WP Tavern sports a new website design – WP Tavern

We’re back with a brand new edition of WP Tavern. Technically, we have a terrific new coat of paint that I hope you can all see if you view it from your browsers. If you’re reading this article through a feed reader, email, or whatever, head over to the site and check it out.

The tavern has also received a few updates under the hood. I won’t go into those details, but some of you may have noticed that we are now hosted on Squeezable, a hosting service owned by Automattic. So far, things seem to be going without a hitch.

For posterity, here’s a screenshot of the old homepage design with the new one:

It is as much your home as it is ours. We just write the articles, but you are the one spending the time browsing the front end – actually using the website. Constructive comments are always valued and taken into account.

A one-year design project

It’s hard to imagine the last time WP Tavern wasn’t running a WordPress theme I built. Prior to joining the staff here in 2019, the website had almost always contained a little piece of me.

I would have to dig into the archives, but I know for sure that it used a modified version of the Hybrid News theme that I released in 2009 and ultimately a custom child theme on top of Stargazer years later.

I created our last theme in the middle of the early days of Block Editor, and the changes over the past couple of years have been like a stress test against my skills as a developer and designer. For the most part, this held up well as we ran the latest version of the Gutenberg plugin in production. I had to fix a ton of not much here and there, but I’m happy to say that the site has continued to move forward.

Our last theme was aging, however, and we needed to refresh the place. We had ideas from late 2019 that we hadn’t implemented, and it’s still hard to find the time for a complete overhaul when there is so much going on in the WordPress world. Our first priority is always to share the news.

We were fortunate that the WordPress.com Special Projects team contacted us in November 2020 with a proposal. Their mission:

We help interesting people, organizations and projects to have a great experience with WordPress.

It didn’t start out as a new site design project. The team had actually been looking to create a feature that I would like to bring back to the Tavern. This part of the project isn’t quite ready yet, so we’ll be saving it as a surprise for the New Year. People are getting ready for the holiday season, and there is no reason to rush.

Our team had planned to redesign the site ourselves. We were just waiting for Full Site Editing to launch alongside WordPress 5.7 – therefore, that did not happen at all.

After a few back and forths, a group call and a leap forward to January 2021, we were looking at designer tiles. Our plans had changed. And that’s part of the magical process of keeping communication open. When you surround yourself with smart people who are great at their jobs, you can end up taking a much better path than the one you first set foot on.

Let’s move quickly beyond logo decisions, design mockups, and constant changes to FSE throughout 2021. It’s been a long journey, but we have finally arrived at our destination of a new and improved version of WP Tavern.

From the tavern to the WordPress.com Special Projects team: Thank you for your hard work and professionalism throughout this process.

From the outside

Of course, I had reservations about the project from the start. I look at other developers’ code almost every day, and I generally prefer to do my own thing. This is one of the reasons I have never accepted the dozens of job postings from agencies over the years. I would be that employee who wanted to uproot everything on day # 1. At the end of the first two weeks I would be “slack”, my employee record labeled “not working well with others”.

The team provided me with committer access to our development repository and used my favorite commands for the build process. It was a welcome gesture, and I was happy to know that I could change whatever I needed.

But, I haven’t once used the power at my disposal.

I was comfortable with the feeling that we were in a partnership. In addition, every ticket I opened in the repository has been processed – and I absolutely opened a lot of questions.

Letting go of developmental control was a burden on my shoulders. I quickly realized that it was a team of professionals who knew what they were doing.

Of course, I would have done some things differently with the code, like modernizing some of the PHP (something that was not needed in the context of the project). I probably would have reorganized a few files too. At the same time, it was an opportunity for me to learn, and I absorbed as much as I could.

In addition to wearing my student cap, I also kept my client cap. It was my first time playing this role. There were times when I worried if everything was going to work out while I was scanning an unfinished project. However, most of the time I was able to sit down and watch in wonder the team put it all together.

About Sandra A. Powell

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