$hoestring Design

Web Design on a Shoestring is an unexpected book for a history class on new media. I never expected to read something so practical, by which I mean I did not expect to read a book so concerned with saving time and money. I assumed that academics, with the support of bottomless budgets from universities, museums, and libraries, would not have to struggle like professional web designers do in the business world. Carrie Bickner’s story about the New York Public Library in the beginning of chapter six helped break down my preconceptions. I’m talking about the story of the library not being able to purchase a $300,000.00 content management system after budget cuts (105-106). I think we need reminders that academia and the professional world are not as different as we may expect.

That last point should have been obvious to me last semester. I had an internship at the Air and Space Museum, and I digitized documents and photographs from the restoration of the Enola Gay. There were a few pages that had to do with budget and personnel problems. Who would have guessed that the Smithsonian would have had trouble funding the restoration of such an important piece of history? What does this say about the future of new media in academic organizations? Clearly, budgets for digitization, web sites, and other new media developments will rise, but I do not believe it will be an easy ascent. Just as there were budget issues with the Enola Gay twenty years ago, there will be budget shortfalls for grand digitization projects in the future.

Going back to Bickner’s book, she made many useful points. Her comments about CSS in chapter seven are helpful for me now, as I’m struggling with XHTML and CSS. I never realized how much time and money one can save by streamlining a web page with CSS. I never designed websites in the 1990s, so I had no clue about the difficulties designers faced.

Another piece of advice that I like, even though it’s a bit specific, is personalizing error messages in chapter four. I like the idea of changing those annoying “error 404 file not found” screens to something more useful. I will modify the error screens in my own projects for this class. One of the nice side effects of adding links to error messages is that I can add an email address, so that users can send a message to me if a link goes down.

The best advice comes at the end of the book, when Bickner writes, “taking on unanticipated tasks is part of the game of shoestring web designers—and doing those tasks well can make all the difference between failure and success” (206). I may not want to become the kind of web designer for which Bickner writes the book, but I believe that we as academics will have to become more aware of new media, which for most of us is an “unanticipated task.” We might as well learn about it now rather than later.

Explore posts in the same categories: Code, Design, Helpful Tricks, Time and Money

2 Comments on “$hoestring Design”

  1. tonibowman Says:

    Hi Laszlo,

    I enjoyed reading your entry on “Shoestring Design”. Your internship at the Air and Space Museum must have been such a fascinating experience. For a course entitled, “Museum, Monuments, and Memory” with Professor Arthur, we read an article written about the controversies surrounding the proposed Enola Gay exhibition. I actually just visited the Dulles exhibit a few weeks ago. Wow – what you mentioned about funding issues related to restoration, etc. completely surprises me.

    On another note, yes — I too appreciate the practicality of Bickner’s book. I liked the way she emphasized the importance of planning and setting limits. Web design can often get a little out of control!


  2. Laszlo Says:

    There’s nothing better than working with documents from a controversy. I hope I’ll have more chances to do that in the future. My only mistake during my internship was not visiting the museum in Dulles while I still had my badge. I could have gotten in for free and seen the actual Enola Gay.

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