Jennifer Kyrnin is a renowned expert in the field of web design, offering professional consultation and website design service since 1995. She also is a guide for Web Design at the acclaimed ‘About.com’ – think of Wikipedia, but run by experts in each niche – in addition to running various blogs and forums.
I asked her kindly to take the time out to answer a few questions.
How to Make A Website: 20th August 2009
How did you get into designing websites back in ’95? How did you get into understanding the framework of web design?
I worked at an ISP at the time, and we were just starting to offer personal Web pages for our clients. I had joined the Web team as a writer, and had to learn how to build Web pages so I could write the how tos and FAQs for our customers on their personal pages.
At the time, learning HTML was mostly a matter of looking at the source of other pages and thinking “ah ha! that’s how they did that.” Tables weren’t well supported so the best layout option we had was David Siegel’s “single pixel gif trick” where you took a GIF of a 1x1 pixel and made it transparent. Then you simply set the height and width of that gif to whatever space you wanted blank. Want 5px indent on paragraphs - use the GIF. Want 10px bottom margin, again the GIF. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.
What web design tools and html editors do you use and recommend?
I use Komodo Edit for nearly everything I write. But I use it because I write a lot of XML and it’s one of the only free XML editors out there.
I recommend people use Dreamweaver. It has all the features most Web designers and developers need, and there are dozens of add-ons and plugins you can download or buy to extend it even more.
What lead you to become a recognised Guide on About.com?
I started as the HTML Guide at About.com and I applied at my boss’s suggestion. We were syndicating the About.com content and she noticed that the HTML site was open. I haven’t looked back. :-)
What would you consider to be the single biggest reason for your website designing success?
I like doing the work. I think ultimately, even after 14 years I’m still interested in building HTML and CSS. I still look at the HTML code and think “wow I understand that”. It’s still fun for me to work out a complicated layout using CSS and I still enjoy the changes that new specifications bring to the work.
What advice would you give to people before they go and talk to a website designer?
Have a good idea of what you want. Pictures or sample websites help a lot in conveying your desires. Also, don’t be offended if the designer suggests you start smaller than you’re dreaming, especially if you ultimately want to maintain the site yourself. It’s great to dream big, and I love it when clients do, but remember that you need to take the first step and if the dream is too big, you might get overwhelmed before you even start. Also, remember that good Web design costs money. Don’t tell your potential designer that you can “get your neighbor’s kid to do it for half that much”. Chances are they’ll suggest that you then hire the kid. Pricing is important, but quality is too, and most of the time you get exactly what you pay for.
Who do you look up to most in the field of web design and why?
There are so many people. Some of the ones I admire include: David Siegel for his GIF trick - he was the first designer I ever wanted to copy rather than just making my own stuff. Molly Holzschlag has taught me so much over the years, and she’s been very influential to me in how she works and what she does. And Dave Shae’s CSS Zen Garden is a site and Web designer that I would never have wanted to miss.
If you could rewind back to 1995 when you started building websites, what would you do differently and why?
I would have focused on CSS sooner. I took a bit longer to get on the CSS bandwagon because the browsers that I was forced to support didn’t do much more than color fonts with CSS. I wish I had had the foresight to delve more deeply into CSS earlier in my career. I think I could have built much better websites with it.
What would be your #1 tip for anyone designing websites?
Don’t be afraid to try new things and keep learning. It’s very easy to get stuck in the patterns you’re used to and comfortable with, but the Web is constantly changing. And if you’re not willing to change with it you’ll be left behind.