Tag Archives: Wordpress

reverting to old theme

I’ve had to revert this site to an older version of the WPFolio theme I’m using because the newer version has some squirrely coding in it somewhere that is preventing me from adding a search box to the site. I use search boxes on every site I go to, including my own, so I just don’t feel the site can live without it. For this, I will give up the nicer type design and much larger images until (big if!) I can get this sorted out. So far, I haven’t had the time to hunt this problem down and slay it.

Posted in 2014, latest | Also tagged |

easier shopping

Recently I did a site update — theme revisions, link fixes — in the course of which I added a “checkout” link to the top menu bar to make shopping here easier. Wherever you are on site, that link will take you to a page showing what (if anything) is in your shopping cart. In addition, when you add any item to your cart, you will be taken directly to this page, where you can either finalize the checkout or continue browsing and adding to your cart.

On this site, some of pages have a sidebar (the blog) and some don’t (the portfolio), which has made it difficult to consistently position the shopping cart in an easy-to-spot location. Some site shoppers have mentioned this, so I’m hoping this fix will improve the experience for visitors. Comments for further improvements are, as always welcome.

Posted in 2014, latest | Also tagged |

duct-taping an archive

txt I’ve written here before about the theme for this blog, WPfolio, which was designed especially for artist portfolios and gallery-style sites by folks at Eyebeam, especially Steve Lambert. But one thing this theme doesn’t do as well as others is make it easy to access past posts through a ‘monthly archive’ feature in the sidebar. It’s a feature I often use when I come across a site I like and am prompted to delve into its history—why and how it started, how it changed over time. So I really wanted to have one here as well.

Here’s the difficulty: the default archive feature for the WPfolio theme aggregates all posts that are assigned to any category except a small handful of predetermined categories that are reserved within the theme for the site’s blog feature (including the one I’m using, ‘latest’, as well as  ‘blog’, ‘news’, and ‘notable’). For this site, the result is that the default archive shows up all the posts pertaining to the work I’m selling—those listed in the ‘open editions’ and other menu categories—and leaves out my ‘latest’ posts, or about half of what I’ve published to date.

I spent some time looking for a workaround in the code but it ended up being more complicated than I wanted to deal with. So I pulled out my roll of virtual duct tape and cobbled together a simple if clumsy workaround: I created new ‘year’ categories, and then I went back and tagged all my ‘latest’ posts with their year of publication. Result: by clicking on either ‘2010’ or ‘2011’ in the sidebar under ‘ARCHIVES’, you can now see all of the posts for either year. It’s clumsy because it makes a long page—I’d prefer to do it by month, but I don’t have the patience to create all those extra categories.

A consequence of reconstructing the archive feature was that any post lacking an associated image looked forlorn, a speck of pointer text floating in a solid grid of images. So I created the ‘TXT’ image above for any post that is “just text”—to use a phrase I’ve always disliked for the way it undercuts a statement of sufficiency (text alone is all you need) with an insinuation of inadequacy (mere text is hardly enough). Within the blog post itself, this image is more than slightly superfluous—after all, text needs no assistance in announcing itself as text. Its function really only kicks in once the blog database is parsed a different way, through the archiving module. It is a post-print marker, a visual mnemonic conjured by a database aesthetic. As such it functions similarly to the three-letter file type markers commonly used for computer files: .doc, .psd, .jpg, and so on. Hence the choice of ‘TXT for the image rather than some other possibilities, like WORDS or TEXT. Though I suppose I could have gone with an image that said:

JUST
TEXT

 

Posted in 2011, latest | Also tagged , |

what is a theme anyway?

When I was setting up my first WordPress site—an abortive precursor to this one—I probably spent at least 25 hours searching for and testing a suitable theme. I looked at hundreds of themes and road-tested several dozen. Yes, this is just as mind-numbing as it sounds. It was a hard slog because I fall into an awkward category of advanced users: I know far too much about design to put up with a badly designed theme. I know HTML/XML and CSS so I expect to be able to edit the stylesheets to refine any theme that is almost right. But I don’t know PHP and I’m not willing to learn it well enough to make wholesale revisions in the base code. (If I did, I’d probably just write my own theme from scratch.)

cover of Dada no. 3

Dada no. 3: design or theme?

