I launched a couple of sites today, both for my friend Sarah Warren:
- The Accidental Okie — her blog, based on an existing WordPress theme but with some substantial tweaks to typography, colors, backgrounds, etc.
- Swoon Designs — a site for her business selling custom invitations, stationery, and branding.
Sarah has been blogging as “The Accidental Okie” for a couple years now, but she spent that whole time on WordPress.com using one of their upgrades for a hosted site on her own domain. I was unsurprised to hear she was outgrowing WordPress.com, though — good themes are hard to come by and impossible to customize to the extent one would like, so most people who are serious about blogging end up moving to WordPress.org (if they stay with the platform). It made sense to do that and get her professional site launched at the same time.
The design for The Accidental Okie is just a tweak of an existing theme — completely new background, header, typography, and color scheme, but someone else’s work otherwise (and generally very good work indeed.)
The design for Swoon Designs was a custom design that Sarah and I brainstormed up together after looking at a number of other sites she liked. It’s built as a child theme of a popular framework theme, Reason 2.0. That, frankly, is a mistake I won’t make again. While the theme works well (and our final outcome was one with which we’re both happy), it was a chore getting it to work. The original template designer ignored some fairly basic rules of good design, especially in his CSS, and it showed rather painfully in making a child theme. In the amount of time I spent on it, we could have built Sarah a theme from scratch (and avoided quite a few headaches that came with this setup).
The original is also monstrous as far as these things go — some 36MB when compressed. By contrast, the compressed size of all the themes for chriskrycho.com, including all the child themes is about 394KB. Yes, that’s two orders of magnitude different. Nothing screams bad design decisions like a theme that size.
This experience further persuaded me that, while I’ll be happy to keep doing WordPress projects for friends from time to time,1 I want to continue my move away from PHP and WordPress to other parts of the web. There is simply too much garbage in the PHP world, and I’m increasingly aware that one of the best ways to be getting better work is to get out of that world entirely. There are a lot of reasons for that — not least the “approachability” factor in PHP, which means a lot of non-programmers are doing it, and especially in the WordPress theme area — but moving further the way I already have been toward the Python community seems like a better plan every day. (Node.js is of course on my radar as well.) Things that require you to be a good programmer are better for getting work that pays well (as the market isn’t flooded with people who don’t know what they’re doing but are willing to work for a fifth of a reasonable developer rate), and they almost always entail better kinds of work to be doing anyway.
Speaking of which… now would be the point when I stop writing and go hammer out some more work on Step Stool, which is coming along nicely (albeit more slowly than I hoped). And of course, I’ve resigned myself to the reality that this site will certainly be getting a fresh coat of paint along the way with that project. Can’t pass up an opportunity to redesign the home page, right?
- Just to be incredibly clear: Sarah was a great client, and I have no qualms about working with her again in the future. Likewise, the work I’ve done pro bono for Mere Orthodoxy is just grand as far as I’m concerned, and I have another couple friends with similar projects potentially in the pipeline. But unless things get really desperate, the likelihood that I’ll be taking PHP or WordPress jobs from random folks on the web is… low at best. ↩