To WYSIWYG or Not To WYSIWYG? That is the question.

When I first started learning how to build websites a decade ago, my project actually wasn’t a website to begin with; it was a printed newspaper. Back then “Microsoft Publisher” existed, which was a tool to put printable publishing content together (newspapers, cards, calendars), and a feature that could automatically convert the pages to web pages and uploaded through FTP. I did that for awhile until I took my introductory course to computers and learned how to use Front Page Express and Microsoft Front Page, (which also later on discontinued), then DreamWeaver, which were “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) tools, designed for building websites.

For those who don’t know what WYSIWYG tools are, they are simply website builders. Think of an image editor like PhotoShop. They have features that allow you to insert text, images, etc, and drag around. WYSIWYG tools do the same but is for creating web pages, often with advanced features like switching back and forth if you want to tweak code. I had a blast using those tools because it was easy to slap together pages with those tools.

However, eventually I started to learn how to code web pages, HTML, CSS, Javascript, (then down the line PHP, PERL, ColdFusion, PROGRESS, Objective-C, etc). I ended up falling in love with coding, that I ended up using just Notepad to code my web pages. I realized that with coding, I had full control of what was being generated, verses the WYSIWYG automatically generating the code for you behind the scenes. You can see it if you have a split code/output view (I know DreamWeaver has it). Start typing something, inserting content or dragging it, and you’ll see code being generated for you.

So which is better?? To use a WYSIWYG or not?? To tell you the truth, it may be a matter of preference and what’s efficient for you with your skillset. I’ve done both and if I had to choose between the two, I prefer code because I have full control, create cleaner code, smaller files (which means faster downloads for the user), and can better follow web standards (e.g. better accessible to people and search engines). WYSIWYGs are programmed to spit out the code for you as you edit and doesn’t examine all the code and clean it or find the most efficient way to code.

However, for those who don’t code, like many web and graphic designers, it may be more ideal and efficient way to build web pages. It may be faster to just learn advanced WYSIWYG techniques than to code. I’ve known some web and graphic designers having the dilema of wanting to both be designers and code, but the technical part may or not be their thing. A designer struggles trying to understand the technical side, as much as a web programmer struggles to understand the visual creative side. Often company departments have some communication barrier between the design team and development team because they don’t “get” each other sometimes. As my portfolio explains, usually you’re either an web designer with complex art skills, or web programmer with complex technical skills… RARELY both. In fact, haven’t seen any work from one individual who knows both, but I’m sure it’s possible. Maybe attributed to the notion that both are using two different sides of the brains. When I became technical, I did lose some of my creativity, so now it is harder for me to think creative designs as an artist would. I’m trying to resurrect my creative side so that I can use both.

But don’t get me wrong, you can use BOTH WYSIWYG and coding. Using split view to use the best features of coding and WYSIWYG, is even better. The best of both worlds. When I was coding with ColdFusion in DreamWeaver, there were a lot of tedious tasks like turning text into bulleted lists. DreamWeaver was good at creating clean code for this. Instead of manually typing out all the opening and closing xhtml li tags, I just selected the text and clicked the bulleted list button and voila, (I double checked the code of course). Saves a lot of time.

As for the program tools for non-designers and non-coders to generate websites using pre-designed templates, the advantage is that you don’t need to know how to design, code or code. But the trade-offs are messier code (likely slower download time), than a WYSIWYG due to the interchangeable plug and play templates that may come from many different sources (e.g. a community of template designers). With the dependency on the application to do the design and coding for you, it gives the least control and is limited to what the program allows you to edit. I do depend on an open source Content Management System (CMS) for some of my blogs; I chose a language I understood so I can modify the code if needed. Although it generates messy code, it does save A LOT of time from having to manually create and manage each page.

So overall, whether you should use a WYSIWYG or not, is up to what’s best for you in skillset and efficiency. If you’re willing to learn code; that is great. Then you can combine both. But remember, it’ll take time and a lot of patience.

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