At Open Sky Web Studio we love learning–we have to! It’s a part of what we do every day as we explore the needs of our clients and find the best solutions for them. Along with learning, we also love teaching. The slides below are from a talk recently presented at the WordPress Chattanooga Meetup.
This talk is about 4 of the often forgotten elements when developing a website. While not an exhaustive list, these four elements are easily overlooked but can have a real impact on your site’s performance your user’s experience. Even the most experienced developer and designer can benefit from an outside perspective on a project.
Get in touch with us to find out about our next teaching or speaking engagement.Read More
*Note: It was a pleasure presenting this talk at WordCamp Jacksonville 2016. Below is the presentation description and slides.
So you’re a pretty decent writer, took all those creative writing classes in college and now you work for an agency as a content creator and are looking for fresh ways to tell your client’s stories. Or, maybe you’re looking to make some extra money as a ghost writer on someone else’s blog, website, or social media account. The reality is that writing about topics or industries that you have no personal connection with can be extremely challenging but it’s often what we’re called on to do.
Whatever your story, being able to ask good questions, understand someone else’s needs and voice, and then communicate effectively in their voice is essential in today’s age of content creation and marketing.
Learn how to ask the right questions to understand not just WHAT needs to be communicated, but HOW to best communicate your client’s message. You’ll learn some quick interview tips as well as guidelines for professional content layout within WordPress pages and posts. It’s time to harness your client’s voice and put it to work for you!Read More
Open Sky Web Studio Loves Community!
If there’s one thing we love about WordPress, it’s the community that surrounds and improves this open source software. One of our core principles at Open Sky Web Studio is to not be technical bullies about websites, the internet or technology as a whole. We are teachers at heart and love engaging with our clients and others in the community so we can all learn and grow.
What is a ‘WordCamp’?
If you haven’t heard of a WordCamp, it’s basically a conference held in various cities around the world where WordPress developers, users, designers, marketers, bloggers, etc. all come together over a couple of days to learn from each other and deepen the knowledge base of the greater WordPress community. It’s a great time for networking as well as learning from each other’s failures and successes to make us all better.
Open Sky Web Studio is committed to growing the WordPress community. We are active members and co-organizers of local WordPress Meetups in Jacksonville, FL and Chattanooga, TN. With the inaugural WordCamp Jacksonville happening this year, of course we would want to be involved! Karena Kreger has been part of the core WordCamp Jacksonville Organizing Team, who have worked for nearly a year to make this event happen. Thanks to the tireless efforts of all organizers, the North Florida WordPress community will have an amazing event to attend. Beau Moffatt is also representing Open Sky Web Studio, speaking on Interviewing and Writing Digital Content for Client Projects.Read More
I’m honored to join a panel of WordPress experts at the WPJax and JOMM WordPress Meetup here in Jacksonville. We are answering questions surrounding the development of WordPress websites. Here is a breakdown and some additional resources for the discussion on Themes that I will be representing.
What should we be looking for in selecting a theme for a do-it-yourself site?
Lean and Mean!
Choose a theme that honors the WordPress best practice of separating functionality from design from content from the core. Let each piece do what it does best. Choose themes that do not carry a lot of bells and whistles in their own code that would be better accomplished with the right plugin.
This is a big topic for all software (and yes, your WordPress website is considered software). Make sure your theme comes from a reputable, active and engaged developer/designer. Review the level and responsiveness of support and the amount of usage a theme has as a starting place in this decision.
Not all themes are created equal. Is your favorite theme flexible or very limiting with just some amazing screenshots to try to make the sale. Watch out for quality on many marketplaces. There is a raging debate about the quality and security of the themes sold in several of the non-WordPress specific marketplaces such as ThemeForest and the like. Read more about this at Torque Mag.
SEO, Responsive Best Practices
Does your theme follow good coding standards and industry recommendations. Don’t get locked into a theme that Google’s gonna hate! If possible, test it out and test the demos on your mobile devices as well.
