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Founder of Ojai Web Design Center Fills Technological Need


Through the mid-1980s, the idea of founding an institute for the study of Internet Web design was perhaps the furthest thing from Lynda Weinman's mind. Back then, Weinman was a graphic designer, just discovering the capabilities of her first Macintosh computer.

That was well before Weinman became a source of computer information for friends and business associates, before she published six top-selling World Wide Web design and graphics texts and before she became a college instructor and featured speaker at computer conferences.

Earlier this year, when Weinman rented a computer lab at Ojai's Thacher School and conducted a Web design workshop, the idea of starting an institution to focus on the subject began to make sense.

And two months ago, when Weinman opened the 1,200-square-foot, state-of-the art Ojai Digital Arts Center to teach skills for designing eye-catching Web sites, the once far-fetched idea was a reality.

"The Web is so new, there really is no formal channel to get this kind of training--people are training themselves or finding training wherever they can," Weinman said. "There are people who are noted as key influencers, authorities. My books have sold really well, I have a following of fans. There was this moment of truth, where I supposed that I was a person who had a lot to offer in this area, and why not leverage myself?"

The Digital Arts Center, on Matilija Street behind the Arcade in downtown Ojai, offers monthly five-day workshops for new and experienced Web designers and three-day workshops for more experienced Web site publishers. The enrollment fees are $1,250 for the five-day session and $850 for the three-day program.

In its first two months, advertising solely through the Internet, the Digital Arts Center has attracted a wide range of businesspeople, both professionally and geographically.

Participants have included corporate executives from Greece and Sweden, a pair of catalog designers from L.L. Bean Inc., a Web site designer from Compaq Computer Corp., a representative of Guess Inc., a variety of small-business owners and people interested in developing freelance computer graphics businesses.

"The truth of the matter is the Web has come of age and people are making serious money using it," Weinman said. "We ourselves are doing that--we're amazed at how many more book sales we make over the Web than we do by mail or fax."

"L.L. Bean is looking at doing a huge part of their business in online sales," she said. "Every business is seeing the importance of having a huge Web presence. It's sort of a national calling card. Companies are scrambling to get up to speed in developing Web sites."

Maximum enrollment for each class at the Digital Arts Center is 20 students, each of whom has an individual workstation equipped with Apple's new iMac computers.

Curriculum for the five-day program includes techniques for compressing graphics so they can be downloaded quickly; creating Web site addresses, effective color schemes and advanced graphic images; and working with type and animation.

"I try not to take a dogmatic approach," Weinman said. "Someone who is doing a news site has different challenges than someone who is doing a fashion site, who has different challenges than someone who is doing a Girl Scout site."

The Digital Arts Center is currently producing a video version of the workshop for distribution beginning in early November. The center has 400 advance orders, Weinman said.

"I'm totally amazed," she said. "I thought I was taking a huge risk to do this. It's really kind of scary to put your money where your mouth is. You think you've got something to offer to the world, and you don't know if the world is interested."

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