Recently, I’ve had the chance to help a friend create her own personal website.
This wasn’t the traditional “I don’t know anything about the internet, how do I create a site”, this friend had experience using HTML & CSS professionally. Still, she had no idea how to build the type of site she had in mind.
She’s a graphic designer and the goal was to create a portfolio, blog and online store. Of course, listening to this description, I had the perfect solution – WordPress.
The path to WordPress can be summed up into three steps:
- Domain name
- WordPress 🎉
After getting a domain from a domain registrar and figuring out the hosting situation, a process that could be the topic of a different blog post altogether, I told her – “We are finally at the fun part, from now on it is super easy”. At least, that’s what I thought. 🙂
It was now time to figure out how this site was going to look like. Since a store was a requirement, and I knew that she wanted something she could completely customize, I recommended using the Storefront theme as a starting point.
At first, she wasn’t really convinced. It didn’t look anything like what she had in mind, but it made sense, she didn’t really know how a theme worked.
I decided it was a good idea to browse through a few sites that were built using Storefront as a base. She seemed more convinced after this – “If others can do this, I’m sure I can too”.
The next step was to explain child themes and why they are a good practice, “that makes sense”. So we created a new child theme.
Then, it was time to explain the structure of a WordPress theme. Although the structure and hierarchy of template files was easy for her to understand, once we started looking at the code, I noticed that without some basic knowledge of PHP, it was going to be very hard for her to do any of the things she had in mind.
Does a person really need to learn PHP (or any other language) to build a WordPress site? Our competitors certanily don’t think so.
So I decided to try a different approach.
The three main things to add to the site were a blog, portfolio, and online store.
Blog – That’s really easy with WordPress. Pick a theme and start writing. Any theme will do that. So we had that one was already covered.
Store – This was one of the reasons why I recommend Storefront, it is the officialy WooCommerce theme. Next!
Portfolio – There’s no built-in functionality for this. My first thought was to teach her how custom post types work, going through the code and help her register her own custom post type.
Instead, we installed the Jetpack plugin, which amongst many other handy features, includes a Portfolio module.
Visually, out of the box, it wasn’t what she wanted, but here’s where her CSS skills started to be of use.
I asked her to sketch what she had in mind on a piece of paper and then proceeded to explain the different possible ways to accomplish what she had sketched.
In matter of hours, she completely changed the whole look of the site, and styled the Portfolio section to her liking, but then we hit another roadblock.
The work she wanted to showcase consists of many different types of visual materials, and the best way to properly present that work, was for each portfolio entry to basically have its own layout.
She immediately suggested adding some custom HTML to each portfolio entry and then individualy style each entry. I nodded in frustration.
In the end, I ended up recommending a page builder plugin. As I watched her play with all the different possible combinations, I could see this was exactly what she wanted all along.
We pride ourselves of our famous 5-Minute WordPress install, how easy it is to extend, but we tend to forget that it is all mostly for developers.
Domains? Servers? Databases? The average person shouldn’t need to know anything about that. They just want a site.
The publish experience in WordPress is limited. If you want your content to be more than simple blocks of text, you’ll find yourself stuck. But there’s hope –- Gutenberg, the new upcoming WordPress editor, is a welcomed change.
Services like WordPress.com offer solutions that are almost the full package, but there’s still a long way to go.
This whole experience was a good reminder that we live in a bubble. We, developers and power users, are surrounded by others that know WordPress inside out, and we are so used to do things the WordPress way, that we end up labelling these experiences as “normal”.
We all need to get out of this bubble and work together to help improve and shape the future of the WordPress experience.