Being a WordPress developer has its joys and challenges. One of its greatest joys is rapid development and client empowerment.
Since there are are many really great developers in the WordPress community, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We can acquire a theme or framework that makes use of the qualities we most love, or get a jump start with a base theme from underscores.me, that we can customize to our heart’s delight for our clients — saving ourselves time and our clients money instead of building it all from scratch.
The caveat, however, is that as in life, the company you choose to keep will determine your future. Choosing a pre-built theme with lots of custom features means you’ll be married to many of those features or you’ll need to deal with a messy code divorce later on. Particularly frustrating in WordPress (but even more in Joomla, my experience has found) is discovering a fabulous 3rd-party feature and embracing it only to find its development abandoned down the road. I try to be careful to join forces only with active developers who offer amazing support, are easy to reach and keep their products up to date. I especially favor those who make their living doing ongoing premium development so I can count on them sticking to it and not abandoning their work when more profitable opportunities arise.
When I first began developing with WordPress, I stuck to the Thesis theme/framework for its elegance, reliability and flexibility. It served me and many clients well for a long time. It wasn’t loaded with shortcodes or bells or whistles, but it did its job and was endlessly customizable and rock solid. But I left Thesis when the developer moved on to completely reinvent his theme in unique new ways, but unfortunately in ways that would tend to further restrict me to his theme (it was actually kind of a tough breakup decision that I knew would be good for me). I needed to break out of the Thesis box, and I did so with Genesis, WooThemes and others, a few from ThemeForest, a virtual candy store that tends to be scorned by more hard core developers. But not me. If it’s an amazing tool for my box and a developer meets my criteria, I want to try it. I’m also intrigued by the “drag-and-drop” theme designers such as Pagelines and Make, but I find myself hesitant to commit to their no-turning-back customizations.
This year I’ve enjoyed creating and changing up international fun guru Bernard De Koven’s A Playful Path website. It’s latest rendition is designed to mimick the insanely popular and beautiful community website medium.com, where authors, imagery and typography take center stage for longform storytelling made popular by the groundbreaking New York Times Snow Fall project that pushed multimedia web design to new heights. There’s a new iPhone app breaking similar ground, Storehouse, which makes it easier than ever to create and display really beautiful stories with an iPhone. Both sites have growing communities you can join for free to extend your reach.
A Playful Path started out as a adventurous and quick one-page static html template to promote Bernard’s new book of the same name. It featured a few of our favorite techniques, most especially its full-width parallax-effect images along with some background video loops. Most importantly, it was just a lot of fun visually for content all about play.
When A Playful Path evolved into a blog, we converted it to WordPress with a custom child theme built on top of the Eleven one-page theme, which used isotope to load his newest posts onto the home page and had our other favorite content scrolling into view below it.
Meanwhile, separately we both were starting to fall in love with the Medium website and especially its beautiful typography. Bernie and I are well into in our second decade of working together, and during that time he has been both a prolific writer and a willing html apprentice. It’s curious how our preferences, webwise, have started to synchronize. We both knew the site needed to change. We loved it, but its candy store contents were loading many more resources than we needed, and our fun was taking too long. We especially loved the home page for its flexible sections, but it’s blog template was not ideal for the longform articles, larger typography and fullwidth visual features we wanted to embrace.
At that point I came across a fairly new crowd-funded WordPress plugin called the Aesop Story Engine, which has some fabulous potential and is worth checking out. We created a version of his site on a theme developed especially for the Aesop plugin, but in the end we chose the Genesis framework and its Parallax Pro theme for its elegance and simplicity, then customized it with a mosaic loop to add his latest posts to the home page and added an extra large “hero” image and fading header above each post in Medium fashion. (Thanks to Sridhar Katakam for instructions.)
Lastly, I’ve been refining our CSS to enable some of Aesop’s best features, especially its full-width parallax images dispersed throughout longer blog content, at once opening up the blog post width but also narrowing it down for standard paragraphs of text. Aesop also posted this CSS to help make their components Genesis-friendly.
Responsive websites embracing longform typography, beautiful large graphics, easily readable text and other features such as background video, side comments, maps, galleries and timelines, are now taking over the web, and for good reason. They are easy to read and also fulfilling, a respite where we can once again fully immerse ourselves into some welcome depth of content. Typically when I arrive at sites like these, I breathe out a sigh, smile to myself, and look forward to a really good read, usually from the iPhone or iPad I enjoy using when I’m not working. It’s especially gratifying to help create a similar platform for a longtime friend.