Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a considerable amount of webdesign work. First off, there is my personal website, which I’m trying to make more serious and comprehensive. Besides that I’ve also been working to redesign my college Computer Science Department’s website. I have a part time job with the Foreign Language Resource Center at college and they’re launching a new program to give students an ePortfolio where they can store and show information regarding their course work and other language experience at college. Originally the plan was to have some art students design a set of templates, but I was rather appalled by the low quality of their work (and the extremely long time they took to create it) so I decided to just make my own.
For my personal site and the CS department’s site I was using a Emacs with the html-helper mode and manually managing things like links and so on. Though it was very nice to have hotkeys wired to inserting specific tags, some things (like making site-wide changes or changing the structure) were simply too time consuming. I’ve known that Adobe Dreamweaver is pretty much the current gold standard for website design, but I was rather reluctant to use it because I’m not a big fan of WYSIWYG editors. However, the lady in charge of the Foreign Language Resource Center had made it quite clear that no matter how good my template was, she couldn’t use unless she had a Dreamweaver Template file for it and could be edited from Dreamweaver.
I really didn’t need to actually make a new template, because the ePortfolio project would have gone on without me. However, it’s times like this that the hacker inside simply won’t take no for an answer. So I decided to just sit down and learn just about enough Dreamweaver to get the job done.
However, after using Dreamweaver for a few hours and creating a full skeleton of a portfolio in record time, I’ve decided that there is no going back for me. First things first, Dreamweaver fully unites WYSIWYG editing and roll-your-own code editing. I wouldn’t have used it if editing code was difficult or impossible. The instant preview is very handy to show just what is going on without needing to fire up a browser. More importantly the preview lets you see exactly how your code maps to elements on screen, something which is very handy if you are trying to nail down a tricky layout.
I’m still not a fan of using the WYSIWYG mode to build the layout, because I like having an intimate knowledge of what exactly my code is doing. At the same time, I’ve realized that a WYSIWYG mode does come in very handy once the layout is set and all that remains is to put down the content. Auto insertion of tags is nice, but not having to look at tags at all when you’re making your content is even better. That being said, I’ve seen that Dreamweaver has a tendency to insert and prompt for element attributes that I would rather set using CSS. This is a mild bother, but is acceptable in view of other productivity boosts that you get.
Templates and automatic link management are two other features that I’ve come to love. Templates alone are a massive productivity boost, especially since you can set distinct editable and non-editable areas. This lets you define exactly what parts of your pages stay constant across sites and what can change. The larger your site gets, the more important this becomes. On the same note automatic link management is an equally useful feature. Most than once have I found myself rearranging my pages and having to manually go about changing links. I haven’t had a chance to properly utilize this feature, but I intend to do so in the future.
Coming up ahead
I’ve decided that I will be using Dreamweaver as my tool of choice for future web design work. Things I would like to play around in the immediate future would be multiple templates for a site, as well as testing out the site management tools. I’m also going to be migrating my exciting sites to Dreamweaver and will look to see if I can actually develop them faster in Dreamweaver. I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what Dreamweaver can do, but I think it’s going to be a fun experience learning more.