Elliot Jay Stocks on WordPress for Designers

In the first in a series of short form interviews we ask renowned web designers and front end developers a few questions about their areas of interest as well as their opinion on the future of web design. First up is Elliot Jay Stocks, web designer, author and globe trotting speaker.

Editor’s Note: Elliot will be speaking and hosting a workshop on “WordPress Theme Development for Designers” at The Future of Web Design New York on November 16-17 2009. Buy your ticket now.

You’re a renowned for being a designer more than a developer. In your opinion how easy is it for non developers to get into the code aspects of WordPress?

Pretty easy, I’d say. There’s certainly a learning curve, but it’s not a particularly steep one. I remember taking a while to get my head round exactly how the way themes work (and that’s something I’ll attempt to explain clearly during my Future of Web Design New York workshop, because I think the basics can still be a stumbling block) but there was definitely a point where it all just clicked into place.

I’m turned off by any heavy back-end code because it’s just not where my passions lie, but there’s a surprisingly small amount of code that you have to touch to get WordPress working the way you want it to. Most of the time it’s a case of copying and pasting snippets of PHP. As long as you have a basic understanding of how or why things work the way they do, you can get by.

The ecosystem around WordPress is pretty large. What are some of the key plugins that designers should consider using on their sites?

Most of the plugins I use aren’t particularly sexy but they’re super-useful; it’s the ones that do the small things that are important in my opinion. An example would be “Top Level Categories“, which removes the ‘category’ path from your URLs. Again, not particularly fancy-sounding, but absolutely essential if you’re using WordPress more as a CMS rather than just a regular blogging engine.

Similarly the “Duplicate Posts” plugin is great for… well… duplicating posts! WordPress has no in-built way of doing this, which is a real pain if you have a lot of posts and pages that contain similar content (not so much the main text but things like multiple custom fields, for instance). Plugins that add this kind of extra functionality to the core are my favourites.

Your talk at The Future of Web Design New York is called “Stop Worrying and get on with it”. Without giving too much away, what do you mean by this?

Very loosely it’s about progressive enhancement and how designers are so fearful of new techniques or breaking the mould. It’s a call to action about embracing the fact that the web is in a state of constant flux.

What are some of the more modern techniques you are employing in your site designs at the moment?

Now that Firefox has support for @font-face, I’m able to use that a lot more. There are several CSS3 techniques creeping into my daily work, and it’s great that more and more users are able to see these enhancements. Again, it’s not necessarily the obvious stuff like border-radius and box-shadow; it’s things like the improved implementation of nth-child selectors and the like.

I’m such a loser.

What do you think is the Future of Web Design?

The future will be written by the designers who stop worrying about the constraints we work within and get on with building a better, more beautiful web!  :)

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Comments

9 comments on “Elliot Jay Stocks on WordPress for Designers

  1. Great interview! I’ve been wanting to get into WP theme design but… I’m kinda scared of the code behind it. I think I’ll just take the dive though :-)

  2. I’m in the exact same camp as Tim, I’ve always been worried WordPress dev would be too back-end code heavy, but I think I’ll go ahead and give it a shot.

    Thanks for the interview.

  3. Great interview. I’ve been working off and on with WordPress for about 3 years now, and this week I’m finally releasing a theme for the public. I’m a front-end developer and PHP has never been my strong suit, but I found WP easy to work with and now my PHP skills have gotten a boost. But granted, it does take a while to wrap your head around the basics, and once you do you’re home free. Just like learning to ride a bike. I highly recommend Rockable Press’ e-book, How to be a Rockstar WP Designer.

  4. Great interview. I’ve been working off and on with WordPress for about 3 years now, and this week I’m finally releasing a theme for the public. I’m a front-end developer and PHP has never been my strong suit, but I found WP easy to work with and now my PHP skills have gotten a boost. But granted, it does take a while to wrap your head around the basics, and once you do you’re home free. Just like learning to ride a bike. I highly recommend Rockable Press’ e-book, How to be a Rockstar WP Designer.

  5. Thanks for the interview! One good way to get started with WP theme design is (as usual!) by customising existing themes — far less frightening than starting from scratch.