tMP Exclusive Interview with Alex Dunn Webmaster – Marshfield By way of an introduction, could you please tell us a little about yourself Well I was originally born in the West Midlands but moved to Bristol when I was 6. I started playing cornet when I was 9 in school but have only been involved with brass bands since 2001. After years of nagging me, my friend who now plays for Polysteel band eventually convinced me to go along to a practice at Marshfield band. I was stuck straight in at the deep end, and really was pretty hopeless to begin with. Are you actively involved in playing a brass instrument with any band, or do you simply undertake the web design on behalf of a band? I currently play the Repiano cornet with Marshfield band (contesting band) and solo cornet at Dodington Parish band (non-contesting). How long have you been involved in web design, and how did you first get involved in it? I have been messing around with computers since I was young trying to program games on a ZX spectrum. As for web design, I did my first web page in 1999 (plain text), but didn’t really start properly until 2001 while doing my IT degree. Do you manage/run any other web sites, if so, which ones? Well I have done a number of websites for different people, organisations & friends businesses (all through band contacts!!). I have set up my own portfolio site www.alkswebdesign.co.uk. I’ve done www.travesreholidays.co.uk, & www.elizabethsfloraldesign.co.uk for band friends over the years. What applications did you use to build your site and why did you choose these? I generally hand code websites using xhtml / css coding and also a bit of php / MySql and flash. Originally I used Dreamweaver heavily but now only use it for its file management facilities and a few other bits and bobs as I’m always stuck in its code view window. Sometimes I’ve used EmEditor (an enhanced notepad). I also use Fireworks for images, as it is the best software for web graphics. Please can you explain for us how you prepared and planned for the development of the site when asked to implement this for Marshfield Band? The Marshfield band website is in its 4th version since 2002, and each website has been a development over the previous one. Although each has been a complete re-design, I’ve used a lot of the content from previous versions. For the latest site, I started by drawing designs / wireframing on paper to get down the structure and style, then I coded the xhtml / css layout. Following this I built the graphics in fireworks and added the text. Then I added the PHP code and guestbook to make the site more dynamic. What content do you feel should be included on a brass band www site? I don’t think there is any need to over-do a band website. As long as all the basics are included it should be enough. Do you use innovative ideas on your www site? Not really, although I’ve made sure that the design is unique with its own identity. Why should people visit Marshfield Bands www site? It’s a good example of modern website design, clear and easy to navigate. What do you feel is important when designing and implementing www sites…? It’s important to take time to think about the design and how its going to be built prior to diving in and trying to do it as you go along (unless you,re experimenting). Get a good idea of what text your going to include in the site and get your images prepared beforehand so that you have elements to work with. Keep designs simple rather than put loads of flash all over it and remember to think about dial up users, (use 56k dial up) not everyone is on broadband so keep the file sizes sensible and make sure you optimise images properly. How long did this site actually take you to build? The current design took a few weeks to put together, but I’ve used text and pictures from earlier versions of the site so it has been an on-going project for 5 years. How do you manage the content on your web site and do you have a publishing policy? Currently I do all the updates to the website and take all the pictures and gather the news. However I have a CMS (contact management system) ready to implement when the time is right so that that other band members can update it from the browser window on their own computers. What would you recommend as the best way to start to learn about designing and building www sites? Its really important to learn the basics before trying to do too much. For beginners not knowing simple things can really cause difficulties such as how file structures work, the difference between absolute and relative paths, file naming conventions, graphics formats etc. There are two ways to learn really, either learn some software such as dreamweaver (expensive) then pick up the hand coding as you go along or learn html /css from scratch (cheap, harder but better in the long run). It is also essential that you become familiar with some graphics software (i.e. fireworks). If you cannot bare hand-coding or the cost then there are many cheaper web building packages available, however they are very controlling and not as flexible. These packages are good if you want to get a website up quick, but not good if you really want to ‘learn’ properly. There is so much to learn now, with content management systems becoming more popular and graphics getting better and better, so don’t expect it to be a quick process as it can take years to become proficient. Do you have a favourite technical reference book for budding web designers? There are many free tutorials on the web which can be highly beneficial (http://www.w3schools.com/html/html_intro.asp). If you are a dreamweaver user then there are good tutorials from Adobe (www.adobe.com/devnet). Other than that there are some fantastic books on modern design. “The Essential guide to CSS and HTML Web design” by Craig Grannel (friendsofed.com) looks a good starting point (not read this one myself), I would also recommend “php solutions” by David Powers, for anyone interested in dynamic applications. How do you see the influence of the internet assisting the banding movement over the next 5 to 10 years? The Internet has already helped by giving bands more of an identity and a voice. Really the Internet will continue to improve communication. In most visited order, what are your 5 most frequently used www sites? www.aol.com (set as my browser default, but no longer a member) www.themouthpiece.com www.4barsrest.co.uk www.marshfieldband.co.uk www.fluoroquinolones.org (helped me find out what was wrong with me this year even though my doctors didn’t have a clue – trust me these antibiotics are bad news) Can you let our members know of any other www sites you feel are interesting to visit but are not in your top 5, and why this is so. www.alistapart.com (articles for web designers and web developers – lots of goodies and good information on webdesign) www.communitymx.com (good adobe / macromedia resources – some free) www.trumpetherald.com (interesting American based trumpet site) http://www.w3.org/ (world wide web consortium articles on web standards) Could you please name your all time favourite www site, and why so? I don’t really have a favourite. Do you use online community forums, if so, which ones do you use? Not many other than tmp and a few Webdesign forums. What do you do to relax and unwind? Perhaps listen to music or a good movie. Evening out with friends. I think I need to relax a little more at times. Tell us something about yourself that we don't already know. I play the guitar and have written a few songs of my own, although no one has heard them yet. What are your other hobbies? Card Tricks, Running, Guitar Playing, General computing stuff. What do you drive? Well I have a 94 Metro Si that does me. It’s the cheapest thing to run ever and I can repair it myself unlike new cars, which are difficult and expensive to repair.