Web Design in the 21st Century

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Responsive designToday, if you’ve got something to say, the web is where you will say it. Social media has empowered millions to have a voice and engage in mass dialogue and express themselves. At some point, however, you might want to go a little further. This blog is intended as a primer on getting started in web design. I will try to cover all the steps needed to get up and running with WordPress, since that is the tool I use on a daily basis. More about that later…

Make your own theme

Building a theme from scratch is pretty time consuming but it gives you ultimate control. You won’t need to override any styles from a parent theme or worry about them updates breaking your customization.

I’ve found that using a bare bones starter theme like underscores (_s) is a great head start (A 1000-Hour Head Start: Introducing The _s Theme). When you create a new theme using underscores, the package that you will download will include all the files required for a WordPress theme, including a functions.php, template files and a really nice stylesheet with resets and a bunch of empty selectors. It also includes the navigation.js to make your menus responsive.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with CSS, it might be good to start with something that is a little more baked but it’s really good practice if you are up for it, and you will learn exactly how the menus you see on many sites are created and how responsive design actually works.

Make a point of naming your theme something unique so updates to a theme of the same name won’t overwrite your theme.

Creating a Child Theme

I promise I will come back to this later. Creating a child theme is a great way to get your site up and running if you lack the time to get a theme together from scratch or if you like a theme out of the box but want to make some minor alterations. I will outline how to go about making a child theme happen.

Theming

Once you have installed and set up WordPress, you will want to apply a theme to it.

There are many pre-existing free and paid themes available for WordPress and if you find something that you 100% like, you might be in luck.

On the other hand, if you want to develop something a little different, it may be worthwhile to create your own theme. Determining what level of effort is required to customize an existing theme to your liking takes a lot of experience.

I’ve signed on to projects to customize an existing theme, often from Themeforest, only to find that the backend experience or the way the site is coded is incompatible with the goals for the site or certain required plugins.

I’m going to take a moment to rip on themeforest here. Theme developers should be creating compliant code but when they steer away from the standards and best practices of the WordPress community and write code that breaks the appearance or functionality of plugins, it brings down the community as a whole. Common Themeforest theme developer practices like turning off auto-p …

Oftentimes, it would appear that a developer is trying to get paid twice for work done on a client’s website. By this I mean that the theme is designed to work in one way and one way only.

One too many times, I’ve paid for a theme or plugin, installed it on my website and found that it doesn’t do what I want it to do or it actually breaks the functionality of another plugin.

Installing WordPress

I’ll skip over planning your site for now and head right into development. You’re going to want to installed on a server before you can begin developing a theme, throwing content in, etc. There are a couple ways to get WordPress installed so you can begin playing around with it.

I should mention first off that there are a couple basic requirements for installing WordPress. Most web hosts do but you should confirm before signing up for service.

To run WordPress we recommend your host supports:

  • PHP version 5.6 or greater
  • MySQL version 5.5 or greater

Via: https://wordpress.org/about/requirements/

Many web hosting providers have a “one-click” WordPress install. By all means, DO feel free to use this if you have the option. You can learn about manually creating a database and installing WordPress at another time, if you want, or just be happy that you are that much closer to having a WordPress powered website. I’ll put a special “skip ahead” link for those who want to get started with themes and plugins.

If you are inclined to manually install WordPress or are using a hosting provider that does not have this option, download WordPress from WordPress.org.

You will then need to create a MySQL database and upload WordPress to your  host using FTP. Instructions for creating a database vary by hosting provider.

This article explains the installation process for WordPress far better than I could hope to.

Also, If you want to develop your website locally on your own machine, you’ll need a web server (like Apache), PHP and MySQL. I’d recommend MAMP(for Mac) or WAMP(Windows) or LAMP(Linux) so you test everything out before uploading to the web. This will make development a lot faster since you won’t be using FTP or the WordPress dashboard to edit your CSS and theme files. A note about using the dashboard editor to edit php files – don’t do it! If you break something and whitescreen your site, you can’t undo. You will end up having to ftp to your site to fix it anyway.

More about local development later…

Further Reading about Installation on the WordPress Codex:

https://codex.wordpress.org/Installing_WordPress

Getting Started with WordPress

Lamplight started out as a freelance professional web design service but my business partner and I both got too busy to continue doing freelance work. I always meant to have a resource on the site for people who wanted to do it themselves but now that we aren’t taking new work, it seems especially prudent.

So without further ado, I’ll launch into it.

Most of the time, I use WordPress for it’s easy content management, rather than it’s blog functionality. If you are building a site for a client or you would rather make easy updates in a web-based WYSIWYG editor that download your html files using FTP, edit them in a text editor, and upload them again, WordPress might just be for you.

And of course if you’re blogging, it’s hard to beat WordPress as a blogging platform.

For the casual blogger who doesn’t require and custom functionality or theming, go to WordPress.com. This is a service that is hosted by WordPress and is free to use unless you require customization. I may write more about this later.

But if you want to make a website or a blog that you have complete control over, read on.

WordPress.org is the home of the latest download link for WordPress and a good place to go if you need answers from the creators of WordPress or the community. The WordPress Codex contains almost everything you could ever want to know about WordPress. The point of this blog, however is to boil down, from my experience, to just what you need if you are trying to get started with WordPress development.