Love at First Site

November 14, 2014

I built my first website in 2003 while working at a low-end Italian restaurant in Sedona, AZ. I was 23 years old, broke, living with my folks, and didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. With the help of my Mom, I got a Macbook Pro, and was using it to write really awful house music in their garage during the day, and working in the restaurant, if I wasn’t out drinking, at night.

At the time, my Dad was starting a new company that was to provide the world with high quality produce. This was before organic was a thing and kombucha was sold in grocery stores. He had a great business plan with a really bad photo of a greenhouse and a group of tomatoes hovering over it. I asked him if I could try making graphic with this really fancy software called Photoshop that could make anything look great. I don’t remember exactly how it went down, but I think I read some tutorials online and figured out how to create layers, select the image, etc. I ended up making pretty much the same thing, except in layers and with bigger tomatoes. I was enamored with my new machine and figured I could do anything with it. The possibilities were endless.

When I was a teenager, I lived at a boys ranch and there was a kid there who we all considered a Hacker. He had an old 486 hidden away in a storage building that he connected to the Internet via a phone line he ran in from a telephone pole outside. He was in there mosts nights hacking away feverishly. I figured he was hacking into NASA or something, but really, he was just chatting with friends. I’d hang out, play guitar, and watch him on the computer for hours wondering about what sort of mischief he was up to. I thought about my Hacker friend and how cool he was to me when I got my computer. I really felt inspired.

Photoshop was just the beginning. I needed to learn how to program if I was going to be a real Hacker and scoured the web looking for ways to learn. Some people said, “Learn Python”. Others said, “Learn PHP”, or, “Start with JavaScript”. I worked for at it for weeks(yeah weeks), without getting very far. I needed something more beginner friendly. Something basic. Like, HTML. That would be my language of choice. I would be a master.

My girlfriend’s Mom was a small business owner and we were really close. I’d come over to her house on weekends and cook dinner for everyone while we chatted about things. She knew I made music and that I was really into my computer. I told her I was learning how to program and she asked me if I knew how to build a website. Of course I did. At the bookstore, I found like three or four books on HTML, web design, and Photoshop.

There’s only a little part of the old website still up. I took a photo of their facility and applied a little Photoshop magic. We used that brilliant graphic in the site header and I used it as inspiration for the entire site design. The bluffs in the background weren’t really visible from the property, but who cares? And, I made them look like they were super close–like close enough to touch.

I considered this project successfull and continued to built shitty websites for several years. It wasn’t until about 2005/2006 that I really felt like I was getting the hang of it. Poor bastards..

Project Rundown

Brief

I used my handy dandy web design How To book to figure what I needed to ask my “client” and came up with a “creative brief”. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but fuck it, there was $500 on the table, and I wanted to be professional.

Comp

After practicing a few graphics on my Dad’s business plan, my graphic design skills were perfectly honed. I created a spectacular layout utilizing the colors of Sedona’s Red Rocks, big extra-embossed buttons, and a really small font size.

Code

Photoshop 7 was amazing at taking a comp and turning it into a “website”–<tables> and all. I remember having to muscle around the complex JavaScript in order to get the rollovers to work right. It all looked like Russian or something to me. I did it, and that was all that mattered. I could brag to my friends that I could write code.

Handoff

She was really pleased with the site. It took a few weeks longer than I expected it would, but I proudly finished it.