Join James Williamson for an in-depth discussion in this video Eye on web design: Stephanie Sullivan Rewis, part of Web Design Fundamentals.
- Hey, everybody. I'm here with my good friend, Stephanie Sullivan Rewis. Stephanie, so good to see you. Thanks for being with us today. - Thank you, James. Great to be here. - Steph, you have been a fixture in web design for so many years that I don't really remember a time of web design when you weren't around. You were part of the Web Standards Project. You've authored numerous books. You've spoken at about every conference that I've spoken at, (laughs) and you've always seemed to be right there in the center of what's going on in web design.
Can you give just a little bit about your background in terms of the way you learned web design, and kind of how you got to where you are now? - Absolutely. You know, I started back in '99, out of necessity, in the midst of a divorce, and "Oh my God, I have to re-enter "the work flow, workplace." You know, that whole thing. I was home-schooling my kids, and when I looked at my life, I realized there was nothing I had done before that I was interested in ever doing again, and I decided to look at what my brain likes to do, and find a career that used that part of my brain, and the one thing I had been exposed to, very briefly in one of my jobs, was a tiny bit of code, and I, honest to God, don't know what it was.
I went and took a five-day class my company sponsored, and I learned if, and, or, then, kind of logic. - Oh yeah. - Maybe it was BASIC. I don't know, - Yeah. - 'cause I was too, you know, ignorant back then. Anyway, I liked it a lot. I learned it. I wrote macros on top of our travel system and, you know, that all the travel agents used, and then I got pregnant and had a baby, and that was that. So on re-entering and looking at things, what I know about my brain is I love puzzles, and I love detective work, and I love research.
I can research things for hours, and I decided, "Huh, I wonder "if code would use that part of my brain," and so I decided I would learn, like, C+, because it was the only thing I'd ever heard of, and I talked to this guy I knew, and he was like, ""Oh God, no, you don't want to do that." He's like, "Why don't you learn HTML?" and I was like, "What's that?" and he's like, "It's the Internet. "It's the code that makes the Internet." So I was like, "Okay." So I took two classes. Actually, one was HTML and the other was networking.
Boy, that one was over my head (laughs), at the time of knowing nothing, and what I learned in taking classes was, classes... It sort of depends on your modality, how you like to learn, and in home-schooling my kids, I'd learned a lot about modality in teaching them, and so I thought, "I liked the class, but sometimes it went too slow," and I'm like, "Okay, move on." Other times, they zipped through something, and I'm like, "Whoa, wait!" Because I have a strong belief in learning all the basics.
- Right. - The basics are your building blocks, and if you don't have those, everything in a row, the next level doesn't go in, and then the next level, and you get something weak, and you fall apart, right? So, what I decided was, as much as I enjoyed the class and the teacher, I liked him, I decided probably everything I wanted to learn was on the Internet, and that I could probably find it. I'm super driven, as a human. (laughs) - Yes you are.
I have first-hand experience with that. - Yeah, so, sadly... Sadly, I'm super driven, and so what I did was, after my initial couple of classes, I decided I really like this, but I'm going to go head on, and so for the first year of learning, I did approximately 15 hours a day, - tutorials, - Wow! - and I would just go find tutorials. What do I want to learn? And then, - Right. - and I do recommend this, even today, though things have changed so much.
What's available has changed so much, but what I did was I found a friend who had a, she was like a naturopath, and she needed a web site, and I said, "200 dollars, I'll build you a web site." Now, remember, this is '99, and so... - Right. Sure, sure. - 200 was a little more, but not really. But the beauty of that was I learned... I found out what I didn't know. I found out, "Oh, God, I need graphics, not just code." I need this. I need that.
I admit I built the first site in frames, but I never did it again! (both laugh) - You shouldn't have told me that. Well, I used tables for my first site. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was tables and frames. Yeah, yeah, but it was pretty. Even in the Wayback Machine, it's not an unattractive site. It was very clean. But the beauty of learning as you go, for me, is learning what I need to know next, what I need to know next, and so when I got done with that, I actually got involved with a group that was...
They were doing a startup, and this was right before the big bubble burst, back in 2000ish. - I remember that. - Uh huh, and so we were all working really cheap, and I was doing all the graphics and front end, and another guy was doing all the back end, and the other eight people were "planning things", but we were doing all the work, and it was called Easy Shoppin' Town, and it was going to be an online shopping site. Imagine that. - That was going to be huge! That was going to be huge. - Yeah, and about the time that the bubble burst, they didn't even try to sell it.
They just said, "Oh, crap. (James laughs) "This is over," and, yeah, but, oh my God, I learned so much, doing that, because we would have a meeting one week, and they'd say, "We want this, and this, and this," and I'd go, "Okay," and I'd go home and I'd go, "Oh my word! Oh my word! Oh my word! "How do I do this?" but before I got back the next week, I would I would have it figured out, - You'd figured it out. - and built, and, yeah. So, you know, the rule I made for myself at that time was, "Never say 'No'," and I don't know if this is a woman thing or a people thing, but for me, I tend to say, "Oh, you want me to do that? "Well, I've never done that before, "so I don't want to let you down, "but James knows how to do it.
"Let me pass you to my friend, James, "'cause I know he's done that before." And what I decided was I'm smart enough to figure it out, so if it's not something totally out there, you know, of course, then I would just say, "Okay, I'll do that." I didn't say I've ever done it before. (James laughs) I didn't lie. I said "I'll do that," and I never once didn't do it. - I have found that having a deadline is one of the most instructive things in the world, - Oh my God, yeah. - Because it will force you to take the time to do it.
