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My wife revives mid-century modern furniture. She was upholstering a chair the other day using tacks and a hammer. She didn’t have a tack hammer so she decided to use just regular old hammer. And it worked…sort of.
At the end of the day she’d finished one small section. Since a regular hammer is also way heavier than a tack hammer, she could barely lift her arm.
We’ve done a lot of pretty major DIY projects, too. The first time we demolished a patio we used a sledgehammer and a crowbar (because we are obviously gluttons for punishment).
The next time we tackled a big landscaping job we rented a Bobcat and ripped right through it. We could also walk upright and had functioning arms the next day. You can make just about anything a tool when you need to, but you sure curse a lot less when you’re using the right tool for the job.
The same thing is true with WordPress sites
Each project calls for specialized tools. If you ignore that and try to make every project work with your preferred tool, you’re in danger of becoming that person who can only use a hammer, so they make every problem a nail.
I’ve been using a bunch of different tools to build WordPress sites lately. Both of them are great tools for the right job: the Divi theme by Elegant Themes and the combined toolkit of Webflow, Genesis by StudioPress and Advanced Custom fields.
Choose the right tool for the job
A lot of developers hate page builder themes with a passion. They have a valid point, too. Page builder themes can have drawbacks, especially if you’re someone who lives and breathes The Loop.
It’s easy to decide they suck and overlook the value a page builder theme can offer to another type of user. But WordPress professionals are one small part of the WordPress audience.
For people who aren’t CSS and PHP wizards (and don’t want to be), page builder themes can help them build a good-looking, responsive website without any outside help. Page builder themes are a less intimidating, more accessible tool to get started with.
The Divi theme
I discovered the Divi theme by Elegant Themes about nine months ago. I was getting ready to teach a workshop for design students on how to build their own WordPress portfolio site. A book can only be one place at a time. A portfolio website is everywhere. I hoped it would give them a competitive advantage when they started looking for jobs.
But these kids had no coding experience. No CSS and definitely no PHP. They needed something that would build their confidence and let them build something they were proud of.
I had several criteria I considered when I was choosing a tool to use. I wanted something that was easy to use, with a default design a designer would respond to, an easy-to-use interface, and enough options to feel like it’s customizable without being overwhelming. I chose Divi because it hit all of my “must-haves”.
Four kids came out of the workshop with completed portfolios. They were so excited about their sites that a few of them took the initiative to learn CSS so they could customize their themes beyond the standard Divi settings. Two of them got jobs because they had a WordPress site in their portfolio.
One of my former students sent me an email the other day that said “I just recently got a job working for EMC and the first thing they asked me to do was work on a WordPress site using Divi. I ended up knowing more than everyone else on the team, which felt pretty awesome.”. Knowing that Divi empowered a designer at the beginning of her career (and got her stoked on WordPress) is pretty awesome too.
Is Divi the right tool for every job? No way! Sometimes a job calls for something beyond Divi’s capabilities. That’s when I pull out the tools I use on custom client projects.
Webflow, Genesis and Advanced Custom Fields
When I work on client projects, I work with custom design solutions. I don’t start with a theme. My goal is to fit the design to the content, not the content to the design.
For 15 years I designed websites in Photoshop. Then responsive design came along so I switched to designing in the browser. It was a great way to make sure the layout worked on a tablet or your web font looked right in the browser, but it had a major downside. When I designed in the browser I would get sidetracked. Like, a lot.
I’d have to Google a child selector because I couldn’t remember how it worked. I’d watch a tutorial video before I could try something out. I’d have to install and configure a plugin to add some functionality I needed.
Getting sidetracked takes me out of a state of flow. can’t get lost in the design process the way I’d like. Once I started using the Webflow app I could get into that flow state and stay there for hours (you know how that feels; all of the sudden it’s 3 am and you haven’t peed in five hours.)
The interface feels familiar, like a program I already know. I can easily change things on the fly when I need to explore design iterations. Webflow gets out of my way and lets me do what I do best—design stuff.
Next I’ll create a Genesis child theme based on the Webflow design. I chose Genesis because I know I can rely on it; it’s fast, stable, secure, and I already know it pretty well.
For this job I built a Genesis child theme based on the exported Webflow code. I created a new
footer.php using Webflow’s HTML. I added widget areas for menus and social icons. I took all the individual Webflow pieces and Genesis-ized them. To make it easier on myself, I gave selectors in Webflow the same names that Genesis uses so it’s a little easier to move CSS into the child theme.
Advanced Custom Fields
There was one problem Webflow and Genesis didn’t solve. I needed a way to display custom content in my WordPress page templates. I was creating a landing page with multiple sections in the project above. I didn’t want my client to have to use the standard page editor for something that complex. I was afraid it might be too confusing.
Advanced Custom Fields to the rescue. I was able to create a bunch of different field groups for each type of content, set it up with a variety of meta fields, decide what page templates to the attach content to, and build different page templates that pull in different sets of data.
Clients love having a “Mad Libs” content entry form. It makes editing pages a breeze. They know what goes where. This is my go to solution for content-rich websites with complicated page layouts.
I’ve got a diverse toolbox
These aren’t the only tools in my toolbox. Every project is unique. Before I start, I have to figure out what tools are going to be best for the job I’m working on. I don’t use a Sawzall to cut wood when what I need is a miter saw. That’s how I save myself a lot of time, headaches, and sanity, lol!