Web design skill sets – prioritizing the learning process

I’m a perpetual student and right now I have two new books on my desk – ‘Teach Yourself Javascript in 24 Hours’ (like I have that kind of free time) and ‘Learning PHP5.’ I also have ‘Head Rush AJAX’ which I haven’t read yet. I’m halfway through the Javascript book.

I was wondering, in what order should I read these books?
I went hunting on Google this morning for ‘web designers important skills’ and found this article in Slashdot’s archives.

Now this is a long one, and there are some strong opinions about what to know and what’s useless information. But I found myself reading a lot of it this morning and thinking about where I want to be with my work in 5 years.

Right now, I call myself a designer/developer, since I do it all. But I do the graphic design and (X)HTML/CSS parts better than the PHP/MySQL parts. I know only enough Javascript to modify scripts I get elsewhere. I know enough PHP to comfortably customize open source e-commerce, CMS and other scripts without much of a problem – I can generally figure out how most things like that work, but couldn’t write it myself without a lot of hair-pulling.

So if I want to increase my level of understanding on the development side, what should I concentrate on, technology-wise? What should I not waste time on? Is it better for my future career to pick one or the other (design over development in my case) and focus mostly on that instead? Will getting better at JavaScript do me any good down the road?

I love my job because it encompasses so many areas. I’m guessing that I’ll be leaning more and more toward standards-based front end development, user interface design and information architecture as time goes on. But since I’m still a one-person shop for the time being, I need to be as fluent in PHP, MySQL and a few other things as time allows. I want to be a well-rounded designer that understands a bit more than just the basics of back end development.

There’s always so much to learn. I like that part too – it gives me an excuse to buy books.

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