What are the differences between themes, child themes, and frameworks?
Themes handle the front-end visual of your site. Any customizations you make can be overridden by theme updates, if they are necessary. Themes must handle all the heavy lifting of the visual, including pagination, navigation, sidebars, layouts, code structure, logos, backgrounds etc.
Frameworks lay the groundwork and you simply build on top of it. They make it easy and fast to just focus on visual and know that the code is right. I love Genesis for this very reason. In fact, it’s what I use for every project.
Child Themes are built on top of existing themes or frameworks. If the underlying code is updated, you don’t lose customizations. It’s a very effective model allowing you to move quickly with excellence already in place.
How do I know when it’s time to hire help for designing my site?
I recommend choosing a theme that has the EXACT content you intended to use, unless you are comfortable making a lot of customizations in the PHP and CSS. If they have 200 words, you use 200 words. If they use a rectangular narrow logo, you use a rectangular narrow logo. If the home page is one large awesome hero image, you better have one large awesome hero image to use. If not, your setup will never look like the theme demo and you’ll pull your hair out. THAT’S when it’s time to get some help.
Is learning to customize and tweak a theme into your vision the BEST use of your time? An expert can knock things out for you with the experience and skill already in place that you might lack. It’s not that you can’t do it, it’s a business question of if you should be doing it.
If you have a particular vision of your site, you might do well to hire and hire early. Don’t waste months tweaking to death something you’re going to need to scratch once a professional gets involved. And get them involved early. Don’t buy a theme if you intend on hiring a developer! Let them in on the process, they can save you time and money with some good suggestions before the sale.
How flexible is WordPress as far as user experience and site function and size?
WordPress is quite extensible. I’ve seen it do everything from e-commerce, to blogs, to product promotion, to corporate sites, to membership, to lead pages, to crowd-funding, and more. If you want to do more than a basic informational site or a blog, talk to the community and be amazed by what it can be modified to do with the right themes, plugins and customizations.
Should I build my own theme? What skills do I need to have to do this?
Start by playing with free ones or even premium ones. Then consider tweaking existing themes as a way to learn. Consider making a child theme to sit on top of the your theme or framework.
If you build it from scratch, you need the skills to make sure it is secure and you will need to stay involved if a security issue is ever brought up. Also you’ll have to stay on top of technology changes yourself (example, the rise of mobile).
The WordPress community has many great learning resources
- Follow WordPress Blogs. Here is an OPML Feedly import of some of my favorites.
- Use WordPress.org and it’s amazing resources
- Attend WordPress meetups such as WPJax
- Attend WordCamps, annual regional community gatherings for all levels of expertise
- Watch WordPress.tv. It contains great videos from past WordCamps and other WordPress focused events.
- Learn some of the underlying technologies: Basic PHP, CSS, HTML, basic graphic design, etc.
- Become a good Googler! If you need it, chances are someone else needed it first.
Tools and Tips to Exceed Expectations and Still Keep Your Sanity
NOTE: So excited to be speaking at this year’s WordCamp Orlando 2014. Below is a copy of my presentation slides.
As a small shop we are often tempted to start from scratch every time with each new project. We think we need completely unique design and code. Meanwhile, all our clients want are clean, effective websites, that go live NOW. (Oh, and they need to have all the bells and whistles too.)
The beauty of WordPress is in its strength of community, resources and effectiveness. But without a plan in place, our projects can slow down and stall under the weight of all those possibilities.
Learn how to jumpstart your process by NOT starting from zero each time. You’ll learn about the power of frameworks, child themes, templates, design inspiration, preferred plugins, integration services and quality research to build a custom workflow that speeds up design and development. It makes for happy clients – and a happy you!Read More
In praise of process
There is great freedom of creativity with the right tools in place. Genesis Framework is one of those tools that has greatly enhanced the WordPress websites we build.
If this interests you, below are the slides from this presentation.Read More