Looking for basic web design info

I’m looking for recommendations for easy-to-follow instructions for very basic web design. I’ve dabbled in it in the past, but quite a few years ago, and I never reached or aspired to a professional level. But technology changes quickly, almost as quickly as my memory fades.

I know some of you out there are web designers, and I’d welcome any advice you have, but if you don’t feel like handholding, just a recommendation for a book or a website would help – preferably a website that isn’t trying to sell me a thousand dollars worth of high-tech software.

Here’s the backstory for any who are interested. The Democratic Party in my county has a website that has been maintained for several years by a volunteer. The site needs to be updated, but the volunteer does not seem to be willing to provide access to anyone else, and the current design is quite uninspiring. I’m not sure we could do better, but I’m hoping to get some recommendations that will at least give us a start. Since we’re working in a very red county here, we have barely enough funding to cover domain name registration and hosting fees, so we definitely can’t afford Dream Weaver. That’s why I’m looking for something that will help a group of beginners to put together something that will at least pass for a professional website. And it’s been so long that I don’t remember how to go about uploading – is this usually something for which the hosting service provides tools?

Any information would be greatly appreciated!

Have you considered setting up a site with a free blogging site like blogger.com or tumblr? You can either select a ready made design that’s likely to look better than anything you’d design anyway (no offense), or you could select one and learn enough to modify it to suit your needs. Learning to modify a template for one of those services is slightly more complicated than creating something in HTML & CSS but only a bit.

It’s common for people to worry that those types of sites aren’t professional enough. It’s not an entirely unreasonable concern but ask yourself what your goals really are. If you want a clean professional looking site that anyone with moderate computer skills can update and put minimal resources into, it might be a good option.

I am in a somewhat similar situation. I am doing volunteer work for the local Humane Society to maintain their web site. It is built with an on-line hosting service that provides web-based WYSIWYG site building tools and has features specifically designed for a membership-based non-profit organization.

One caution: You need to use SOME form of easy-to-use site-building tools, and NOT go coding your own HTML, CSS, etc. There is no assurance of how long you will be around on this project, and no assurance that there will be another HTML-savvy person after you. These sorts of site-building tools are intended to be usable and quickly learnable by a novice (sort of in the same sense as having a beginner start using Microsoft Word and be able to get up to speed on the basics quickly). You don’t want to build a site that becomes forever dependent on having a HTML/CSS guru on-staff.

That said, it’s still good for YOU to be HTML-knowledgeable, at least with the basics. Suggestion: Go to a library book sale or used book store, and see what teach-yourself books you can find for $1.50 or less. (I have a whole stack of them.) They may be dated, but for learning the basics that should be good enough.

Just be sure to AVOID any books with any of these words in the title:
– Dummies
– Idiots
– 24 hours
– 21 days
Those books, IMNSHO, are waaaaay to superficial and perfunctory to impart any real technical proficiency.

See also www.w3schools.com – Good interactive basic technical tutorials and good for an on-line reference source, although limited in real depth.

ETA: Also, learn how to get and use a certificate so your site can be secure, and how to integrate with PayPal or any such on-line payment system, and work with a database. With these skills, you could build a site that can take payments or donations on-line, and maintain records of donors and such stuff.

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If you can find a teach-yourself book on PHP or on web-site design in general, those commonly have chapters on topics like these.

Thanks to both of you. Since we do want to be able to accept money, I’ll definitely look into Senegoid’s suggestion about getting a certificate and integrating PayPal.

This site may be old but it’s got the basics and with setting up frames (lesson 26 I think) You can get a good basic layout. I’m trying to find things on .css now. My experience with site-based ready made designs is that they’re more trouble to get to look how you want than just HTMLing it.

I know you’re trying to help, but frames* are among the worst possible ways to design a web site. Please seek modern advice.

Ruby, I’d second Fuzzy Dunlop’s recommendation. What you need is to get your content on the web in a way that’s easy to manage. That’s not web design, and you don’t need to learn web design in order to do it. Leaning basic web design might be a worthwhile educational pursuit for you personally, but it’s not going to solve your group’s problem.

