Semi-Final Report on WordPress Best Practices Adventure

Well, I’ve gone one day over the time I allotted myself to find my way out of the inefficient ways I’ve been approaching WordPress development for the past year or two. But I’ve finally settled on a methodology that I’m going to stick with for a long enough period to see whether it pays the kinds of dividends in efficiency and effectiveness I expect it will.

To cut to the chase for those who are tired of reading these long posts all week, here’s my new WordPress setup and practice. It’s how I’ll build every site I tackle until I see something a lot better come along.

  • dw-wpstart with a starter theme based on Foundation for WordPress
  • create a child theme off that Foundation-based starter theme
  • edit the child theme files principally in Dreamweaver
  • design new page templates and tweak existing ones as layouts in Dreamweaver
  • stay with CSS rather than LESS or SASS for the moment, reserving the right to switch later
  • do all development locally within Dreamweaver CS5.5 using Live View and a local WP server setup for test

What Happened to Drag-n-Drop?

I looked closely at three different drag-n-drop tools for WP, hoping desperately to find one that would essentially allow me not to have to use Dreamweaver for design. I’m a big fan of direct-manipulation UI design. Unfortunately, none of the three held up to my testing even fairly early in the processes.

After discovering some real weaknesses in Ultimatum and Pagelines, I thought I had a winner in Elegant Builder from Elegant Themes. It’s a plug-in that will work inside any theme, which I felt was a big advantage. But when push came to shove, I discovered that it fell short on too many fronts. Without dropping into CSS, e.g., I was unable to figure out how to control image size and alignment, the Slider element was not nearly sufficiently flexible out of the box and Simple Slider was just a bit better than a Lego. Overall, I just felt limited and hemmed in by it.

That was a big disappointment on my adventure.

Why Foundation?

At last report, I had narrowed my choices of a starter theme to Bones, Foundation and Roots. This turned out to be by far the toughest decision in this whole process. That was partly because I quickly saw that this was perhaps the most important decision I’d make and because the contest among those three was awfully close. I bounced back and forth a dozen times before I made my final decision.

And even that decision isn’t quite final yet.

While I originally intended to pick the FWP theme itself, I soon discovered that it appeared to be all but abandoned. Its online forum hadn’t had a post by the theme’s creator since last August or by anyone else since December. I posted a question about its support and viability on LinkedIn and three other forums. Nobody answered in 24 hours.

But I really liked so much of what I’d seen in Foundation I was reluctant to let it go. Until I discovered that there are a number of starter themes out there based on FWP. So I surveyed those and narrowed my choice to:

Again, what I’m looking for is a minimalist theme that is easy to extend and tweak. If anyone has experience with any of these themes and can offer some advice, I’m all ears! I plan to put each of them through its basic paces and make the final choice in a day or two.

Why Child Themes?

After studying not only responses here and posts on other forums but also advice from seasoned WP developers, I concluded that a significant percentage of the successful ones were using child themes essentially all the time. The model makes eminent sense to me.

I know some folks believe that child themes impact negatively on performance. I suspect that is probably even true. But I’m not sure the overall impact is in and of itself a reason not to adopt what is clearly a superior methodology from many other respects.

Dreamweaver? Seriously?

If I didn’t already have a license for DW, I’d keep looking because it’s almost certainly not worth spending a few hundred bucks on a glorified direct-manipulation GUI builder and code editor.

But since I already have it and am comfortable with it and thanks to a great tutorial on the Adobe Dreamweaver forums on how to edit WP theme files with DW, it makes great sense for me from an effectiveness perspective to extend my DW skills into WP.

Why Not LESS or SASS?

This was a close call. But with DW to do the editing (and its built-in CSS tools are great!), I decided learning LESS (probably won’t choose SASS) was just one more thing to add to my kit bag and one thing I didn’t necessarily need right now.

So There You Have It! And Thanks!

So I’m off to make the final choice of a Foundation-based starter theme (though a few Catalyst advocates are not yet giving up convincing me to go that route) and then start developing my six new assignment sites — four for my own business, two for clients — following this methodology and tweaking where necessary.

I really appreciate all the help I got from the members of this forum, including some who answered in private mail rather than here on the public forum. Without your experienced advice and encouragement, this project might never have been completed or, if it had, not as well.

I look forward now to working in WP rather than on it!


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