3.8

When 2013 ends in a couple of weeks, it’ll have been the year where I went from contributing only circumstantially to WordPress, to contributing quite a bit. In fact, despite having had the honor of releasing a default theme this year, it’s not until the end of 2013 — today actually — that I feel like the bulk of the work I’ve done on WordPress is actually released. For me, 2014 is when WordPress gets really exciting.

It’s with quite a bit of pride that I find my name in the release credits for the just-launched WordPress 3.8 “Parker”. This particular release was brought about in a different manner than previous releases: it was developed alongside 3.7 through “feature plugins”. Along with a group of developers and designers I worked on one such plugin called “MP6”, a nonsense-codename with a cool banner. Our true purpose was to redesign the entire WordPress admin. The ease of use of the WordPress admin has always been my favorite part of the software, but I’ve always had little niggles with it. With plugin commit access, this time I was able to put money where my mouth was. So we worked hard to bring you visually lighter and simpler design, with a bunch of usability improvements in tow such as scalable icons, larger fonts and more contrast. My good friend and creator of the initial mockup that excited us to work on this for months, Matt Thomas, details everything you’d want to know about the design.

To celebrate the occasion, I’ve made sure my green and blue Twenty Thirteen color schemes are now in the WordPress theme repository. Yep, it’s now easier than ever to dress last years theme in new clothes. Heck, you can get the default Twenty Thirteen colors without using post formats now.

I think 3.8 will be a watershed release, and I can’t wait to hear what you think of it. It’s certainly deserving of the name “Parker”, who happens to have uttered one of my favorite quotes:

Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.

Good Decisions, Else Options

There’s a mantra in the WordPress development community: decisions, not options. It’s meant to be a standard to which you hold any interface design decision: if you make a decision for users it’ll ultimately be better than forcing them to make decisions themselves. It’s a decent mantra — if you’re not mindful you’ll end up with feature creep and UI complexity, and it’s orders of magnitude more difficult to remove an old option than it is to add one in the first place. Adding an option instead of making a decision for the user is almost always bad UI design.

Except when it’s not.

The problem with a mantra like this is that it quickly gets elevated to almost biblical status. When used by a disgruntled developer it can be used to shoot down just about any initiative. Like Godwins law for WordPress: once you drop the “decisions not options” bomb, rational discussion comes to a halt.

The thing about open source development is that it’s much like natural evolution: it evolves and adapts to changes in the environment. Unfortunately that also means features once useful can become vestigial once the problem they used to solve becomes obsolete. Baggage like this can pile up over years, and maintaining backwards compatibility means it can be very difficult to rid of. Sure, “decisions not options” can help cauterize some future baggage from happening, but it’s also not the blanket solution to it.

The problem is: sometimes the right decision is unfeasible, therefore beckoning an option in its absence. WordPress is many things to many people. Some people use it for blogging, others use it for restaurants, portfolios, photo galleries, intranets, you name it. Every use case has its own sets of needs and workflows and it’s virtually impossible to make a stock experience that’s optimal for everyone. Most bloggers would arguably have a better experience with a slew of WordPress features hidden or removed whereas site owners might depend on those very same features for dear life. By catering to many use-cases at once, user experiences across the board are bound to be unfocused in some way or other.

The “Screen Options” tab is an example of a feature that would probably not exist were “decisions not options” taken at face value. Screen Options exists on the idea that not everyone needs to see the “Custom Fields” panel on their Add New Post page, yet acknowledges that some users will find that feature invaluable. It is an option added in absence of a strong decision, for example, to limit WordPress to be a blogging-only tool. I consider it an example of an exception to the mantra for the good of the user. Sure, the UI could use some improvement, let’s work on that, but I really appreciate the ability to hide the “Send Trackbacks” panel.

I’m a fan of WordPress. I’m a fan of good decisions, and I’m a fan of good UI design. I believe that if we relieve ourselves of arbitrary straitjackets and approach each design objective with a sense of good taste and balance, we can make excellent open source software. Cauterizing entire avenues of UI simply because it adds options, however, negates the fact that sometimes those options exist in absence of a higher-up decision that just can’t be made for whatever reason.

Twenty Thirteen: Make It Yours

WordPress 3.6 was released today. With it, the Twenty Thirteen theme into which we’ve poured much energy. One aspect that was particularly important to me, when designing the theme, was to encourage users to customize the theme to their liking. For the very same reason, every icon in Twenty Thirteen is an easily recolorable icon-font glyph. So changing the whole color scheme is basically writing some CSS.

To celebrate the occasion, I made a couple of color themes you can install on your Twenty Thirteen blog.

2013 Green

twentythirteen-green

Green is my favorite color these days. Did you know when danish people have their final high school exams, they sit at a green table, because green has a calming effect on your mind? It’s true. I tried it.

Get 2013 Green (preview)

2013 Green Sequence

twentythirteen-green-sequential

Twenty Thirteen has emphasis on blogging, and post backgrounds are assigned based on post formats. If you don’t use post formats, but want the colors of Twenty Thirteen, get this one — it’ll simply alternate the background colors sequentially.