You need a CMS, and you need to get your content into it. Design comes later. There are many places online where you can get started with a free or cheap site running WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, or a bunch of other CMS platforms. Pick one that works for you.

  • Yes, I know there are circumstances where frames are useful, but they have no place in a discussion about novice web design.

I’m just starting to so I will gladly rescind my recommendation. But if not frame than how do you lay it out. Is that the .css that I’m trying to learn?

In a recent thread I started about learning JavaScript, a helpful poster pointed me to www.w3fools.com.

Probably. CSS can be used to control appearance and layout - and once you’ve created a CSS template, none of your content ever needs to specify things like positioning, font sizes or colours, etc.

Second what tellyworth said about frames - frames are interesting to know about, and occasionally still useful, but they generally don’t work well for modern websites.
Also about CMS - just to add that if you are going to shop for a prebuilt CMS, pick one that’s not proprietary to the web host (so Joomla=good, 1&1 Sitebuilder = not so good) - then if you ever need to jump ship, it will be less painful.

**If **you are going to design your site starting from nothing (which I still discourage for Ruby Slippers), you should do layout and positioning with CSS.

It can be a little bit confusing but it’s worth learning if you want to do a nice modern site. For someone doing a personal site that’s relatively simple there’s really nothing wrong with doing your layout in tables, especially if they already know HTML and are comfortable with it and intimidated by learning CSS.

Tables aren’t an equally good option but you shouldn’t feel bad if gets the job done for you. Frames you should avoid, as tellyworth says.

But also, this is exactly the type of thing that it won’t be helpful/productive to **Ruby Slippers’ **organization to learn, when they could be getting a nice looking site online with an easy way for average users to get new content online.

Does your web hosting account give you the ability to create a database? If so, I recommend going with, in this order, Word Press then Joomla. Stay away from Drupal if you’re not a developer.

Word Press is easy to set up and there are a lot of free templates out there. Joomla is a little more powerful but a little more complicated however there are free templates (but not many) for it.

As far as an SSL cert it’s really not necessary because transactions will take place on Paypal’s server and not yours.

I do a couple of sites for free for local organizations and you can pm me if you want to see them.

I’ve set up my hosting through GoDaddy and installed Joomla, but I can’t seem to figure out what to do next. I have a fairly simple page that I’ve created using Word and saved as a web page but I don’t know how to get it uploaded so I can see what it’s going to look like. I’m feeling totally clueless here. More than 10 years ago, I created a few websites, at least one of which was hosted on GoDaddy, but times and technology have changed so much that it’s making my head hurt. I was able to figure out the basics without this much trouble back then. I don’t know if the technology has gotten that much more complicated or if my aging brain has gotten that much dimmer, but I’m lost.

You need to login into the Joomla back end administrator with the user id and password you create during the install.


From there you can go to content/articles. Also, don’t copy and paste from a word doc as it picks up the crappy word formatting.

As I said in an earlier post, Joomla can be a bit complicated if you don’t know anything about html/css/php.

What version of Joomla did you install?

It’s Joomla 2.5.

I did get to the back end. So I need to create an article?

I know very little about html, nothing about css, and don’t know what php is. The last time I created a website, I was able to use Netscape Composer and didn’t need to know html.

You don’t have to know per say however, it makes it a lot easier. Joomla is a content management system. You don’t create individual pages with the exception of the home page. Joomla is comprised of templates, components, modules, plugins and articles. The articles are essentially virtual and are accessed by a menu id. Your home page is typically made up of modules and articles. Modules are self contained units that can be either plain html or some have some sort of functionality such as javascript and menus.

Since I’m a bleeding heart liberal if you want to pm the site to me I can give much more specific advise and if you want I can supply you with a template so you don’t have to use the default Joomla one.

Thanks for that offer! I’ve found several online tutorials that I’m going to try out over the next few days. I really do need/want to learn this – and there are a couple of others who also want to be involved, but it looks like I’ve got to learn enough to get things set up and then teach them how to make updates. None of us want to be back in the situation of having to rely on one person for everything.

So far I managed to make one page appear, but with no images. My task now is to learn how to modify a basic template. If I’m still clueless by the end of the week, I may take you up on that offer!

Works for me.