Newbies & Dreamweaver

Newbies & Dreamweaver

A friend of mine has decided that he wants to be a web designer and has enrolled in a course to learn the basics of web design. It’s been really interesting getting feedback from him on how people regard web design these days and the most common thing he reports back about is that everybody wants to skip learning the boring HTML part and learn all about Dreamweaver, afterall, they’ve heard SO much about Dreamweaver and seem to think it’s the magic bullet.

This is for you, newbies and wannabe web designers who think you should be learning Dreamweaver and not HTML, this is straight from the web designers mouth. I’ve been doing web design for 11 years and using Dreamweaver for about 8 years, and this is what I think:

  1. Dreamweaver is not the Magic Bullet Dreamweaver is not the answer to all your web design prayers. Dreamweaver will not slay all your design demons. Dreamweaver is not the holy grail of web design. Dreamweaver will not help you sleep better in your web designer’s bed at night.I’m sorry if that’s not what you want to hear but this is not the X-factor. I will not build your hopes up and I will not say that you’re wonderful and you’re going to make it even if you’re crap. The harsh reality of web design is that it is a fiercely competitive world and you will either sink or you will need to swim and swim very well too. You will not be able to design websites just because you’re using Dreamweaver.My Advice: Learn HTML, learn to design & code and then maybe learn Dreamweaver.
  2. Dreamweaver is just a Tool: Moreso, Dreamweaver is a toolbox. If you turn up to a garage with a top-of-the-range SnapOn toolbox stuffed full of shiny SnapOn tools, that doesn’t make you a mechanic, does it? Just because you own a shiny packed-full toolbox does not automatically qualify you to fix cars, does it?My Advice: Again, learn HTML, learn to design and then you could learn Dreamweaver.
  3. Dreamweaver is for experienced designers: I own a modified 300BHP Subaru Legacy. It looks great, sounds great and goes like the clappers. If you’ve just passed your driving test or if you’re not experienced or old enough then you won’t be able to drive my Subaru. Why? Because the insurance companies will not insure you on such a powerful, high IG car and by law you cannot drive without insurance. You will not be able to handle the power and the same goes for Dreamweaver. If you’re not experienced then don’t touch it, you won’t know what you’re doing with it.My Advice: Learn HTML first. Walk before you even think of running.

I’d point you to some forum posts I’ve seen over the years as to the debate on whether designers should use Dreamweaver or not, but they tend to be filled with the same polarised black & white nonsense and it’s usually not very helpful. What you would see in these forums would be either:

I love Dreamweaver, it’s wonderful.

or

I hate Dreamweaver, I only hand code.

These responses are a waste of time, a waste of forum space and a waste of server hard drive space. They serve no purpose to answering the debate over whether web designers should choose to use Dreamweaver or not.

If all you can say is that you love Dreamweaver then that’s great, I’m happy for you. Where did you spend your honeymoon and did people give the “happy couple” funny looks?

If you hate Dreamweaver because you’d rather hand code then you’re just a snob; you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face. There’s really no point in being so ideologically opposed to it.

Neither of these standpoints actually answers the most important question of WHY? Why do you love Dreamweaver? Why do you hate Dreamweaver? “It’s great” and “it sucks” are really not very useful nor professional answers.

Here’s my take on Dreamweaver.

I started hand coding from a book on HTML back in 1998 (SAMS Teach yourself HTML in 24 hours. It’s out of print, and only the 2001 edition, which includes XHTML, is available) I didn’t touch Dreamweaver until about 2001. In those 3 years I learned HTML and design, all from scratch, totally self-taught. I had qualifications in Art, Design and Computer Science and a background in engineering and construction with some art & design commissions under my belt so I was well-suited for the design/technical aspects of the web design industry.

Dreamweaver, for me in my 8 years of using it, is a tool that helps me to manage multiple sites. It allows me to switch between working on a big project on one dedicated web server to another project on a shared server and manage the tens of thousands of files that may be in that site. (Yes, tens of thousands of files – did you think web design was all about 4-page websites?) With Dreamweaver I generally manage around 20 projects at any one time, so it’s pretty handy for keeping things organised. I could fill it up with every site I manage, but there’s really no point if they’re not maintained regularly (I tend to archive sites for good housekeeping and re-install them locally as needs be)

Dreamweaver is a managed and manageable environment for me, so it does virtually everything I need it to do. OK, DW FTP can be slow, not capable of multiple connections and not fully featured, so I will use Filezilla to back me up in those situations. I prefer to edit .htaccess files and check my error logs in Notepad++ and edit my CSS in TopStyle but that’s cool because Dreamweaver does most of the other things I need it to.

Dreamweaver allows me to manage my workflow. With templates and code snippets I can rapidly work new HTML pages and deploy regularly-used pieces of code.

Dreamweaver allows me to work in design view, code view or both, meaning that I can switch between designer and developer coding easily. If I’m happy with the code that Dreamweaver spits out I can use the design view. If I want to keep an eye on it I use the split view to see both the code & design views and if I’m working purely in PHP I can just use the code view.

Sure, if I allow it to, Dreamweaver occasionally throws up code I don’t always like, but because I know my HTML/XHTML and I work in code view as well, I can spot it a mile off and fix it. Of course, Dreamweaver can be buggy and doesn’t always give me the shortcuts I need but I get by and it is a time saver.

I didn’t like that Adobe brought out Macromedia, that move seems to have made the marketplace less competitive, but what can I do about that? However, that said, I’m still using Create Suite 3 as opposed to the new-fangled CS4 but with Photoshop and Illustrator bundled in alongside Flash & Fireworks, I’m more than happy with the CS3 package.

So, if you get to know your HTML 4.01 and 5, XHTML 1.0 strict and transitional, CSS 1, 2 & 3, Fireworks, Photoshop & Flash, learn your FTP and understand your LAMP environments, get to grips with MySQL on phpMyAdmin and your command line work on PuTTY ssh client, tweak your Apache web server keep up with PHP aswell as being able to wrangle your sites in your beloved Dreamweaver then you’re probably going to make a good web designer.

But don’t get too hung up on the tools or the technology, just make sure you can actually DESIGN things, that’s the really important part of being a web designer. (The clue is in the term DESIGNer) And Dreamweaver is not the be-all and end-all of web design. Some people hate it and don’t/won’t use it, but that’s entirely up to them. Personally, I think it’s a very handy tool that I use daily and could probably not live without. However, as this article is aimed at newbies, know your code first and then use the tools (if they’re right for you). You too may either love or hate Dreamweaver, or better still just find Dreamweaver to be one more big handy tool in your web design toolbox.