How to be a Web Designer (Part 1)

Web Designer vs. Web Developer

First, let’s start by defining what a web designer is. “Web designer” has the word “designer” in it, so it implies having artistic ability and emphasizes artistic tasks (e.g. coming up with creative layout, knowing about color, typography, capturing your audience, and being familiar with industry-standard software). Attach the word “web” before it, and it implies what I’ve just defined with an additional ability to know about the World Wide Web and doing things on the “web.” At the heart of a web designer, there is this definition.

There is another term that sometimes many non-tech people use, however. It is web developer. Like the term web designer, it’s got the word “web” so you have to know about the web (how it works, etc.). It also has the word “developer” in it, which comes from “software development.” Software development involves programming (a.k.a. “developing”) software, like making a Windows program that keeps track of your contact information, or developing a small program that plays audio / video. These programs, before the web became popular, used to be strictly made for operating systems, like Windows and Macs. As the web grew, they since have been developed for the Web (e.g. a forum, Google Spreadsheets, Google Maps; they are all example of web programs a.k.a “web applications”). Web developers usually tend to handle these and write the code behind the scenes to process data. They work together with web designers, who handle the overall look and feel of the pages – what the users see.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that sometimes the roles of the two may overlap, especially for consultants. If you work for yourself, you’ll sometimes want to handle an entire project by yourself. For example, you may have a client that asks you to build a web site. So you first design the pages. Then, the client asks you to implement a forum, a chatroom, a custom web application that keeps track of the sales of his company and an events calendar that has to be in sync with his PDA. These additional tasks cannot be designed but must be programmed. So at this point, you have the option of a) doing these tasks yourself; b) hiring a programmer (web developer); c) purchasing pre-made packages that you integrate or install yourself. The same goes for a web developer. The web developer might know how to implement these, but if the client asks to make the look-and-feel look vibrant, professional, and easy to use, and the web developer has no artistic talent, the web developer would have to hire a web designer.

Additionally, the titles of web designer and web developer can vary. I’ve seen and heard web designers / developers called different things. While I don’t particularly agree with some of these titles, these are titles that I’ve heard from experience and job hunting:

Web Designers Web Developers
Designer Developer
Graphic Designer Software Engineer
HTML Developer Programmer
Web Producer Internet Engineer
Interactive Designer Web Application Developer

Core Requirements

For a web developer, you have to have a software development background in order to build web applications, and have networking knowledge to understand the Internet. Companies tend to ask for a computer science or engineering degree from this individual. Also, a demonstration of previously created applications may be asked.

For a web designer, you have to have an art background in order to design pages that contain style, good aesthetics, be capturing, and create a look-and-feel that establishes or resonates the company’s brand. Companies tend to ask for an art-related degree from this individual. Also, a demonstration of a portfolio (from print and more importantly, online) may be asked.

Competitive Requirements

It’s chaos in the web community. Competition is brutal. Just having an art background, knowing some HTML, Dreamweaver and Photoshop, is not enough. After establishing the core requirements (like earning a degree), one goes to the next level to polish up these requirements that make you a true professional in the field. Depending on how many of these you master, it could directly impact how much money you make and which doors open for you in your path. These are the skills/knowledge/traits:

  1. Computer Basics
  2. Digital Media
  3. Project Management
  4. Information Architecture
  5. Usability
  6. Internet & Networking
  7. Programming
  8. Business
  9. News Active
  10. Determined Personality

You could probably make a career out of most of these, to show you how involved each could be. Let’s go into more detail for each one.

1. Computer Basics – The more you understand about your computer, the more productive you can be. It may take too much time trying to wait technical support to fix your computer if it’s a simple issue. Also, the more you learn about computers, especially if you play with a lot of software, the more you find out about features they have that could apply to web sites you design. You’re in an IT-related field, and therefore you should at least know the very basics of how a computer works. While you won’t be a network administrator or hardware specialist anytime soon, it is much faster when you help yourself with very basic tasks rather than always relying on outside support. Also, software that is common in most work places should be a given: Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in the case of presentations.

