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Web design for the no-talent artist

Posted Monday, February 3, 2003

Not everyone can hit a 90 mile per hour fast ball 400 feet. That's why there are so few major league baseball players. Most everyone enjoyed art class while in school, but we also realized there was probably only one in each classroom who actually had a talent for drawing. So too with web design. We can't all be like the brilliant Willie Otto, but that shouldn't limit our ability to present a credible web offering that serves our purposes, and attracts attention. If your graphic art talent is limited to stick figures and cartoon landscapes, this article may just be for you.

Know Your Limitations

Honestly judge your own abilities. No one knows better than you the level of artistic talent you possess. Operate within the limits. If you can't draw two straight lines, stick to computer generated graphics. If you don't know the difference between a pixel and a palette, perhaps you're better off with text effects. If art is important to your web site's business, consider hiring a professional, or borrowing from the linkware sites, but always give credit where due.

Never Try to Baptize a Cat

. . . or develop your web graphics with Adobe Photoshop if you have only two hours of training. The result will be the same; lots of fur and blood. If you've never used any kind of graphics editor before, look for the easy to learn. Find software that has a number of creative built-in special effects, and makes your first-time images look better than average.

Familiarize yourself with dingbats, and no, We're not talking about Edith Bunker. Don't know what those are? They are little pieces of iconized art that a talented illustrator has developed and turned into a font. There are thousands of them available for download on the Internet for free or a small shareware fee. Type the letter A, and right before your eyes you have a beautiful coat of arms. They come in all shapes and sizes; look like buttons or arrows or caricatures; and make your job so much easier.

Plan Ahead

This is equally important for the most gifted professional or rank amateur. Even if you can't draw or render, you can visualize. Spend a lot of pre-computer time conjuring images in your head. Make feeble attempts to transform those images to paper so you'll remember what you had in mind. Visualization is important. If you aren't a whiz with HTML, consider a WYSIWYG layout editor. The editor will allow you to move your creation from your mind to the screen.

If you do know something about programming and the modern constructs of web page design, consider building your site with external, included files. One of the most important tenets of good web design is a consistent look and feel, especially the navigation. The navigation should look and operate the same on every page within your site. It gives your guests a feeling of comfort. If you construct your navigation within an external file that is included at page load, you can save yourself tons of repetitive effort. If you want to add a new section, instead of having to change hundreds of pages, you merely change the included file and you've added more functionality. There are probably other pieces of your site that will appear on every page. If so, put them in external files. You'll be glad you did. Read up on server side includes and database served pages too.

Photographs Are Our Friends

For the no-talent artist like me, photography becomes the ultimate substitute for computer generated art. Buy yourself a digital camera, or a scanner. If you need a graphic that looks like a pumpkin patch, take a picture of one. Want to create that perfect background scene to set the mood? No better realization than the actual thing. Props in photography can serve an equally compelling purpose as that omni-filtered vector you spent days developing. If you don't have the money or inclination to do digital photography yourself, there are plenty of stock catalogs available for a reasonable fee.

In summary, why make it harder on yourself than it needs to be? If you get intimidated by the marvelous professional artists out there, you'll never give yourself a chance. Many of the most enjoyable sites on the web were created by the other twenty people who sat in that art class admiring the work of Willie.