The more I looked around, the more I was struck by WordPress’s choice of the word ‘theme’ for what most people would call simply a design (or a layout, or a template); or even what in other geek circles is known as a ‘skin’. I suspect the choice is meant to imply that the theme does more than simply implement a design—that it carries some embedded subject matter as well. Some of that free-floating stuff slanged these days as “content”? If so, this suggests a remarkably naive view of design as a neutral process. That is, in the bad old days there was (neutral) design and now we’re blessed with the new improved design+content=theme. Or to put it another way: in what possible way can any design be construed as free of implicit or explicit subject matter?

A slight detour: In my searches, I was appalled by the discrepancy between the sheer number of themes available and the very poor quality of most themes as designs. Of the several hundred themes I looked at closely, no more than a couple dozen turned out to be even worth testing. Many broke fundamental rules of good user-centered design: for instance, a surprising number waste half the vertical space in a standard browser display with the static logo/banner area. Many broke if you bumped up the type size—a must for those of us with poor eyesight or large monitors or both. Most of those that place the static-page menu horizontally along the top of the window make it impossible to set up space-saving submenus. This means that any site which expects to have a large number of static pages will see its menu bar overflow awkwardly into a second line. Most themes had exceptionally poor information hierarchies, reflecting equally poor understanding of the basic principles of typesetting, and many were extremely cluttered in appearance. I could go on, but you get the point.

demo of blog.txt theme

demo screen shot of the blog.txt theme

The question of what a theme is and does arose again when I came to choose the theme for that test site. In the end I settled on blog.txt, one of several quite functional WordPress designs by Scott Wallick, who describes himself as an editor who is also a web designer and photographer. I originally chose a different Wallick design, Barthelme, which he calls “a minimalist theme where white space and margins show culture and aestheticism.” This curious statement reflects, I think, the common misunderstanding of design that is reflected in the notion of the theme. Here, the design features of “white space and [open?] margins” are severed from their original function, which is to make reading easier by creating points of focus within areas of rest. Instead, they are given a different and altogether fuzzier function: to “show culture and aestheticism.” I take this to be a shorthand way of saying: “everyone understands that High Modernist design principles are now universally accepted in the realms of High Culture—e.g. glossy magazines, coffee-table books, museums, packaging of expensive consumer goods—and therefore to adopt them is to assimilate oneself to High Culture, which is a good thing.” The function of the design is thus understood as primarily sociocultural rather than ergonomic. Good design, however, remains aware of both aspects; while great design challenges conventional understanding of at least one of the two.

the geek-speak tag cloud on the WPFolio website

Which brings us back to all those bad WordPress themes: they become comprehensible only if you understand that they are not intended to take on any of the fundamental problems that designers are interested in solving—issues of legibility, information organization, and so on. (On the contrary, there seems to be a presumption that these problems are either already solved, or not very important.) Instead, they are intended to address sociocultural issues such as: To what subculture does the user want to signal allegiance? How does this theme make the user feel more important, or sexier, or hipper? In this sense they may be adequate to their audience’s wishes, if seriously limited in those other respects.

Fast forward to today: I want to praise the theme for this site, WPfolio. It was developed at Eyebeam in New York specifically for artists’ portfolios and the result is by far the most elegant and usable WordPress theme I’ve ever seen. Especially well thought out is the control it gives users over building menus and solving the menu/submenu problem. The theme is designed so that an artist can organize the site according to whatever taxonomy makes most sense to her, whether that is medium or theme or year or something else entirely. Kudos to the Eyebeam OpenLab team that developed this beauty.

Posted in 2010, latest | Also tagged , , , |