This latest and greatest version of patrickeverson.com has been a pretty big deal for me to be quite honest. As someone who has (mostly) taught myself the nuts and bolts of web development through constantly building then rebuilding my own site, each version I made has been a indication of where I am as a designer. In this version I made a big jump from a flash based site to one built entirely on WordPress without any flash movie content. I have been meaning to do this for a long time and I am proud that I was able to accomplish it.
The great thing about learning web design yourself is the huge community of designers and developers online who are extremely generous with their knowledge. They have authored blog post after blogpost detailing everything from basic web development techniques to the most esoteric reaches of usability design. In addition there are countless forums where individual questions are answered by knowledgeable people who just like helping each other out. It is really amazing how much continually updated content is out there free of charge.
So the problem is not whether the right information is out there, but how to find it. The internet has the answer to just about any question, but you have to know how to ask correctly.
The internet has the answer to just about any question, but you have to know how to ask correctly.
I would love to write the perfect article on basic WordPress development for people out there just like me, but I am not even a quarter qualified to do so. So what I have decided to do is write a post that brings together the biggest resources I used to learn how to build my website. My hope is that someone searching in vain online for the perfect tutorial will stumble across this and find what they are looking for.
So Just What Is this HTML Thing?
I started this process with a basic knowledge of XHTML and CSS code. I have taken two web design classes (one at Syracuse during my undergrad and one at the Corcoran School in DC) but there are a few basic resources I’d recommend anyone looking to learn these skills pick up. I know this information exists online for free as well but these two books were invaluable. They helped me get a grasp on the how and why of web development. I am as technology focused as anyone to there, but sometimes you can’t beat a good book.
Jeffrey Zeldman’s classic book Designing With Web Standards is a great place to start for anyone looking to understand why the internet is built the way it is. He does a great job touching on a lot of topics in a way that is accessible yet still very informative. For more info on Zeldman click here.
Elizabeth Castro’s HTML, XHTML & CSS is another great resource. Where Zeldman’s book talks a lot about the why of web development, Castro really gets into the How-to of it. Its is a really simple and straightforward book, but definitely worth keeping around as a reference for any beginning like myself. To look up Castro click here.
This Post Is About WordPress Right?
So with a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS under your belt I bet you are ready to jump into creating your own WordPress site, right? From here on out everything will be a web resource that you can look up and start reading right away.
The first thing to do is of course download and install the WordPress software. It’s all free and available on the WordPress website wordpress.org. For most hosts the installation is pretty simple and the included documentation should get you through that part!
After you install WordPress take a poke around all of the content packed in there. Wow, there are a LOT of files and neither you nor I know what most of them do. The advice I got from most people was to just install and tinker around with other people’s themes. That way you start at a certain baseline, or so the logic goes.
The problem with this approach for me was that I still was not getting any understanding of what was going on. I stared and stared at the files trying to unpack what was going on. It was totally frustrating and overwhelming. What made matters even worse was that there just isn’t a WordPress theme that did what I wanted exactly. So I would have to change my design to fit someone else’s template. Not going to happen.
At this point I decided I was going to author the whole theme from scratch. I just couldn’t make myself stumble blindly into a website, I had to know what was going on, at least a little bit.
With this goal in mind I trolled the internet reading post after post on web design blogs. Very few of the articles really got into a lot of detail or gave me exactly what I wanted. Eventually I found two articles that would guide me through 95% of the development process. I owe just about everything I know about WordPress development to these two resources.
This article was the first one that actually started making sense for me. I already had a flat design of what I wanted worked out and I followed the instruction of this post, substituting the design I had created for the stock one built in the article.
At a certain point though I could not keep following along. In the end this article builds a very specific theme and I was doing something else. What I really needed was an article that broke things down even further.
This post was exactly what I needed. Although it is quite long there is just so much here that is it worth the time it takes to go through it all. The author goes into a lot of detail and writes and entire theme with you from scratch. And by scratch I mean literally line by line in notepad(!). It’s old school. Most importantly he actually explains why he is doing everything and what each piece means. I didn’t know one bit of PHP code but by the end I was able to understand how all of the rules worked on a basic level.
Most importantly by the time I finished this tutorial I had the vast majority of my site built and working. The great thing about this tutorial is that while he is building a specific theme it is very easy to substitute your own design since everything is explained so clearly.
After working my way through both of these tutorials I had a foundation I needed to create my own site.
These two posts certainly didn’t answer all my most specific questions, but after completing them I had a fully function blog up and running. After that what was left over involved a LOT of CSS debugging and finding out how to add specific features to my static pages. All of those things are not really WordPress issues so I won’t go into anymore detail here.
After benefiting so much from the generosity of the development community online I feel like I want to give back as well. Many authors have clearly spent many hours crafting their content just for the pleasure of knowing they have helped some newbie like me. Posting links to their work is the least I can do.
Well to anyone who has stumbled upon my humble website, I hope you find this post helpful. If anyone has questions don’t hesitate to comment I will get back to you!