Design Woes

I crave information.  So much, that sometimes it makes my head spin.  And I love expediency.  Over the last couple of years, as I’ve scoured the web for design ideas and instructions, I add plenty of new sites to my RSS reader.  A lot of times, the headlines are enough of an indication that I want to read something or not.  (I assume the same still holds true when reading a newspaper – you don’t read “cover to cover”, but articles that interest you.)  Ocassionally, I’ll find a commentary on some aspect of web design that merits some attention.

It’s interesting, because this article – Custom Web Design or Website Template, somewhat illustrates a concept I was trying to explain earlier this week to a “client”.  He was asking me why I was able to crank out a basic design/prototype for his club’s website so quickly, yet struggling with his own company page.  I’ve developed an “extension” of the article, I suppose, that explains my feelings on when to use a ready-made template/theme package vs. building from the ground up.

On both the “club” sites that I run, the local alumni association and soon his local Mustang club chapter, I’ve built them off of Joomla! and not WordPress.  The reasoning behind the choice of CMS is pretty straightforward – Joomla! offers a much higher degree of control and “community” features than WordPress.  Sure, WordPress offers several different levels of “ACL’s” (access control levels), but it’s primarily built from a blogging-platform up.  Meaning that it’s really designed for just a few people to run and have interactivity.  The creation of a “subscriber” account is mainly for convenience in commenting on an article, not interacting with others on a pretty regular basis.

Beyond that, it’s about the interactivity of the community itself.  Club sites like these need to offer the users more than just a fairly static feed of the latest news.  Interpersonal interactions and sharing of resources is really what needs to be available.  WordPress is lacking in these options, because the plugins that create things like galleries and forums are either too basic, or require a higher level of security access to use them.  On top of that, there are certain functions that are completely lacking (newsletter archives and sending, for instance).

But back to the point about the design itself.  I use commercially available themes on these sites because they don’t necessarily need to have their own identity.  Sure, I’ve customized them a bit, but by and large, does it really matter if it’s got a similar feel to another site of another club locally?  I suppose in some respects, it does, but my feeling is that the focus needs to be and is on the content – whether it be “webmaster-driven” or “user-driven”.  There’s also the little fact that Joomla! templates/themes are a bit more complicated, and I really haven’t gotten into understanding HOW they’re built just yet.

A company, on the other hand, needs its own identity.  It’s not just about the content, but the design and feel.  Some elements of course will always borrow from other sites, but the color scheme, layout, etc, all should be fairly unique to help establish that identity.

And there-in lies my problem.  It’s not that I’m not creative when I need to be.  I’ve got a couple of good ideas for his company’s design, but I lack the necessary graphical skills in the Photoshop department to implement them.  His isn’t the only design I’m having an issue with.  A buddy of mine asked me to play around with a “theme” for his YouTube channel, and I’ve got a great idea, but can only partially implement it.  I haven’t been able to figure out how to bend Ps to do what I want it to do.  And it’s frustrating enough to make me want to put it down entirely.  It also doesn’t help that I swear I’ve picked up a hint of my dad’s color-blindness and have issues matching colors… =/

I could just easily take a pre-built theme and rip it apart and mix some things up, but I’m not really at the point where I want to accomplish that just yet.  It’s a headache re-working someone else’s code, ESPECIALLY when they take little to no effort to actually annotate what they’re doing in certain sections, and I have to trace the reference calls.

There’s just so much to learn that it’s overwhelming, and it doesn’t help that a lot of the materials out there for Ps (books, not web tutorials) all focus on using Ps as a software to modify photos, not as a design medium.  Guess I should probably just suck it up, read what books I have, and learn to translate those tools to the design process instead of editing and retouching.