Get 2013 Green Sequence (preview)

2013 Blue

twentythirteen-blue

I actually threw in a shade of pink, or “salmon”, in this blue mix. So it’s not entirely shades of sky blue, but I guess you could not use the “status” post format if you dislike salmon. Or you could customize it and make it your own!

Get 2013 Blue (preview)

2013 Blue Sequence

twentythirteen-blue-sequential

If you really don’t like salmon but do want an alternating post-format-free blue theme, you’ll want to get this one and customize it. Or you could embrace the salmon. Smoked. On toast. With salt and pepper.

Get 2013 Blue Sequence (preview)

2013 Orange Sequence

twentythirteen-orange-sequence

Having made sequence versions of blue and green, it seems unfair not to complete the triad. So here’s Orange Sequence — that’s the default Twenty Thirteen color scheme, but the colorful post backgrounds are assigned regardless of post format.

Get 2013 Orange Sequence (preview)

How To?

These are child themes. That means they’re WordPress themes that require a parent theme to be present, in this case Twenty Thirteen. So these themes will only work if you also have Twenty Thirteen installed. If you’re on WordPress 3.6 or higher, Twenty Thirteen is preinstalled.

More Options

One of the best things about open source is that you can modify things to your liking, and even redistribute.

Please do so. Make it your own, and share it back.

I would like nothing more than to see you modify and redistribute any of the above child themes. So much, in fact, that if you’d like to re-color the default Twenty Thirteen header, I’ve made you this PSD so you can easily do just that.

Now go play with some colors!

WordPress is 10

On June 21st 2004, I switched this blog from Movable Type to WordPress 1.2. I was living in a rented loft in Copenhagen and worked on Flash games as my day job.

9 years later and I have a little girl, I live in Suburbia (on purpose), and I designed a WordPress default theme. All of that in no small part thanks to WordPress and open source software. Pretty happy I made that switch in 2004.

Happy birthday, WordPress, here’s to 10 more. Oh, and go say hi to the founder, I had a hand in his new site.

Twenty Thirteen

“Gobsmacked”, is probably the most descriptive word I can find to describe my state of mind when I was invited to design the new WordPress bundled Twenty Thirteen theme (also check out the demo site!). The pitch for the theme was to emphasize the blog, and encourage users to use post formats, an area of attention for WordPress 3.6 with which the theme will ship. I’m frankly quite proud of the end result, and I really hope you’ll find it fun and fresh. Special thanks to Matt, Lance and Konstantin for making this possible. It’s been quite a ride, we’re not done yet, and I’ll have more to say. I think it’s also time I started using post formats on this blog.

Redesigned

redesigned

Felt an urge to redecorate the other day, and so I threw some new paint on this old thing. I trimmed a lot of fat, went all HTML5, completely ignored Internet Explorer, threw in a Google web-font and made the site all responsive and scaling to smartphones. It was liberating. If you’re reading this in a feed-reader, I invite you to jump out of it for a brief gander.

For a while I’ve been working on the be-all end-all WordPress theme, a parent theme framework with all sorts of other buzzwords not including synergy. For this theme, however, I simply threw it all out and started with a mix of TwentyEleven (excellent HTML5 base) and the deprecated fallback theme you’re not actually supposed to use (turns out the fallback comments form was much to my liking; don’t worry, I copied the files to my theme directory).

I also deactivated a bunch of plugins. I’ve been a tremendous fan of Subscribe To Comments ever since I switched from Movable Type almost a decade ago (how time flies), but since the introduction of email subscriptions in Jetpack, that plugin is more-so a must-have for me (not to mention the fact that the stats module is now some of my bread and a lot of my butter). I have a bunch of to-do’s still, mostly related to finding a decent way to make my photos section interesting again.

Then of course, I’ve turned down the lights, something you either love or hate. I’ve found myself reading a lot on my smartphone, and somehow it works for me when the little device emits less light in my face. Black will do that to you, and I’m told it’s always a good choice. Plus, I’m a big fan of feed-readers (not so much Google Reader anymore), so if you prefer a white background you may go right back to your reader of choice and I will harbor no ill will towards you.

Part of my urge to redesign has been my want of going long-form. This blog has gone through a lot of iterations based on my whim at the time. Currently, this quote by Brent Simmons appeals to me:

Twitter and Facebook are great for organizing a revolution. Blogs are for explaining why we need one.

I’m not looking to start a revolution, and the truth is I may blog way less these days now that I’m juggling a toddler and a fantastic job. But what I do write, I want to keep, store, cross-reference and archive.

The BBPress plugin is here

BBPress used to be a fork of WordPress that provided users with pretty good free forum software. The downside? It was a lot of work to skin and it was fairly tricky to update the software. Those last two things are way easier now that BBPress has been converted into a WordPress plugin, and you can download the beta today. The BBPress plugin adds admin menus to your WordPress as well as page templates and shortcodes that allow you to set up forums from within the admin. It’s glorious.