Tag Archives: web design

Redesign: My WordPress Journey

As noted before, when I created this site I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted to take it. My decision is to make primarily a Design portfolio showcasing my work with a blog component. It is not that the blog isn’t important to me but, I wanted to show equal emphasis on my design work and capabilities.

When I set out to redesign this site it quickly became clear, I had a lot of work to do. I wanted something simple, clean, usable, creative and stylish. The landing page is the most important part of the site. I set out to welcome guests with the entire site experience in one place. After some thought, I found that I wanted to create a static page with dynamic content. Researching WordPress, I realized this was harder than previously thought. During my research, I kept reading about pages vs. posts and how there is a hierarchy of pages. Determined to understand this hierarchy, I consulted my previous theme’s template and Google. I only became more and more confused. People were talking about widgets and different pages that have specific semantic meanings. My template seemed to be missing something. The confusion lasted until I saw a forum post, where someone was trying to use these WordPress features and couldn’t figure it out. They posted their confusion on a forum and received the reply, “you probably have an old theme.” I then consulted the default WordPress theme and saw template php pages to take advantage of these new features. It was clear at this point, I had to abandon the old theme and plan for the future. I decided I was going to utilize the templates of the default theme to build my site.

Now that I had some ideas down I knew I had to act on them. When I was first putting this site up, I found a theme and just improved upon it. I did this with the built-in WordPress theme editor. This presents its own challenges, including, every change saved gets applied to the live site immediately. In a proper development environment this is less than ideal. After some more research, I came across xampp. Xampp is an application that turns your computer into an offline Apache web server. This was the perfect solution because I could export my current site and database information; then, built a new theme around this established content.

The design was created completely by me with Photoshop; then, sliced up for this website. I chose a dark theme because they are said to be among the most difficult to create. You are limited to the colors, lighting, and textures you can use. With lighting limitations, depth becomes difficult. This then became a challenge I had to complete. I feel I successfully embarked on the journey through the dark side to create a complex design that somehow has an elegant simplicity.

Looking good only works, if it’s functional. I paid particular attention to layout and the future; two concepts that are seemingly unrelated but, have more in common with each other than one may think. That commonality is functionality. In terms of layout we can look at coding. The coding is heavily reliant on CSS, PHP, HTML and JavaScript. This combination of coding delivers a fast, clean and flexible environment. This will lead to a platform that is ready to take on whatever the future has to offer. These do play a role in developing for the future but, not as much as out next topic, the browser. At this stage in the game the browser has become the most talked about part the web. The term “modern browser” has become a popular term; a term that refers to the ability to support web standards and enable the ability to understand HTML5 and CSS3. When deciding how I would code this site I chose not to fully utilize the features of CSS3 because support is still scarce and require hooks like -webkit (safari and chrome) and -moz (Firefox). The final version will drop those hook causing me to rewrite a bunch of code. Planning for the future has some serious decisions.

One of the biggest decisions you have to make now is whether to support Internet Explorer 6. I decided to take the same stance as big companies like youtube.com have taken and not support this site on Internet Explorer 6. Aside from the coding horror of trying to make IE6 render properly, Microsoft even seems to indicate that they support the browser for the lifetime of the operating System it was shipped with, by saying:

The engineering point of view on IE6 starts as an operating systems supplier. Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product. We keep our commitments. Many people expect what they originally got with their operating system to keep working whatever release cadence particular subsystems have.

Since Microsoft has decided to drop mainstream support for Windows XP, they will therefore drop support for Internet Explorer 6. Microsoft will only continue to offer support for XP over extended contracts. This is not something the general consumer will buy into and is mostly for corporations who need an extension to upgrade hundreds, if not thousands of computers. My site’s users are generally consumers without extended XP contracts. Therefore, I have dropped my support for IE6. IE6 is not one of the aforementioned “modern browsers.” There is little reason for any consumer to continue to use IE6 because you can get far more features, security, and usability enhancements from any of the later released web browsers. Internet explorer 8 was the first Microsoft web browser that didn’t seem to break any of my websites when using stylesheets from Firefox, chrome and opera.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by my site. I hope you enjoy your stay. Feel free to comment on posts and send me feedback. I am always looking for work. If you want consulting or for me to build you a site, don’t hesitate to use the contact form and send me a message.