- They are good, and each job you take on, the beauty of it is you can push yourself to learn one more thing, one more thing, you know. I didn't have the option back then of all the things that exist now, - Like, in 2003 I believe it was, I started writing for a site called Community MX, which... - I remember Community MX. - Wasn't that pretty close to the time Lynda started? - It was, very close, yeah. - Very close. - Lynda was, we were, certainly around by then.
As a matter of fact, we're coming up on our 20th anniversary. - But it was all purchasing CDs and stuff, right? - That's right. - Yeah. - It was online. It was DVDs, and, well, at the time, VHS tapes, - Right, right! Awesome. - and things like that, because at that time, remember, I was still with Lodestone, - Yeah, that's when I met you. - back in the day, doing stand-up training, that's right. - Yeah, absolutely. So you know things have changed so much since you and I got into all this, and you know, I honestly, if I went back to 1999, I don't think I'd change a thing about how I did it, - because I challenged myself.
I 15-hours-a-dayed it. I didn't say, "No." I kept pushing myself to learn more, and all of those things contributed to what I'm doing now, and I will say, too, and I would also put this in the piece of advice for anyone. I didn't go to a conference for the first three years, and this is going to sound weird, but being a woman, I felt like it was really important for me to be on the top of my game and to get as far as I could get before I ventured out into the wild, if you will, you know? So I learned, also, and this is a great thing, and God only knows if it really exists anymore, but, you know, I went to a web design list.
I had two different lists I went to, and I asked so many questions, I'm sure those people initially hated me, because I... - Well, now we have Stack Overflow, and... - It kind of is, right - Yeah, yeah. - but a little less personal that the ones I was at. - It is a lot less personal. You're right. - But it is a good resource, and it comes up every time I search for anything on the Interwebs, right? - Yeah, well let's crystallize this a little bit. - Yeah. - Let's say that you're talking to somebody who is brand new today as a web designer. They're just deciding that they want to learn web design.
You know, you've learned, you've talked about some of the lessons you've learned in terms of the amount of time you put into it. - You know, the saying, "Yes," to things, and making that be a motivator into learning it and getting it done. What would you say, though, would be your top pieces of advice for people that are brand new to web design, and they're learning it now in today's environment, versus the way we had to learn it? - Well, the first thing I would say is figure out your brain's modality, because, whereas I was happy to go on the web and just Google and figure everything out, some people are better in a classroom, quite frankly, and so you kind of have to know, are you the type that just wants to listen to podcasts and assimilate? Do you like video learning versus tutorial-reading learning? - Would you rather be sitting in a classroom? And I will say that many of our teaching institutions have been really behind on what they teach.
I've seen a little movement, you know, nowadays. For instance, online you've got Khan Academy, Codecademy, quite a lot of other things. - Lynda.com. (James laughs) - Well, yes. I was going to bring that up in a different way, because Lynda, to me, it's more of the video teacher learning, and you do it, where Khan and Code are more like, "Here's your little, you know, window to build in." - It's funny you should mention that.
- Ah, are things changing at Lynda, James? - It's possible. - Well, and that's beautiful, because being able to experiment in the learning moment, for me, is always a good thing, but yes. Lynda.com is an amazing resource. Of course it is, and then there are a couple of things recently I've heard of, that are school, like, regionally school-related. One is in Denver, called gSchool, and my 25-year-old brought this to me because he's considering going there, because he knows that his personality is not like mine, and he would not push himself to do what I did, and so he has a buddy that's going to do it, and he's like, "You know what? "I could go there with my buddy, do it with him, be forced to be there at a certain time," and he feels like that would bring him through, right? So there are things like that, and then, like, Unicorn Academy, there in...
- Oh, yeah, that's right. - Yeah, in Chattanooga, so things like that are popping up that I believe are schools really trying to get it right. - You know, really trying to be relevant, but... - Which is interesting because I had that conversation with somebody the other day. You know, when I was in college, there was no internet, so - Right. - at that point, anybody over a certain age is like, you're self taught, because it wasn't around, and you're right. Typical academia moves so slow that it just can't keep up with the pace of the web, so...
- It can not, and the teachers. Dear Lord, I mean, bless their hearts. They're teaching so much stuff, to be an expert in web stuff, I can't even be an expert in everything, you know? So how, often, they teach... - That's a really great question, or a great point that I wanted to bring up as well, and we'll probably close with this, but when you chose the area that you were going to specialize in, you know there's so many different areas of the web now that people can specialize in. - Yes. - How do you recommend that somebody gets enough experience in different areas that they know kind of what interests them.
I specialize, you know? I'm definitely front end, and strongest at CSS, but nonetheless, I have to understand the whole full stack. I have to understand what's possible. Even if I'm not the one doing it, the way I do my part can affect the way they're doing their part, and so everybody needs a basic understanding of the full stack. The whole thing, APIs, the whole nine yards, and then if you decide there's something you love, that, you know, really turns you on, go for that, but the biggest thing you have to remember is you have to continue to self-educate, no matter what direction you go, and you have to find the method of doing that that works for you.
- That's fantastic advice. - That's kind of the core to everything. - That's fantastic advice. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. - Good to see you, James. - Good to see you. Bye, Steph. - Bye.
- What is web design?
- What is a web designer?
- Learning to code
- Choosing a web host
- Working with a CMS
- Exploring how websites are structured
- Choosing your framework or software
- Designing with standards and accessibility in mind