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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Free, as in Web Designs

This month I discovered the wonders of free web design. I'm not sure why it never occurred to me before, but it turns out that there is a blossoming community of web designers out there who are in it for the glory, and who make their designs available on sites such as You can browse the libraries and download a zip package of html templates and css files that you are then free to modify for your own use.

I took the opportunity to revise my own tired homepage, currently celebrating its 12th year of vanity and anonymity, using a design from Node Three Thirty Design (not much on their own page, but there are links to DeviantART and Zeroweb as well).

My website started back in 1996 with a coursework for my degree (on a module which I now run - who says life isn't a circle :-/

The text is probably too small to read, but it's an on-line technical report on digital video. The last bit reads:

"New advances both in compression and storage have meant that TV quality pictures and even High Definition TV pictures could soon be possible and in lengths that would enable people to watch entire movies on their monitors. These benefits are so great that even the average media consumer could soon see digital television sets in their homes.

Add to this the ability to transmit video across a network (or the internet) and video conferencing and video phones also seem to be a possibility"

Honestly, any more prophesy and I'd be growing a straggly beard, plucking juniper bushes from thin air, and running around following the gourd.

During my PhD I built a homepage that was a kind of a 2d bookmark manager, there was some information about me, but mostly it functioned as a personal hypertext, and a place to put public material (such as teaching notes):

At some point it occurred to me that having some handy search forms on my home page would be a good plan, and so when I became a Research Fellow I added a side bar to search a number of common sites (this was before the days when search had been integrated into browsers):

If I'd been paying attention I might have generalised this and called the result pageflakes or iGoogle, but I was too busy doing worthy things with Open Hypermedia, and by the time I looked up the boat wasnt even on the horizon any more.

When I became a lecturer I needed a homepage that better reflected the work that I was doing, as well as functioning as a homepage for my own browser. I therefore set about a re-design, and incorporated this blog as aggregated content:

Undeterred by my iGoogle experience I followed Ted Nelson's example and proceeded to invent other potentially profitable tools to ignore, including a news aggregation page that I kept until Google Reader came along and showed me better:

This website was altogether better structured, with proper delimited sections, a decent page layout, and a design encoded using CSS (although I did cheat and use tables). This design has worked really well for over a year now, but in the Spring I noticed something unfortunate about it - it looks like it was drawn by a six year old :-(

The problem is that I just dont have time to do a better job - that would require evenings spent lovingly drawing slightly curved corners and dabbling in CSS voodoo. I was getting despondent - but then came across the Free Web Design People at OSWD, and within a few hours I had a shiny new website. Ok, it took a bit longer to glue the various parts together, and I didnt escape some minor CSS witchcraft, but nothing worth burning anyone over. The result is my current design:

I'm not entirely happy with the moody black and white picture (and my wife thinks it makes me look like I've had a stroke :-( but I'm proud of the fact that despite the fact that I have a Mac now, my homepage photo doesn't involve a polo neck shirt.

So the lesson here is that busy geeks of the world you need toil no more! Friendly graphic designers have rescued you from your tardy prisons and 90's vi coded html.

You are free (as in Web Design)!

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