2. Digital Media – This should definitely be one of your strong points. By media, I mean both visual and audio. You should become very familiar with Photoshop. Depending if your role is also doing print work, you may need to know Illustrator or QuarkXpress, both industry-standard. Know also digital formats, screen colors, and typography. Animation or fancy functionality may sometimes be necessary, so Flash may be required on a project. Sometimes Flash animation may require sound, or you may even have to edit sound clips for a video being streamed via Flash, so you’ll have to learn an industry sound editing program like SoundForge. Editing a video might even be necessary, so a program like Premiere might be of use. And Of course, last but not least, web authoring applications, such as Dreamweaver and web imaging program and prototyping tool like Fireworks. To make great pages, you will need to understand the code that is needed behind them, and they are: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. (JavaScript is a programming language on its own. Web designers are usually not responsible to have this mastered – just knowing the basics and learn to use pre-made scripts.)

3. Project Management – Your boss or a client asks you, “How long is it going to take?” What do you say? How much money are you going to invest yourself? What’s your budget? Will you have to hire additional support to make the site? How will you handle quality assurance? How many progress meetings are necessary and when will they be? What are the deliverables when the project is complete?

There are whole books written on this topic itself, and as you can see, it is essential. Not establishing a project plan (even a simple one) is one of the reasons many projects miss deadlines, are delivered with poor quality, go over budget, or even fail.

4. Information Architecture – Your boss or a client asks you, “I want to make a site about my stamp collection. I have 10,000 stamps of various types and a description for each. How do I make this site?” It is your responsibility to think about all this information and organize it in a way that is easily presentable. How could you categorize these? By year? By genre? By value? There’s a great depth of information variables to consider and it’s your job to structure them. Once this structure is complete, only then can you build a great site.

5. Usability – Once the information architecture has been established for the stamp collection web site mentioned in #4 above, you have to consider how the web site can be made so that it is easy to use. Should you use a navigation menu with sublinks? If so, will users bother clicking on the links? Will they find it confusing? The site has to be easy and intuitive to use. The content users seek on the site should be easily accessible and easy on the eyes to read.

6. Internet & Networking – Being in the IT-field, it would be an embarrassment not to know how at least the basics of the Internet. To understand the Internet, it’s very essential to understand the basics of networking, e.g.: data transmission, protocols, servers (web, database), firewalls, online security, hacking, etc. – at least what they are. These all affect web sites.

7. Programming – Understand at least how programming can affect the pages you design. Know what languages are out there. You don’t necessary have to know how to program, as this is not your job. However, the more you understand it, the better you can work with web developers. Programming adds functionality to a site. For example, when you click on “purchase order” in a shopping cart site, someone programmed that page so that your credit card gets charged and it sends an email to the warehouse so your item can start the delivery process. There are hundreds of programming languages, but the most popular languages at this time for the web are as follows: PHP, ASP.NET, Java, ColdFusion, Perl, SQL.

8. Business – The more you know about business, the more your possibilities will grow. Understanding how the business functions, may give you a clearer idea on how to put together better pages in regards to functionality. Understanding the company’s finances may help you budget your project plan if you’re the project manager. Understanding company policies and dealing with lawyers will help put together better contracts between you and vendors you plan on hiring if your project is of larger scale.

9. News Active – If you’re always involved in the web community, then you’ll understand all the technological trends on the web. There’s always talk of web design methodologies and stories that come from other web designers that are always worth learning from. Staying active by receiving daily newsletters from various web design sites really keeps you sharp and on your toes. Subscribing to printed magazine like Practical Web Design and Computer Arts show you the latest trends, and the various examples of screenshots on its pages may lead to ideas in your own pages. RSS feeds, podcasts, Twitter – there are several ways to stay up to date.

10. Determined Personality – Companies always want to see a very determined individual. One of the differences between tech people and non-tech is in the confidence of learning something new on the computer. Because hardcore techs always use the Internet (are very familiar with Googling anything, and reading ebooks, blogs, forums, etc.) learning any task becomes way easier. Some people who do not have this mindset of always searching for information might be somewhat intimidated if they are asked to learn something new. The mindset of “I don’t care what it is, I can learn this, I will learn this, and I will master it no matter what” should apply for every project.

WordPress Tip: Allow comments on this post by default

Being tired of checking the “Allow comments on this post” checkbox every time I make a new post, I went into the database and changed the setting. By default, it’s set to “closed” meaning you have to check it all the time. See for yourself:

select option_name, option_value
from wp_options where option_name in ( 'default_comment_status' );

Change it to “open”:

update wp_options
set option_value='open'
where option_name in('default_comment_status');

Now the checkbox should always be checked.

