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Developing a Website

I am a designer and not a developer, but every now and then I like to tinker with code — you know, just to prove that I made the right career choice. I started out as a computer science major after all. Sometimes when I get a side job to design a website, I end up building it myself. Primarily I do it to save money, but I also think it’ll be fun and easy. I usually curse myself for it later.

About a year ago at my full-time job, I volunteered to work on the website for an organization we’re supporting through our corporate philanthropy program. We threw up something quick last May using a WordPress template, and since October of last year have been working on a legitimate redesign.

I drew the wireframes while Liya, another designer on my team, did the visual design. That should have been enough, but no, I offered to put the site together in my spare time. I was feeling charitable.

At first I pieced it together pretty quickly. Liya was surprised by my speed and I played it off like it was nothing — yeah, HTML and CSS are easy. But while it only took a few hours to get 70% of it done, it’s taken four weekends to get the last 30% right. And I still don’t even think I’m there.

The real time-suck was the work involved in making the website cross-browser compatible. Because the site is for an organization that supports orphans of the Rwandan genocide, I wanted to ensure that it could be accessed on machines that aren’t exactly modern. Anyone who has done this work knows what a pain in the ass it is, and I’m reminded now of why I gave up CS all those years ago: hours of mindlessly hunting for a semi-colon out of place. In this case, it was a couple extra pixels of padding between divs that made one of them drop half-way down the page. The newer browsers accommodated for it, but the site was a mess in IE6 and it had to be fixed…I had to fix it.

Last night after much trial and error and some help from a few Twitter friends, I finally got it to work. As I put my head down on the pillow, feeling oddly satisfied and pleased with myself, yet simultaneously annoyed about having wasted all that time, I had a revelation. I jumped out of bed and drew it on a post-it note. And now I share it with you.

Have other people experienced this? Does it get easier after your hundredth website or should I just plan to send it out from now on?

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  • http://www.firejoemorgan.com Dave

    I find that’s true of software in general, not just websites. In fact, it’s true of tasks in life that are based on a set of requirements that has general and specific items. It’s just a case of diminishing returns. It’s true of cleaning a room. It’s true of most writing. Anything where you can have a baseline result and tweak it. The tweaks can take a lot of time without making a huge difference.

    Interestingly, the simpler the end result is, the straighter that line becomes. It’s also basically the principle behind agile programming. Do a cycle to set the basics, do a cycle to make the next lower level set of changes. In other words, you essentially end up dividing the big curved line into smaller and smaller straight lines with smaller and smaller slope like some sort of calculus problem.