Having fallen behind: Web design/development

As I mentioned recently, and have been making some strides to correct, in early 2005 I effectively stopped blogging. In the last few months it has come more and more to my attention that, probably right around the same time, I stopped paying attention to what was going on in the world of web design / web development. It might have been a little earlier, perhaps by mid-2004 when I had to give up being a near-full-time creative, move to the city, and get a desk job, but certainly not much later. I remember when, in mid-2009, I redesigned modernevil.com (it still uses this design), I had only heard of -never used- CSS sprite-style mouseover/effects, and the bulk of the time/effort I put into implementing the site was spent learning the technique well enough to put together the buttons at the top. This is a technique which had begun to replace JS/DOM mouseover effects in mid-2004 and was standard practice (apparently) by 2006/2007, but it was new to me in 2009 – and it’s still foreign to me, since I only ever used it once; I don’t really understand my own code/design right now, when I look at it.

This, as you may imagine, is frustrating to me. Worse still is that, apparently, the professional web developers moved past that sort of thing, too, and have moved on to the next thing. And the next, and the next, in so many areas. I follow a few design-related blogs (via Google Reader / RSS, which many people have “moved on from”, as well) and when I’ve recently tried to read articles about things which interested me, I’ve found designers are assuming everyone understands and uses techniques I didn’t know existed or worked, such as gzipping most of the files which make up their website, or using (apparently linux-only?) tools to further (somehow losslessly) compress their JPEGs, to get everything just that little bit smaller. Part of what I was looking into was how to make my sites look better on my new iPad (love that retina display, don’t love half of everything on the web looking pixelated and weird) – how to serve even larger image files… and the articles all assumed a bunch of things I had never heard of.

Tonight I was reading further into some of the things I’ve missed out on, in some cases following concepts backward through three or four years of their history/evolution to be able to reach a point of grasping what I’ve missed. Responsive web design being the new/old/standard that the hip web designers swear by, but it being based on flexible grid design, which seems pretty straightforward to me except I apparently stopped paying attention to web design before fixed grid design took hold in everyone’s minds, so it’s like an iteration of an improvement of a design foundation I’d never learned or used. Or even just things like being aware Typekit exists, or that the whole “serving fonts to webpages” and “doing web typography” issues apparently got pretty-much solved. I’ve never used jQuery, wouldn’t know how (I guess it’s a JS library?), but am aware that “good” web developers are all trying to minimize their use of JS altogether and now joke amicably about the “old days” when they used jQuery, usually while explaining their new solution/standard in terms which only make sense to people who used jQuery daily for years – and often while offering “a workaround for older browsers, which is built on jQuery”.

I think I’m going to need more study. I don’t know CSS3, HTML5, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t know modern web best practices. More and more, I want to redesign modernevil.com, overhaul the back-end (which is currently based on WordPress, and will probably eventually be based on WordPress plus a custom plugin that … I guess I’ve got to figure out how to write), add some functionality to it… I don’t really want to be a web designer/developer. That might be the other part of why I dropped out of the field (though good money is on depression, oppression, and a general creative malaise), that I’d realized I oughtn’t waste my time doing work I didn’t want to be doing – except it’s like a lot of the rest of the work I do, these days, where I want the work to be done, and to be done to exacting specifications, and certainly can’t afford to pay an appropriately skilled web artist to do it for me, so I’d better put my nose to the grindstone and figure out how to make it work. If I want something done right (or really, done at all), I’ve generally got to do it myself.

So, added to the list of things to do, now, is re-immerse myself in modern web development and design. Learn what I need to know to catch up, and re-design all my sites to make use of my new knowledge – and then keep them up to date, rather than allowing them to fall further and further behind. For example: With a little dedication and application of effort (and of focus, which I’ve been having some difficulty maintaining, in my depression) I should soon also learn how to use Amazon’s cloud servers, and then use them to compete directly with Amazon, to sell my own eBooks and audiobooks directly. Possibly even before I learn enough to do a thorough front-end redesign.

Piling on the challenges

Well, I started. Interestingly, I started work on my new interactive comic project the same way I began work on The Second Untrue Trilogy, last year: in Vegas, while my wife was attending an educators conference… I had three days where, during conference hours (roughly 8-4), I had almost literally no distractions from my work and nothing else I needed to accomplish and virtually no internet access, and I started from a blank page on a project I expect to take a huge chunk of time and effort. The final aspect of The Second Untrue Trilogy’s work wasn’t completed until almost a full year after it began, with the posting of the final episode of the audio version of Book Six on Podiobooks.com, and as I expect to explain in this post, the project I’ve just begun will probably take me even longer.

By the end of the first day, I had basically nailed down the core idea and the story structure I wanted to use, as well as some detailed characters and settings, some of them well-visualized for the comic. I had ideas about exactly how the possibilities of multi-touch interaction combined with some limited animation and the infinite canvas could be used to more fully immerse the reader in the story while also being invaluable to conveying the inner lives of the characters as well as the exterior spaces which represent such a significant part of the protagonist’s journey. The next two days were spent filling in the story details, outlining, doing research on recent history and on interstellar physics, plus some preliminary sketching, and by the time Mandy was done with her final session I had a plan for every “page” of the comic, good ideas about the “panels” they’ll each be composed of, and excellent ideas about the transitions / interactions between them. Continue reading Piling on the challenges

A possible new direction

Something which has occurred to me recently, as I’ve been thinking about my relationship with books, writing, and art; that now might be the time for me to get back to working on the sorts of interactive storytelling (and/or comics) which I haven’t attempted in the last six years or so, but which I often think of. This would require me to both get my mind back into a state where it thinks programmatically and also to teach myself a new programming language or two (most obviously Objective-C, since most of my ideas are for iOS apps). It probably also calls for me to spend a lot of time working on my drawing/illustration skills, whether for comics or for most of the apps I’ve been thinking of developing, lately. I haven’t seriously worked on any programming (save basic web development) or on drawing any comics (or art anything like comics) in the same six years… Realistically, I haven’t done any serious programming (certainly no standalone applications) since high school. I’m sure I’ll be reasonably able to get back into the swing of things, and then to implementing some of the ideas I’ve been having lately.
Continue reading A possible new direction