Import MySQL Data into SQL Server

Today I needed to analyze some forum data from vBulletin running MySQL. The table on MySQL had 60,000 records. Because my playing field is SQL Server and not MySQL, and I needed to slice and dice the data, I needed a way to get the data onto SQL Server. Because of some security restrictions, I could not set up a linked server on SQL Server. I don’t have remote access to the Linux box either. I tried exporting from SQLYog, but CSV data could not be properly delimited and failed when I did a database import via the SSIS import wizard (the table has a lot of flexability to use any character and is often abused by spammers). What did I do?

I only had 4 columns to import for the table. So I ran a select statement returning one column ordered by the id. Then I copied and pasted into an Excel spreadsheet. I did this for all four rows. Because Excel doesn’t use delimiters, but rather cells to separate, I didn’t have to worry about data breaking. Then after that, I did an import via the SSIS import wizard. Ta-da, I can now slice and dice my data. There are probably more efficient ways to do this, but I needed a quick solution and this did it.

Outlook Emails/Contacts in “To” Dropdown

Needed to backup my contacts in Outlook, but it would not save the emails in the email “To” dropdown field, when autocomplete triggers. This is because it’s stored in Outlook’s NK2 cache file. This file is not in readable form, but you if you have the patience, you can view the emails if you don’t mind looking through funky ASCII characters of binary data. In the process of looking for and trying various tools, I realized that not all tools were able to extract all contacts. Keep this in mind.

There’s a few tools out there that you can use to extract a list of emails saved in the NK2 file. Here they are.

Ingressor – is the best program, I was able to extract the most amount of emails/contacts, but you have to pay for it. I think it extracts everything, but you can’t save anything or copy anything. Use OCR software?

Debunk2– It’s free, but it missed 1 (could possibly miss more on different NK2 files) contact.– It’s free, but it missed 2 contacts, and it doesn’t show the names accurately, like Debung2 and Ingressor.

Automate FTP Uploads

I thought this might be useful for those who are constantly uploading the same files. Whether you need to deploy a project live or constantly upload the same group of files, you can do this by creating a batch file in Windows using ftp.exe.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with FTP.exe, it’s just a command console way to upload/download files from an FTP server. You can run this program and start typing away…. OR, you can load a text file filled with FTP commands in FTP.exe. For example, the following are commands in a file called

send index.htm
send frame.htm
send car.jpg

The above should be straightforward. The “open” command is used to connect to the FTP server. The “username” should be your usename and “password” should be your actual password. “binary” is how your data should be handled on transfer – if it’s not text, it’s binary data, and should be “binary.” “hash” makes the console display pound signs (#) to serve as a progress bar as it’s uploading to the server. The “send” commands are used to upload the files. “bye” is exits the FTP session.

That was just a FTP script session file. You now need to call that file from FTP.exe on WindowsXP. You do that as follows:


You can include that call in a file called “upload.bat” – To learn more about FTP scripting and how to merge the two files into just one batch file, you can check out this site. Also, there’s more information about this found here:

Unlock System Files

Ever had such an annoying message given by Windows?

It has many other flavors:

Cannot delete file: Access is denied
There has been a sharing violation.
The source or destination file may be in use.
The file is in use by another program or user.
Make sure the disk is not full or write-protected and that the file is not currently in use.

Now you have an option to unlock it using Unlocker. Now, sometimes it’s theoretically impossible to unlock all files, especially some DLLs that are burned into Windows, but for most applications that you run that are not part of Windows, you either have the choice of unlock, rename, and move. This program is free too and it tries to do it without actually killing processes.

Here are some reviews for Unlocker.

Job Titles for I.T. Occupations

Ever want to make up a title for yourself but just couldn’t find the right one? Here’s a listing of sample job titles grouped in four types of I.T. concentrations:

  • Network Systems
  • Information Support and Services
  • Interactive Media
  • Programming and Software Development

Download this chart to see where you fit in. This chart is developed by the Education Development Center.

Also, here’s a chart from Info~Tech. This is a listing of job titles along with its description to clarify exactly what the heck the title is. Check it out.

Why Cell Phones are Annoying

Taking the train every morning and night, I gotta deal with loud conversations and pain in the butt ringtones constantly. I couldn’t help googling why we all find cell-talk annoying. Here’s a piece by Jakob Nielsen, the usability guru:


Bystanders rated mobile-phone conversations as dramatically more noticeable, intrusive, and annoying than conversations conducted face-to-face. While volume was an issue, hearing only half a discussion also seemed to up the irritation factor….

