How a graphic designer can become a web expert.
Andrea Mecenero is a freelance UI designer.
During my childhood, I was a child who loved drawing comics characters and building fancy villages with carton boxes. I remember I was — indeed I am still — a football aficionado, and after the FIFA World Cup 1994, I began creating stadiums with all the materials I could find at my house. The room that my parents left me free for my imaginations was the attic, quite full of dust, but for me, it was the best place where I could spend my afternoons.
I think I could have been a perfect architect, but my education took a different path during my maturity. I studied as an accountant at the high school, and from the day after my graduation — I was so exhausted of business economics and calculations — I reflected what I wanted to do with my life, and it came over my head the passion of the drawing. The love for illustration brought me to enroll in the art school where I decided to study computer graphics. The computer was during the high school a new magic tool I fell in love, I still remember when my parents brought me my first PC, it was an old grey case, an AMD Duron without a graphics card at all, Windows ME installed, and Internet was still a mirage. During my years at the art school, I truly liked how to design new logos, corporate identities, flyers, posters, packages and so on. Most of my classmates became graphic designers, printers, and art directors; but me not really. I was curious about the digital art and the animations, and my degree didn’t give me all these abilities I wanted, so after the bachelor's degree, I started to study on my own the semantic web.
I started with the basics of coding, at the time it was only HTML4, and the entire skeleton of your webpage made with <table>. The CSS was for me still tough learning, and the Flash was the apogee. Most of the coolest websites used this technology, and everything was in one single file that ended with .swf. Flash was so popular that my first employer was asking me to create the website of the company with this technology, and I can’t deny he was wrong, the animations were great but the horrible sounds you could add, they were nauseating and destroyed your favorite playlist you were listening in the background. Of course, I built with Flash several of my earliest websites, and I enjoyed playing with it, it was the Baroque Age of the Net.
What happened next is why I’m still a web designer.
I changed job and employer, I started to work in a new and young studio with cool guys. They were doing every kind of work, from printing graphics to the t-shirts, to fantastic posters for a summer festival, new logos for local firms, and websites. Well, they taught me how to code more professionally, and they presented me WordPress. In the beginning, it is like a card game where you don’t know the rules, and your friend excitedly is teaching you the basic rules. Probably the first round you lose and make lots of mistakes, but after everything looks much more simple and playful. The CSS became as simple as when you learned how to read the letters at primary school. Classes, IDs, and declarations were my daily meal, and I was feeling like a wizard, my magic was able to create geometric forms on the screen: colors, lines, blocks, images, paragraphs, and so on.
WordPress made me introduce another code, a server-side script called PHP, different than the client-side scriptings such as HTML and CSS. The main difference between server-side code and client-side code is that you need a server machine to decipher what you’re actually writing in your editor, instead of being able to see your creation instantly on your local browser. With PHP I’ve never had a good feeling, but I was able to digest with a strong digester. I’ve never developed PHP from scratch, but at the time I read a book about the basics of PHP that I’m still bringing with me.
I still remember my first work with WordPress, it was a blog for the store specialized in kids clothes. The owner wanted a website because he was writing some posts every week about junior fashion design, and the homepage had to be fancy and colorful. In the end, I imagined a rainbow sky with an ivy pillar. The original idea was from the story Jack and the Beanstalk, where Jack bought the magic beans, and overnight a gigantic beanstalk — for me an enormous ivy pillar with bows — grew up from the seeds and reached the sky. They liked this idea, and I could develop my first dynamic website. I remember I started with the default theme, I set up my WordPress on the local server, and I modified the CSS style and the HTML structure from the original theme. I know, today when I look back I can say it was a rudimental method, but it worked well at that time.
I was also curious to discover new places, that’s why I decided to move to Australia and then to Canada, but in the end, I always continued to work on the web. I encountered difficulties and bad situations, but I was stubborn, and I didn’t give up. I met new specialists from my sector with whom I shared my experience and helped them with many projects. Sharing your knowledge with others and learn from them is the best training you can have. I can tell you one of my points: clients don’t hire you for your software skills or ability to code, they hire you for your knowledge (Paul Boag). With all these scripts in my head, I was able to grow up, move forward and be more steady to do what I like.