After our #wemake19 Twitter chat this week, it should come as no surprise that I love working with WordPress. I use it for my personal blog (spoiler alert: I ported the theme customizations I did there over to this site) and my podcast’s website. I’ve been working with WordPress on and off for years, mostly for tinkering purposes, and playing in web design for even longer. I was a really nerdy teenager.
When I customize any site, including this one, I usually start with an idea in my head. Maybe I stumbled across a really attractive website when browsing, or maybe I found a new font to obsessed with – believe it or not, that happens fairly regularly. (My current favorite is Work Sans. I am also very fond of Gotham, which was used for a fantastic book design for one of my favorite books, 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I like blocky, sans-serif fonts.) Right now, I am using the WordPress default theme Twenty Twenty with some tweaks on top; however, I am hoping to create a theme from scratch for this site. I usually begin with a rough sketch on a post it.
The sketches aren’t super detailed; they’re more for me to plan out layouts and what elements I want on the page. They’re also usually stuck really random places (the above image is my weekly planner). Sometimes, I’ll do a mockup in Photoshop before I get to coding. Here’s an example of one I did before I redid my podcast website.
From there, I like to start with a fresh base. I am fond of _s (or underscores), which is a free, open source theme base for WordPress that starts you off with the basic templates you need, but not a lot of faff to sort through. It’s free and open source, too, which I look for in just about anything digital I do. Then I code. I code for a really long time, partly because I’m not very good at coding. I only know HTML, CSS, and some very, very basic PHP. I’ve mostly had to teach myself PHP through my WordPress projects, actually, and it mirrors my experience with (trying to) learn oral languages – I can usually read more than I can speak (or write, in this case), which isn’t saying a lot considering that PHP is very semantic. I like to code using Atom and Firebug, which is Firefox’s web console that lets you examine just what’s happening on a webpage and what code is being loaded. It takes out a lot of the guesswork, and it also allows you to make live tweaks—so it’s useful for trying out some code when you can’t quite figure out how things work.
Other times, I’m trying to solve some kind of problem, or make my life more convenient, or automate something I have to do often. I put myself in a weird cross section there: I’m lazy, and I want technology to do some work for me. But I’m also cheap and determined, so I work hard to figure out how to automate things myself, even if it involves a language or technique I’ve never used before, because I don’t want to pay someone else to do it. I want to figure it out on my own, understand how it works, and sink the time I would usually spend doing manual work making computers do the work for me.
None of this happens without resources I find on the web, though. All of my web design and coding knowledge is entirely self-taught, mostly through intense Googling and trial and error. W3 Schools, CSS-Tricks, and the WordPress Development Stack Exchange are some of my favorite resources.