Noting 9 years of Catena Creations, 20 years of web design

Today, on Aug. 21, 2017, I’m watching the eclipse. I’m also celebrating the ninth anniversary of starting Catena Creations. Here’s how I got started. My thanks and appreciation to everyone to has supported me and my business during the past nine years.

At the end of June 2017, I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my decision to add website design to my portfolio of skills. This life-changing decision had made such a huge impact on my career and my creativity.

First website I managed: TransEquity, Inc.

First website I managed: TransEquity, Inc.

In 1997, I was working at Pacesetter Corporation. My former boss at TransEquity, Inc. was trying to get me to return to the company. She offered a number of incentives, and added an intriguing plea: Come back and finish our website. They’d been working on it for nearly a year, but it still wasn’t complete.

I didn’t know much about the web back then. We were one of the few families who had a great computer and an Internet connection because it was required for my then-husband’s work. So I started doing my research.

Brian Rockey, now Director of the Nebraska Lottery, convinced me to make the switch. I ran into him at a political event in May 1997. We had worked together when we were both public information officers for the state of Nebraska: me for the Nebraska Arts Council, him for Gov. Ben Nelson. He had just started his job as the marketing director for the Nebraska Lottery. When I told him about the offer, he said, “Take it. You’ll love doing this!”

That friendly advice has led to 20 years of changes and challenges with creativity, technology and commerce. I’ll never regret those challenges.

When I returned to TransEquity to manage their website, I asked for three things: 1) the best Internet connection available at that time; 2) a new computer that would handle the technical workload; and 3) the ability to take classes to learn this new skill. They agreed.

Of course, in 1997, the best Internet connection available was a dial-up connection. My top-notch computer had 32 megabytes (not gigabytes) of RAM and Word Perfect 4.2. I took four HTML classes and a web graphics class through the Nebraska Business Development Center – the only classes available then – and I was set.

At that time, everything was coded by hand. There weren’t any pre-programmed website builders like WordPress or DreamWeaver or even FrontPage (don’t remind me). The TransEquity website was coded and designed by Hirsch Design. Their staff also taught me how to update and manage it.

So very much has been invented since then, and I have learned so many new things. Here are the developments that I think have been the most helpful and influential.

1) Development of coding. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allowed us to control design through code rather than graphics. It and the creation of PhP also led to the development of Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress. Now, instead of making changes on every page, we can make them in one place and update an entire website.

2) Visual enhancements. I remember being soooooo excited when Flash came out. We could have photos shows, and animate things! I taught myself Flash at home on weekends, and watched a lot of Pac 10 football on Saturday nights while trying to learn this new program. Eventually, it led to some pretty cool websites as well. And who could forget all those splash openings?

Being able to easily add video also added new dimensions to web design. When my ex got the computer that I first used to access the Internet in 1997, it had a video clip of Tommy Fraser scoring a touchdown in Nebraska’s 1995 national championship game. That was SO COOL because very few people had video on their computers. Now we have YouTube and Vimeo and. . . . .

3) Mobile phones with cameras. The mobile phone made it possible for people to take photos and shoot video anywhere. You didn’t need a special camera with expensive editing software anymore. In 2009, I received a $5,000 grant from the National Association for the Self-Employed. I used part of that money to buy a video camera because phones couldn’t shoot video yet.

And when Apple introduced the iPhone, it also introduced a new need: mobile websites. At first, we had to program separate sites for mobile and desktop. Responsive design allows us to build both at the same time.

4) Social media. Now that you could take pictures and shoot video with your phones, Facebook, Twitter and a slew of social media sites made it possible to share them quickly with friends and family. Updates from these sites are now used as news sources for quotes in breaking stories.

5) Technology enhancements. Broadband cable connections made it possible for designers to add graphics, photos, videos and audio because users had to wait only seconds, rather than minutes or hours, to download and view them. Wifi and cellular connections let everyone carry the web with them and access it almost anywhere. Clunky desktops turned into slimmed-down laptops which morphed into portable tablets and phones that let us touch screens to give commands.

And, for better or worse, search engines have helped us find more data that libraries can hold. Who knew that when Google came on the scene and shut out Alta Vista that it would have such an influence?

A blog post I saw at the beginning of 2017 lamented that web design has become boring and predictable. In some ways, I agree. One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is that web design has become so focused on making sure everything is optimized for search engines that a lot of creativity is lost. Graphics MUST be rendered with code, not images. Text MUST have the right keywords. Headline sizes MUST decrease as you go down the page. And on and on.

Sometimes I miss the early days when the only limitation you faced was the size of the graphic that would fit on a screen.

As I look ahead, I see so many possibilities for my clients. Because the web has become so diversified, it’s easier to reach your target audience and focus your message. The challenge is to figure out the best and most economical way to do that. Catena Creations is up to the challenge.