If you know me, you know I’ve been active in the StudioPress/Genesis community for a long time. I’ve worked exclusively with Brian’s themes since the Revolution days. I’ve also built (and retired) four commercial Genesis child themes. I’m a longtime fan. But…
I’m teaching a workshop to a community college portfolio class this Friday. We’re building a WordPress portfolio site in one eight-hour day. None of these kids have more than a semester or two of web design experience. Heck, most aren’t familiar with HTML or CSS, let alone PHP. (This is where you can tell me I’m totally crazy. I know.)
They’re also graphic designers, so a stock child theme isn’t going to cut it. They need to be able to customize a theme to fit their brand. Changing one color in a Genesis child theme means editing a CSS file. So Genesis wasn’t a viable option for this project. There just wasn’t enough time to debug missing semicolons, bad syntax, and un-closed brackets on every change.
I needed a solution that offered:
Designers gonna design. The ability to let designers create their own page templates and change colors and typography are really important to them. They need to feel like they’re able to build what they have in their heads without being limited by the amount of code they know.
A good UI/UX is important. I don’t have a lot of time in the workshop, so the less I spend explaining how to use the tool, the more we can spend building the site. And again: designers. We’re predisposed to like anything pretty until it gives us a reason not to.
3. Minimal code
The student doesn’t have to know any CSS. They should be able to put up a basic portfolio without editing any code. I also don’t want to discourage ones who do know CSS from using it. I hope this project is so much fun that everyone’s excited to learn more about CSS and WordPress.
I’ve always liked the visual design of Elegant Themes. I’m a big fan of the Origin theme design, and thought it might be a good starting point for my workshop. That plan changed when I saw the demo of the Divi theme.
I’m surprised I liked it
(because I’m totally a snob)
When I talked about drag and drop page builders and themes with people, it’s usually in the context of how a theme can’t replace a good designer. But what happens when you put the power of custom page layouts and content modules into a talented designer’s hands? That might be kind of cool.
So I tried it. And to my surprise, I really enjoyed working with it! Are there other, more “correct” ways of building a site that does something similar? Sure! It’s easy if you know how to build page templates and work with hooks and edit a few styles. Unfortunately the majority my students won’t.
I just want to get a well-designed site built in a day. It needs to be responsive and easy to update and customize. Most importantly, it needs to help the student get into ArtCenter, land their first job, or start their freelancing career. And in that respect, the Divi theme is darn near a dream product. (Erase darn near when version two comes out. That thing looks bad ass.)
The Divi Builder makes it easy to create a different page layout for every page in your site. You can import premade layouts to jump-start your design process. And mobile support is done in a beautifully detailed way. There’s too much I like about it for just one post, so there’s a full review coming soon, but I’m definitely impressed. (It’s changing the way I think about building pro-bono projects, for sure!)
I built a site framework in two hours
Last night I sat down and gave myself two hours to get the workshop demo site’s framework in place and at least the homepage customized. This is what I put together (includes logo-tweaking time):
What you can’t see in the screenshot are all the cool little parallax effects and animations, or how great it looks on a tablet and a phone. Or how each of the inside pages, from the contact form to a portfolio project page are completely different. Or how fun it was to build.
Time is short
It’s a good thing you can develop so quickly with this theme, because the workshop is only 4 days away! With eight total hours I can talk for three and help the students build for four. (And eat lunch at Pokez for one). With two hours down, the rest of the changes have to be done in just two hours. Guess I know what I’ll be doing tonight!
Sponsor a Student’s Portfolio
I’m trying to raise enough to buy everyone six months of hosting at Flywheel and a one-year subscription to Elegant Themes. I’ve got a looong way to tilt, so if you can help, I can guarantee it will make a huge difference in a new designer’s WordPress career.