Read the entire piece, “Why Mobile Phones are Annoying.”

Benefits of Video Games

Ever hear people say games are a complete waste of time? Today I heard two folks at a store talking about how better time could be spent doing better things. Yeah, like what? If people find it fun, why not let them? The quality of time spent is judged by the person. Some people enjoy reading a book, or seeing a play, or hanging out with friends at a bar – some people would prefer spending time playing World of Warcraft or a game of Half-Life 2. As long as you’re not addicted, it’s perfectly fine. You hanging out at a bar, reading a book, or seeing a play does nothing for society anyways – it only benefits you – so it doesn’t matter, now does it?

Having said that, are there benefits to just playing games? Of course! The more repetition you go through at something, the more fluent you become at it, and the more ways you think of doing it efficiently. That’s natural in video games. Let’s look at FPS (First Person Shooter) games for example. In these games, you must navigate through a 3D realm that’s usually fast paced while you have a million things shooting at you. You must solve puzzles and have a quick reaction time when someone attacks you and be able to predict enemy movement. Thus this increases visual reaction time and makes you predict movement just a little better. There has been several articles written about this. Here are some:

Study: Action-based video games improve a person’s visual perception

Video Games Improve Vision

Video-Game Killing Builds Visual Skills, Researchers Report

Video Games – Medical article from 7 News Online

Improved visual perception has been the most discussed topic regarding video games. Video games do help though. As a programmer, I think it’s been able to help my eyes trace error in code faster and easier. I feel like I can parse characters and strings easily in my head by looking at text quickly. This comes, I think, from playing and beating pretty much every NES and SNES game out there. Also, with many of these games, you must use hotkeys very well. Thus, this has made me use hotkeys in Windows/Linux and has made me work faster with the keyboard – significantly that I often don’t use the mouse as others do – unless of course I have to use a graphics program like Photoshop. A combination of quick typing and quick movement of the eyes does wonders when working at the computer.

On the other side of the spectrum, besides FPS games like Counterstrike and Half-Life, come RPG games like World of Warcraft or Everquest. While not as fast paced as FPS, these games require a different form of mental ability. You need insight, logic, and strategy when going into battle. Unlike a game like Half-Life, where you must constantly be paranoid about getting a rocket up the ass out of nowhere – with an RPG game you must do quests that require you to fight with strategy. You must have the right weapons and armor. However, to get the weapon you want, you might have to budget your economy in the game in order to buy the item. You might even have to trade with another player, thus use clever communication to haggle with another player to get what you want. For armor, you might have to build your own. You might have to know some game alchemy to ultimately produce what you want. Also, to fight high level monsters, you might need the help of others, so you learn how to work in teams. All these principles (teamwork, managing your economy, logic and strategy) are actual principles that you can apply in your life – of course, in the game it’s all fantasy, but the reasoning, and the level of brain stimulation that goes on when you think about all this, is the same as in real life.

I know that because of RPG games, I got into classical music. RPG games have some great classical songs and have encouraged me to write some pieces myself. Also, not to mention complicated storylines in games- which I think make players think more creatively.

Of course, not everything is beneficial in gaming. The number one drawback is addiction. You’re addicted to anything when it starts impacting your life. If you, someone or something, is being affected in a negative way because of your gameplay, that is addiction. If you start arriving late at work. If you feel tired at work. If your brain is constantly thinking about the game when you’re not playing and that is affecting your current task – you’re addicted. The issue of addiction can be debated endlessly, but for the most part, if whatever you do (whether is playing a game, smoking, drinking, playing the slot machine) is affecting your health, or someone or something else in a negative way – that’s an addiction.

It’s all about priorities really. If you think having more fun in a day (regardless of what you consider to be fun) is more important than being productive, then mind you, go right at it. However, I think before having fun, it’s always more important to take care of your necessities first, like your family, friends, career and your health. Also, trying to do something good for society once in a while, doesn’t hurt. Those should be top priorities before having fun by playing a video game.

Here’s some other interesting articles:

Get Out! Popular Dance Video Game Helps Kids with ADHD

Games that make leaders: top researchers on the rise of play in business and education

Does Gaming Reduce Productivity?

Video Games Improve Visual Attention

Will New Video Games Improve Productivity or Increase Risks?