Staying Organized and Developing Incrementally

As promised in an earlier post, I will be discussing the importance of organization and the use of various tools to help keep progressive development. In the past I used to think that if you were going to write blog posts you had to sit down for an hour and think of your topic, research, write, edit and rewrite your posts all at once. I tried to do this for a little while and I ended up becoming counter productive. The problem with a busy lifestyle is that you never have the time to just sit down and concentrate on one thing. This is why I developed a different strategy.
Incremental development is the best way to keep productive without overwhelming yourself. The most noticeable part in incremental development is that you don't feel overwhelmed, which in turn wears you down. I have found that when you write a little bit then put it down, the next time you you come back you will read what you wrote and revise it for the better; therefore, you get a creativity boost because it forces you to reread and edit your work. The only drawback to incremental development is that it will take you longer to complete a particular task but, hopefully your work will be more quality, not quantity. Also, when you are busy, getting work done eventually is better than not getting anything done at all.
In order for incremental development to work, you have to have a place to jot down your idea's. Some people find sticky notes to be a very easy way to jot down your ideas. Now I am not talking about grabbing a pen and post-it notes; however, if that works best for you, by all means use it. For me, I sit in front of a computer about 80% of my day. It is better for me to use computer based note taking software. Some good options are Tomboy (for the Linux users) and sticky-notes (for the windows users). Personally, I like to use web applications because of the multiple computer problem.
As previously noted, I sit in front of a computer about 80% of the day. One problem I face is that I have a laptop, which I am in front of part of the day and during the other part of the day I am in front of my desktop. Because of this, I had some notes, files, etc. on one computer and not on the other. To over come this, I use a series of applications to make sure that no matter what computer I am on, I will have the latest updates that I have made. When writing my posts, I have ditched the sticky-notes / Tomboy method. Instead I have grown accustomed to google notebook which, unfortunately may be going away. Don't worry because there are some other alternatives This ways I can create various notebooks for different topics. I have one for my personal site http://seandfeeney.com and one for each website I write for. I then can create posts (notes as google notebook calls them) for each blog post I wish to write. I also create a "note" for general website ideas and changes. This makes ideas and posts easier to write but, what about pictures, documents and other various files?
In order to address the problem with files being located on multiple computers, I recommend looking into various file transfer or on-line storage programs / services. In a previous post, I recommended the use of Dropbox. Dropbox is a great way to keep certain files on all of your computers without having to do anything more than just putting the file in your Dropbox folder. I won't get into to much detail here if you want to know more read my previous post. The only problem with drop box is that the free version has a 2GB limit. That is normally a good amount of space for everyday use but, if you have a lot of pictures, videos, etc. you will quickly run out of space. This is why you may want to look into programs like SyncToy from Microsoft. SyncToy, however, only works with windows. If you need a program that works for both windows and UNIX based operating systems you may find Unison accomplishes what you are looking for. Finally, if you are willing to spend a little money you can keep all of this information in one place by using on-line storage services like Mozy. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Mozy supports Linux operating systems at this time. If you really need Linux support then you are probably better off using Dropbox and upgrading your account to the 50 GB version for $9.99 (at the time of this post).
Finally, consolidating your work is essential to bringing everything together. Using applications like Firefox is a great way to bring your work together. For web design, I have found that the less you have to switch between applications and the less applications you have open, the easier you life will be. There are a number of features to Firefox that help you consolidate. First, it is a web browser and you can test and view web pages. You can also use services like google notebook, google reader, google docs etc. There are other similar services out there but, Google integrates their free services together in a nice, simple way. That is just the basics though, Firefox also has a lot of add-ons that can increase productivity and help you to stay organized.