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Drawing the Web

Designer mixes programming and art

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 23/02) - It was the old school that got Jeff Hipfner involved with the new school.

Three years ago, he was working with Nous Tous un Soleil, a Montreal-based silk-screen shop. When the shop needed a Web site, he volunteered to design it.

NNSL photo

Jeff Hipfner gets close to his painter's palette -- the brain of a Macintosh computer. - Nathan VanderKlippe/NNSL photo

He's been doing it since, and now specializes in on-line design at Outcrop Communications. That means he gets a computer loaded with thousands of dollars of high-powered software, things like Photoshop, Flash, Director, Dreamweaver and Fireworks.

And he gets a nice big screen and the chance to combine artistic skill with programming savvy. He has designed Web sites, CD-ROMs and done some work in print. He worked on the Smart Communities Web site, an NWT Tourism CD-ROM, and sites for Baker Lake and Yellowknife Catholic Schools.

Hipfner is trained in the visual arts, which he studied at the University of Quebec at Montreal. At first, designing Web sites was a whole new world.

"In visual arts you're taught more to think about what you're doing in an intellectual sense and sometimes a visual aspect almost comes secondary to the idea," he said.

"But I've also come from a background that is very visual ... I'd like someone that doesn't care about the idea to also get something out of it, like a painting or a sculpture."

Designing Web sites is often less about art than it is communications. That's reflected in the actual design process. What comes first in any Web site, said Hipfner, is to create the structure of the site: a site map of what information goes where.

"You have to consider how someone is going to visit your site and how you're going to get them to the information they want as quickly as possible," he said. "You have about 10 seconds to keep them on the site -- if not, they're going to go back to their search engine and find something else."

In fact, only about a quarter of the job is actual site design. The rest is planning and programming.

And although programming isn't something typically associated with artists, Hipfner said it's an interesting part of what he does.

"It takes a while to learn, but that's part of the interest -- learning the backbone of the Flash presentation or even a Web page."

But ultimately, it's art he wants to pursue. He thinks about creating Web sites created not for communications so much as purely artistic value.

And ultimately, he says, "One day I'd like to be working as an artist full-time, working with the internet and also working in more traditional mediums -- with painting and sculpture."