When side projects take the center

by Mr. Sheehy

Well I finished a kind of final draft for my proposal for the website I’m creating. I am pretty happy with this result. Following my design dilemmas from the other night I spent a bit of time rethinking and working on the content area below the banner. I happily pursued some curiosities I had about border styles to discover the “groove” and “ridge” attributes, which enabled me to contain the content area appropriately and fill the edges with a light yellow — something I’d wanted to do but hadn’t done well enough yet to write it into the design.

Behind the banner pic I put a repeating “Go Comets,” both to change it up and add a kind of school spirit flair. I had wanted to see what it looked like with the school’s seal repeating there, since the seal is a part of most of the school’s current marketing and literature, but I had trouble in Photoshop changing the black seal to the yellow I wanted. I stuck in a repeating seal with the best color I could approximate, but it didn’t work, so I stayed with the Go Comets.

I learned a lot about design on this project and am especially happy with how much cleaner my code is than with previous projects. Especially on my class website design, I had so many troubles with a few tricky spots that I kept inserting random bits of CSS to try to make it work, but then after trying three or four in succession, I’d lose track of all the random gunk I’d thrown in that didn’t do anything. To read that CSS and try to make sense of why I put in all the attributes I did would be a nightmare, so I’m rather happy to be able to look through the code I’ve written for this page and to know exactly why each piece is there.

I keep telling my wife I need to get away from projects like these, because I find it interesting and get tempted into learning how to do all these little bits and pieces of design. I can’t even explain how badly I want to learn Flash (though I am one to think it is greatly misused in how it is tied into many web pages) and a more powerful content management system than a basic website (eg – Drupal). I’d love to say to this school for which I am designing, “Here is your site, and here is how you can write your blog with the same design and main links, so visitors will still be oriented to your site and not get lost.”

Actually, writing that made me wonder if I could take the publicized Feedburner feed of an outside blog and run it through a page in the site with a high number of the words revealed for each article, essentially putting the blog on the alternate site. I gave it a try but it would only reveal about 100 words, even though an option exists for displaying the article’s full text (perhaps WordPress.com restricts this? Or is it a Feeburner glitch?). I suppose I could tinker more with it sometime, but for today it’s just a dream.

The way these last two paragraphs just ran into exploration is a perfect example of why I say I should be careful about these kinds of projects. They’re fun and I dive into them fully, ignoring time and more important matters. It reminds me of when I worked in radio. I’d go into the production room to put together an ad or bit of some kind and I wouldn’t come out, even for lunch. I’d pick and pick and pick until I got it as good as I could get it, and I was driven to get it better and inspired by each time I actually did get it better than the time before.

The thing I have to remember, though, is what is most important and what I am best at doing. Sure, I can design a decent website for you and it can do some basic things, but I can’t do it better than the people who get paid really good money to do it (well, can’t do it better than many of them, anyway). I can’t even begin to tell this school how they might set up online giving or online enrollment, other than to say, “You’d better call someone else.”

But if they wanted to know about teaching and education, and especially about teaching writing and literature or teaching with technology, well then I suddenly become a worthwhile voice. That’s where I am a viable expert (at least, it’s the area where I have the most expertise, whether or not I stand up too well compared to others in the field).

Exploring is good and learning is fun, but before I go and label myself a web designer and launch a multimedia consulting company (Sheehy Productions – a website coming near you . . .) I should remember to leave ample time for growing myself in my areas of true skill.

Thanks for reading.