Becoming a Web Designer in High School

Becoming a Web Designer in High School

Think back and remember selecting our high school electives?

I was reminded of this process when my 14 year old son pulled out a pink piece of paper and slid in front of me.

“Dad, I have to pick my classes for next year”.

My son is one year away from being the same age I was when I first started my web design career trajectory.

It appears that The Linsly School is a lot like Martins Ferry freshmen year.

  • Algebra II
  • Spanish I
  • World History
  • Biology I

But what about the electives?

As my son went through the options, I circled Graphic Design.

“If you want to start making money, take this computer elective”.

Over the last few months, my son has been more and more interested in web design. I’m not going to flatter myself, but he decided to select web design for his career day project. I realize this was probably 80% because I was an easy person to interview. But – he did end up doing a lot of research on his own and ended up writing a pretty coherent paper.

Along with my daughter, I’ve given them small web jobs on my passion project websites. For those familiar with ALT tags, yes they make $5 an hour describing pictures in the backend of my WordPress sites.

Imagine if my son knew Photoshop?

My First Website with MS Paint

I did not take Graphic Design freshman year. I don’t believe it was offered. Even if it was, it was likely named “Tech Prep I” and I was too lazy to ask questions or read the class description. It wasn’t until Junior year until I dabbled in Corel Draw, Flash, and the mighty Adobe Photoshop.

However, I was a master at Paint.

Most of us probably remember MS Paint and drawing a bunch of lines and then filling in the area with the paint bucket. I took this Paint ability to the next level.

This will not come as a shock to those who know me, I began my graphic and web design journey linked directly to a passion project. In 1999, myself and a ragtag group of teenagers created a backyard wrestling federation. We weren’t the only ones in the country. This growing fad saw at least four other local “feds” in the Ohio Valley. The World Wrestling Federation – equipped with The Rock, Steve Austin, and DX – was infiltrating pop culture and taking control of teenage boys like myself.

What does every legitimate wrestling organization need? A website.

I was exposed to a free web service called Expages. In less than a week and with the help of a few printout guides, we had a makeshift website.

The early website was all text. We managed to figure out how to install a guest board, traffic ticker, and the ever-popular Marquee. As odd as it sounds, we didn’t have any digital images of our “wrestlers“. Digital cameras were pretty new and the price was a bit too steep for some jobless freshmen.

I knew how to spice up the page – Paint.

For each page, I decided to create a custom graphic for each wrestler. Using my MS Paint skills, I was able to use the ~16 system fonts to create wrestler-specific logos. After hours of labor, each page had it’s own identity – matched to the style of our characters.

Wednesday Night Maddness DTWF Logo Made in MS Paint
Original print out from Wednesday Night Maddness show. MS Paint hard at work.

Did I mention that I had MIDIs of the wrestlers themes playing in the background? Yes, we were the best.

System Upgrade

My backyard wrestling federation was effectively defunct by the time I gained any professionally-led training. The untimely death of my father and forced relocation to a smaller home, we lost our “arena”. Even though I wasn’t actively participating, my backyard wrestling federation still remained the focus of many creative projects.

It’s a strong possibility that more than half of my graphic design assignments were linked directly to wrestling. After months of playing with Photoshop, our instructor gave us an HTML booklet and instructed us to make a website. It was an obvious choice to take the 50+ pages I created over the years and convert to a completely customized website.

Website Printout made with Homestead

This new website would be perfect for a potential relaunch in 2002. For the next several months, I upgraded the logos and crafted a perfect backyard wrestling website. This time I had photos of each wrestler and even screen captures of in-match action.

We managed to relaunch for a single event in 2002. The website was completed but never launched. The instructor failed to mention that hosts and domains would be involved for the public to view the site.

It sat completed on my local computer until I had a major hard drive crash a decade later.

Paying Jobs in High School

Although I focused nearly all my time and energy in my backyard federation website, we were forced to go out and volunteer services to the local businesses in the community. During school hours, I would team up with my close friend Kyle and walk to several businesses in Martins Ferry. At this point, we developed a half dozen passion websites and we thought we could earn some money.

The Shop

Our first job was working for his fathers auto repair shop, aptly named The Shop. We had since upgraded from using strict HTML and was using Macromedia Flash to build websites. After a few weeks, we had a nice interactive website highlighting the services of The Shop. I remember the homepage was the outline of the building. As you hit the links, the garage door would open with the new website information.

Falbo’s Barbershop

Falbo's Barbershop in Martins Ferry
Falbo’s is a classic establishment in Martins Ferry.

Next on the list would be a bit ironic. Most of the boys in Martins Ferry would get their haircut at Fablo’s Barbershop. I was also one of those boys, getting a bald fade every few weeks. It was only natural for us to offer to make a website for one of Martins Ferry’s favorite establishments.

A year later I would start dating a Falbo. My high school sweetheart, and now wife, was a second cousin to the shop owner.

DeFelice Pizza in Martins Ferry

DeFelice Pizza just moved in and we went knocking. I remember this being a pretty fun website. Also made in Flash, you could select your pizza size and toppings and they would fall from the sky on the pizza. Besides this wonderful animation, I also remember drawing the guys from the pizza box and creating an animated logo.

Caine the Brain at Defelice Pizza in Martins Ferry
Caine the Brain is standing in the historic location where a young Eric Hersey pitched a Flash website to franchise owner.

It reminded me a lot of my days in Paint.

Martins Ferry High School and School District

Last but not least, I had my name linked directly to the official school websites for a few years. I was asked by my senior “Tech Prep II” teacher to revamp the school district and high school website. Between student film projects, I managed to launch a pretty solid Martins Ferry School District site. A month of so later, we launched a semi-complete high school website.

Martins Ferry School District Website - Website Created by Eric Hersey as a Web designer in High School
A look back at the wonderful site I made back in 2003.

The Importance of Picking the Right Electives

After scanning over my sons pink paper, it dawned upon me how important my high school electives were in the formation of my career and life. What if I decided on that extra study hall instead of “Intro to Multimedia Design”?

I often tell students or young adults that I learned more about web design in high school than I did in college. That’s not a dig at my college education, but more of a kudos to MFHS for providing solid options for a young “nerd” like me.

I have no idea if my son (or daughter) will go down the digital technology path. It would be great to hire my son as a freelance designer. Down the line, it would be great to cross out the name Eric and call the company Hersey Web Design and Development.

Maybe he will pick Graphic Design.

Maybe he will be retail specialist.

I’ll be happy either way. Maybe his path is creating Hunter Hersey Office & Supplies.

I’ll make his company website.

Eric Hersey in 2000, Hunter Hersey in 2020 - Web Designer in High School
Eric Hersey Content Creator Black Shirt

About the Author

Eric Hersey

Eric Hersey is a Wheeling Web Designer and Digital Marketing Specialist that has been working in graphic and web design since 1999. He has applied his techniques and knowledge to help craft his own personal brand and hobby sites – but has also helped many brands and businesses grow online using powerful organic search tactics.