLers are adept at using DynamicHTML (DHTML) in all of its various forms, Cascading Style Sheets(CSS), PERL, Director and Flash. They should be able to wieldthese tools with particular artistry and create sites that not only look good anddownload quickly but also work consistently across the plethora of browsers onthe market. This is not an easy task.

To make matters worse, thetechnology used to create the Web is constantly shifting and evolving. Webdesign teams have to stay on top of what is possible on the Web, but newtechnologies seem to sprout up every day, and the old ones are always beingupdated.

And then there are the browsers. What works one way inInternet Explorer 4 may not work the same way in Internet Explorer 5, muchless in Navigator 4. A good HTMLer has constantly to research and learn allof the minutia of browsers and other technologies to keep the team ahead of thetechnology curve.

However, despite all of this, the days of puttingHTML and JavaScript on your CV and expecting to get a high-paying job at ahot Internet firm are numbered.

When the Web first became a crucial mediumfor businesses, knowledge of HTML was in short supply because few peopleunderstood it. Back in the days when I called myself a Web designer, Iused to joke that if our clients ever figured out how easy it was to learn HTMLwe would all be out of a job. Well, apparently they did.

Now itseems as if anyone who has taken a class at ZDU, read HTML for Dummies,and knows how to double click on the icon for FrontPage can call themselves anHTMLer. I have nothing against this, in fact, part of the reason Iwrite this column and my books is to help people, regardless of theirbackground, learn how to create Web pages. Yet being an HTMLer is nolonger the highly specialised skill it once was. Just as word processorsallow anyone to publish printed material, HTML allows anyone to publishelectronic material. It still takes skill to create really tight,professional Web pages because of the issues that I mentioned above, andthese issues will not disappear overnight.

However, things are changingon the Web. HTML editors such as Dreamweaver and Cyberstudio allow IAs andart directors to render their own designs. Increasingly sophisticatedstandards such as CSS remove the need for relying on clunky and unpredictabletable layout. And finally, technologies that allow sites to bedynamically created are removing the burden of having to code each page byhand.

So where does this leave HTMLers? It's not as if the positionwill vanish altogether, but as more sites need maintenance rather thancreation, HTMLers may find that they are increasingly called on simply tochurn out basic HTML. The good news is that there are several avenues open toHTMLers who start looking to the future.

Many HTMLers are naturally suitedto become IAs or programmers. However, a more intriguing option is thatadvanced HTMLers might become site managers; basically a Web-centricproject manager. This position would allow them to oversee and direct thevarious aspects of the project and balance the needs of usability, aestheticsand code within the site. Since HTMLers are already called on to deploy avariety of different skills, who better to understand the problems ofbringing a website together?

Jason Cranford Teague is theauthor of DHTML for the World Wide Web. You can find an archive of thiscolumn at WebbedEnvironments.

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