WordCamp Buffalo 2014

WordCamp Buffalo 2014 moved to roomier quarters this year, and the Saturday, Sept. 13 event was held in the new Science Hall on the Canisius College campus.

WordCamp Buffalo 2014 t-shirt.
WordCamp Buffalo 2014 t-shirt.

As with previous WordCamps, all talks were segmented into three different tracks in order to accommodate all users: a “users” track, for those that use WordPress to blog or run their website but might not work with themes or code, a designer and developer track, and a “flex” track for those somewhere in between. This year a “Town Hall Q & A” was added to the event to allow attendees more time to ask questions of the various speakers at the event.

Organizers of this year’s WordCamp, and the organizers behind the Buffalo WordPress Users Meetup group, Ben Dunkle and Andy Staple, showed how to take a static Web design and create a WordPress theme with it during their “A Custom Theme in 30 Minutes” talk.

Snippets, the loop (“the guts of WordPress”) widgets and sidebars were added to the design. Using a sidebar, doesn’t mean it has to run along the side of your design explained Staple.

“You can have widgetized areas that are not on the sidebar side piece of content, you can have them where ever you want them,” said Staple.

For those that regularly design and develop sites using WordPress, Tommy Creenan, a front-end developer for Luminus Media, gave some tips on how to “Improve Your WordPress Workflow.” He suggested that designers and developers create their own “start” file. Creenan’s start file includes an assets folder for fonts and javascript, Sass and stylesheets; images, plug-ins, along with various other folders containing code.

A good work flow should make sense to you, said Creenan, be modular and adaptable, because the web is always changing, and should help you increase speed by minimizing repetitive tasks.

Ben Dunkle, left  and Andy Staple, right,
Ben Dunkle, left and Andy Staple, right, organize and run the free monthly Buffalo WordPress Users Group on MeetUp.com.

“You have to decided what you are going to be comfortable with and what’s going to help you build sites in the most efficient way possible,” said Creenan.

Sass, a stylesheet language, and Git, a version control system, are tools that help Creenan in his work. He also has various files he developed and uses on projects in order to speed development including an “atoms” file.

“When you are designing a site, you want to design all the pieces first: a href tags, paragraphs, headings, form elements,” said Creenan. “Then you write your HTML and they are all vaguely styled already, so you can just do tweaks to them to make them fit together like you want. So that is basically a file that has super basic styling specific to the project.” He credits this idea to designer Brad Frost and his blog post on “Atomic Design.”

Creenan also runs a Facebook group called “Shop Talk Buffalo” where web design, programming, and mobile professionals can meet online to discuss projects, the web, general small business issues and trends. Meetups are held the first Wednesday of each month and are announced in the group.

When it comes to choosing a theme, your content should tell you what kind of theme you want said Andy Staple during the “Making a Theme Yours” talk.

“I get questions all the time, ‘What’s the best theme?’ there really isn’t a single answer for that,” said Staple. “However, your content and brand can help guide you when choosing a theme.”

“If you’re a photographer, you don’t want a theme that’s built for micro bloggers, you want to feature your images and media,” said Staple. “If you’re a blogger, you don’t want a photography site. A brand that is really professional and needs to be trust-worthy, they probably don’t want a grungy-looking theme that doesn’t really portray that. A skate shop might want that.”

Sources for themes include the free WordPress.org theme repository; commercial theme sites like Woo Themes and Themify; and theme marketplaces like ThemeForest, Mojo Themes. You can also hire a designer and a developer to build a theme for you.

WordCamp Buffalo 2014 at the Science Hall on the Canisius College campus.
WordCamp Buffalo 2014 at the Science Hall on the Canisius College campus.

Before you purchase a theme, check the documentation or ask to see documentation to make sure that the documentation makes sense to you. If not, using the theme will just be a headache for you said Staple. He also suggested looking at how support is handled. Do you need to go through a support desk ticketing system? What’s the turn-around time? Is the code of your theme reviewed by the seller before being sold?

“If they do it (review code) they should tell you they do it and tell you what steps they take,” said Staple.

Watch for bloated themes which have thousands and thousands of features, 95% of which you are not going to use said Staple. And also beware “the perfect theme demo content.”

“A lot of commercial themes fill their theme up with really beautiful photos, really great copy and if you don’t have time to do that and you’re not a photographer, you are either going to have to buy these photos for yourself, make sure they come in the license with the theme, or your site is not going to look like the demo, said Staple.

Check the ratings and to see if the theme is regularly updated. WordPress.org lists how many support threads have been resolved by the theme creator on its site.

Also, make sure the design is responsive or adaptive.

“There are sites I work on that are 60% handheld (mobile, tablet),” said Staple.

Although WordCamp is once a year, those who are interested in learning more about WordPress, or talking about it with others, can join the free Buffalo WordPress Users group on Meetup.com. The meetings switch focuses between users and developers and people are welcome to join and bring their WordPress problems and questions to the group. For more information, visit: http://www.meetup.com/Buffalo-Wordpress/

Below are more photos of the Science Hall at Canisius College, which I found very impressive.

One of the green living walls of plants inside the Science  Hall at Canisius College.
One of the green living walls of plants inside the Science Hall at Canisius College.