Part of the final exam for my Art History class this semester was a 5-page paper about how 19-20th century art is reflected in my own artworks. Well, because I’m not officially a studio artist (painting, sculpting, etc.) I felt like I needed to inform my professor that web design was my “artwork” and I wasn’t sure how to write an essay on the subject she requested. I was able to convince her to let me write a paper on a slightly different topic- what influenced me to start designing websites, and why I chose to earn my degree in a related major (graphic design).
Designing The Internet
Of all the current known formats of art, one of the newest is clearly web design. Some people may not consider it a physical art, but when combined with graphic design, I believe it most definitely is. It may not be what you commonly find in an art gallery or museum, but websites have the ability to provide beauty and change the way people think nonetheless. As any good designer will tell you, having a mediocre internet presence is better than not having one at all. Before I can get too in-depth about web design in general though, I need to start at the beginning- what got me involved in it in the first place.
When I was in 5th grade, there were four activities I can recall being quite interested in. Pokémon was the latest “fad”, so along with watching the TV show, I collected and played the card game too. I remember thoroughly enjoying learning to yo-yo, and practicing lots of tricks with a fancy one in my spare time. I was enrolled in ballet and tap dance classes, and had been for about 6 years at that point. What I will never forget about that fateful year though, is the first time I watched the TV show Charmed. Being an only child with a wild imagination, the excitement of a show involving sisters and magic was the highlight of each week. My appreciation quickly turned into fascination, and I wanted to somehow express that to the world. None of the kids at my elementary school watched the show (as far as I knew), and I didn’t have many friends in general, so I turned to the internet for ideas.
A few months into 6th grade I found a web hosting service called GeoCities, which at the time, was the fifth most popular website on the internet (“Growth of GeoCities” 3). It allowed people to sign up and access easy-to-use site building tools, then publish their creations to the world wide web. I did research, gathering images, videos, and content. I also used Microsoft Paint to make a few graphics of my own, and in the end was quite proud of myself; SistersThree.cjb.net was born! I had finally figured out a way to show everyone what was so great about Charmed, as well as prove my worth as a loyal fan. After 8 years on the air, my favorite TV show ended, and while I tried to continue maintenance of the website, I slowly lost interest in it. My newfound enthusiasm for web design never faltered though.
As I graduated to middle school, a new website-building platform caught my eye- Xanga. It’s purpose was different from GeoCities, as it was mainly for “blogging”. I was not familiar with this term before, and after browsing through some of the pages already hosted on the site, I realized it was essentially a public diary for people to publish their thoughts in singular, daily posts. I signed up, instructed my friends to do so too, and eventually had close to 100 kids at my school using it on a weekly basis. I made a few different accounts, one for personal posts, one for popular song lyrics, and one for poems/song lyrics that I had written. For the first time, I experimented with learning a little HTML code so that I could customize my new blogs exactly how I wanted. Before with my Charmed site, I had used what is commonly referred to as a “drag and drop” editor with GeoCities. Now I was doing work on the “backend”, which simply put, means I was figuring out how to edit a webpage’s style at its core (Robbins 6). Of course this was 2000-2001, so what I was learning was only the very basics.
High school was the next stage in my life, and while Xanga was no longer popular, a new website was leading the social networking scene. It was called MySpace, and everyone was using it. The design customization options on this website were a little harder to access, and my HTML skill was going to need improvement. I began to realize the awesome functionality of Google, and it became much easier to teach myself new coding practices. I mastered the essentials such as how to make text italic, bold, and underlined, as well as how to embed an image and turn it into an URL link to another website. Other than those initial tasks, a lot of my learning came from taking styled themes that other people had already created, and picking through it to edit the bits and pieces I wanted to change. This went on for a few years, until MySpace personal profiles faded out, and music/band profiles started to become the majority. I no longer wanted to rely solely on someone else’s platform for my design ideas, so it was time to figure out how to make a site on my own anyways.
I received one major gift from my parents when I graduated from high school, and it couldn’t have been anything better or more influential to me. My whole life I had used Windows-based operating systems, but now I owned a 15″ Apple Macbook Pro and it was time to discover Mac OS X (the Apple operating system). It was love at first sight. Everything about it was cleaner, easier, and more fun than any PC I’d ever used. Just running the most basic of programs got me excited to learn more. Over the summer transition into college, I spent nearly all my free time on my new computer. I even took it to work and used it during my lunch breaks! I downloaded a couple of video games for fun, but I also made sure all the necessary software was installed on it so that I would be prepared for my first semester at Sam Houston State University.
There was no option to major in web design at my new school, and I’d always thought that would be a pretty hard occupation to do full-time anyways, so I settled on graphic design and a minor in photography. I figured those two combined were a match made in Heaven for me, since art has always been a passion of mine. I’d never been too enthusiastic about math or science, and while I was admittedly very good at writing, it did not interest me as a career choice. The only other option I would have considered (and really, would have preferred) was a degree in Theater. I knew I needed to think about the likelihood that I would ever “make it big” though, so figured art would suit me quite nicely.
Once school started up and I was all settled in, I got really interested in social networking. Not just blogging or browsing Facebook, but joining multiple up-and-coming websites meant to bring people together online with common interests. Websites such as Twitter, Ustream, YouTube, Viddler, and Flickr became my new obsession. I was making friends left and right, and even saved up my money to go visit some of them at events such as the New Media Expo in Las Vegas and PodCamp AZ in Phoenix. This building interaction online influenced my decision to finally design my own website, and expand my knowledge of HTML even further. Once I bought a domain (rachelmayo.com) and put together a proper resume, I applied for the Student Worker position in Web Development at SHSU. After a rigorous interview process, I was hired! I was so excited that I would finally be able to make real money off a talent I thought was merely a hobby.
The first few months working in WebDev was a partial wake up call. I thought I knew a lot when I was first hired, but I was learning even more now thanks to the help of my coworkers and patient supervisors. What I practiced at work, along with consistently browsing graphic and web design resources for inspiration, helped me to conceive multiple websites for not only myself, but for friends as well. I was able to build a portfolio online, get myself on professional networks such as LinkedIn, and look for freelance work. My first big client was the National Diversity Council. They had originally contacted WebDev asking if we could be hired to build them a website, but after my primary supervisor explained to them that we were only responsible for sites under the SHSU domain, I contacted them on my own time and asked if they would be interested in letting me work for them instead. They were completely accepting of the situation, and I’ve been designing websites, graphics, business cards, and logos for them ever since. I was also lucky enough to be enlisted in creating work for their associated branches, such as the Council for Corporate Responsibility, the National Women’s Council, the US Multicultural Summit, and more.
I will be graduating this year with my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, as well as retiring from my position as Lead Student Worker at Sam Houston. Though I had originally thought I wouldn’t enjoy an occupation in web design, and while I couldn’t major in it at school, it now looks like those notions were trivial. I plan on applying for a full-time position with the University as soon as I graduate, and if for some reason I don’t obtain the job at SHSU, I will definitely still pursue a similar career path elsewhere. I’ve always been passionate about art, and it’s exciting to finally be rewarded for simply doing what I love.
Fogg, B.J. “Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility.” A Research Summary from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Stanford University. 2002. Web. 10 Dec 2011.
“Growth of GeoCities & Deal with Yahoo.” Dead Media Archive. NYU Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. 2010. Web. 10 Dec 2011.
Robbins, Jennifer Niederst. Learning Web Design: a beginner’s guide to (X)HTML, style sheets and web graphics. 2007. Print. 12 Dec 2011.