Designing For The Web

Learn the Language

Both Brewster and McLain invested time and energy in mastering software, especially HyperText Markup Language (HTML) coding, the Internet programming language. "All it takes is time," says Brewster, who learned basic HTML coding in just two weeks.

McLain says he had the coding down in three weeks. "But I went at it with a passion, putting in 15-hour days," he says. "I also bought design and illustration software and downloaded an animation package from the Internet." The shareware included information about learning HTML.

But mastering HTML doesn't mean you're going to make it as a Web-site designer, says Stoner. "A 16-year-old kid can master the coding fundamentals in a couple weeks," he says. "It's what you do with the knowledge that will determine your success or failure."

After mastering HTML and a few popular software packages--including a file-transfer-protocol (FTP) program called WS-FTP, which is used to transfer Web files from a computer to a remote server anywhere in the world--McLain spent a few days surfing the Net, checking out Web sites. "What better way to get a crash course in design basics than by looking at the thousands of existing sites?" asks McLain. "It's pretty fascinating, because the sites range from dismal to fantastic." More important, he came away with a clear idea of what a good Web site should look like.

"A good Web site ought to sell itself," Brewster says. "Its home page should have the same effect as a great magazine cover: It ought to hook you and make you want to know more."

McLain says simple, attractive, easy-to-navigate Web sites are ultimately the best sales tools. "The majority of sites are poorly designed, because the creators have overdone the splashy graphics and whirling animation," he says, "rather than concentrating on what the site ought to communicate."

The beauty of a great Web site is it allows you to promote a product or service inexpensively. Potential customers can look at it without having to pay a hefty access fee.

Keeping those guidelines in mind, both men designed their own Web sites, paying careful attention to their home pages. In each case, the Web sites offered a bird's-eye view of the company's services. Each man focused on his particular talents: Brewster stressed his artistic skills, while McLain sold his graphic and editorial talents, particularly his copywriting skills.

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This article was originally published in the August 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Designing For The Web.

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