> my biggest initial hurdle is figuring out what exactly I need to learn - what could meet the goals I have?
Difficult question to answer, but if a simply, easy to use UI/UX is most important to you, then I would start with designing that.
Start by creating a static HTML/CSS mockup of the UI that you want. Potentially using something like Bootstrap or Semantic UI.
Here's an example of a static mockup for Converse: https://conversejs.org/mockup/chatroom.html