“You’re in a terrible spot. It’s too late for you to retreat but too soon to act. All you can do is witness. You’re in the miserable position of an infant who cannot return to the mother’s womb, but neither can he run around and act. All an infant can do is witness and listen to the stupendous tales of action being told to him. You are at that precise point now. You cannot go back to the womb of your old world, but you cannot act with power either. For you there is only witnessing acts of power and listening to tales of power.”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

re: Designing for WordPress

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This post is inspired by this presentation by Brent Spore:

Brent touched on designing for WordPress and faced quite a challenge – facing an audiences with diverse knowledge, experience and expectations. He touched on some good ideas and I have the pleasure of sitting at home in my own time, relating to his talk.

Are you a Driver or a Mechanic?

I believe that in order to relate to the topic of designing for WordPress the first question you need to ask yourself is “Do you want to be a blogger or a designer… or maybe both?”. It’s kind of like asking “Do you want to be a driver or a car mechanic…. or maybe both?”. The skills, tools and discipline required for the two tasks are very different. Designing for WordPress often comes across as simple – because so many people are playing around with it – but there’s really nothing simple about it. Just to give you an example..

Photoshop

Someone asked Brent about modifying a theme’s Photoshop file. Even a “simple” task like replacing a header image assumes at least the following technical proficiencies:

  • Getting Photoshop (pretty expensive for non-professionals) … or finding a suitable alternative.
  • Learning the Photoshop basics … it’s a powerful program but not very intuitive … the initial learning curve is demanding.
  • Learning to work with layers
  • Learning to work with guides and selection tools
  • Learning about saving graphic formats for the web
  • Learning how to insert your header image into a theme

… and that’s the bare minimum and that list doesn’t cover anything having to do with the aesthetic and functional aspects of design.

Expression& Content

I believe that websites are all about content. Expressing yourself is a huge thing – it’s about asking yourself “Who is ‘myself’? What do I want to say? Why do I want to say these things? To whom do I want to say them?”. Blogging, writing for the web is a technical expression of a personal journey – and it is an art and a skill in it’s own right. WordPress is very much in tune with all these things – spiritually and technically.

… in fact I believe that the Internet is dominated by and gravitating towards personal expression. So much so that if you’re thinking of, or someone is trying to convince you to put up a website with just a few static page – that its most likely a waste of your time, attention and money. If you put up a few static pages and expect someone to find you through Google you are mistaken. No one will find you because:

  1. There are probably zillions like you and no way (for people or for search engines) to tell you apart from the rest.
  2. You can’t use keywords to cheat the system, because lot’s of others have tried that, search engines picked up on it and … it simply doesn’t work anymore = don’t waste even more money on search engine optimization con-artists who will promise to magically lift your dead-in-the-water website up in the ranking of search engines.
  3. There are probably a few people who are making an effort to express themselves in your area of expertise (with a very good chance they are are using WordPress to do it) – and they will be found on search engine results and by people looking for you!

This sets the table for a deeper look into what design can be … and instead of making it a tedious academic lecture… let’s use another example Brent put out for us. ..

Dishwasher Guy

If all dishwasher guy wants to do is get more customers – then instead of creating a static dead-in-the-water website he should list himself in some local online directories , place a few more adds in local papers, hand out a few more magnets for people to place on their refrigerators (or dish washers?)…

On the other hand a website creates many new interesting opportunities. What can a dishwasher guy possible write about:

  • What can you do to keep your dishwasher working and in good condition?
  • What cleaning materials are recommended or should be avoided?
  • Are there eco-friendly materials thaht can be used? What if they don’t get the stains out?
  • How to use the dishwaser effectively? Should dishes be accumulated?
  • How about the quality of the water – does that affect the dishwasher lifespan? Would a filter onthe main pipe help?
  • How did dishwashers begin? What did the first one look like? What is the future of dishwashers?
  • How to buy a dishwasher? What should we look for?
  • Are there recommended dishwashers? Product reviews? What do other people have to say?
  • Where is a good place to get a dishwasher?

And amazingly, the list goes on and on and on… even for a dishwaser technician… if she cares and is willing to take on the formidable task of writing for the web!

This, to me, is what designing a WordPress site is all about. It is about finding a way to express yourself – it is a wonderous undertaking, and there is so much more to it then choosing a header image, colors and fonts. A superficial, beautifully designed website with nothing interesting to say will last a few seconds. A consistently updated site with sincere & curious content will be captivating and keep people coming back, almost regardless of it’s visual design.

Maybe this is what people like Merlin Mann are talking about when they say find your niche – even dishwashers have a niche:

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