This year, the number of websites using WordPress has risen to 21.4% — so, if you’re a designer, knowing how to work with it is more important than ever. Many clients will want to stick with WordPress because it’s what they know, and if you can’t adapt to suit their needs, they’re likely to go elsewhere. Here are our top tips for budding designers, design students, and WordPress newbies alike:
Don’t skip the basics
Work out what WordPress does before trying to understand how it does it. This means starting at the beginning, and approaching the site as a user, not a designer.
First, you’ll want to create an account. Keep the standard WordPress theme in place for now, so you don’t confuse yourself when you come to work with the code later on.
Then, experiment with writing posts. Designer Steve Sims has a brilliant tutorial video on the subject, which you can watch here. Explore your dashboard, play around with widgets, and browse other people’s blogs. It might pay you to start a bookmark folder and fill it with inspiring, well-designed WordPress sites.
Read the codex
The WordPress Codex is a collection of guides, tutorials and other materials that can help you get to grips with themes, plugins, posts, and more. It helps to browse these before entering the editor, as you’ll have to keep checking back, otherwise.
Study the code
Go to your WordPress Dashboard. Under the “Appearance” tab, you’ll find “Editor”. Click on it to access the basic theme code. Have a good look before you start playing around with it. A lot of your work with the code will be trial and error, so don’t panic if things don’t work out. It might pay you to have a separate WordPress account just for playing with code, so you can keep your personal or professional blog (if you have one) looking good while you edit.
Design a theme
For your first design, you’ll want to use the WordPress basic theme as a template. You can get more adventurous once you’re comfortable with the code. Sketch out your design, keeping all the main components (columns, header, content, footer, etc.) in the same place as they are on your WordPress blog. Try playing around with one thing at a time, else things could easily get messy.
For a basic guide on working with templates, read Stepping Into Templates on the WordPress Codex.
As you get more confident with WordPress, you’ll be able to branch out and start adding (or creating) plugins, forms, galleries and widgets. Work slowly, and stick with one element until it makes sense to you.
Keep track of all the themes you’ve created and modified — save them to your computer, if it helps. You’ll need them in future. And, if you know any other designers, why not organise a WordPress evening at your house or office? If your friends are less experienced than you are, that’s fine — you’ll reinforce what you know by explaining it to them. If they know more about WordPress than you do, that’s great, too, because they can teach you. Working with others is a great way of speeding up the learning process, as you can discover a lot from each other’s successes and failures, and cover more ground in less time.
By Sam Wright
Sam Wright is a freelance writer and web designer working for Brand Republic.