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3 Designs Lesson I Learned From WordCamp Lancaster

Lancaster WordCamp


Last weekend I had the awesome chance to head to Lancaster, PA for WordCamp Lancaster. It was the first time Lancaster has hosted a WordCamp, and boy was it a swell time. They had speakers in from all over the state to talk about best practices, tips to get the most out of WordPress, the responsive web, and an assortment of new design tools to check out. As we develop our own WordPress plugin, this was a great opportunity to learn from leaders in the community.

I have pages of notes from the talks, and while I am comforted knowing that I have a ton of knowledge on these pages, I’d feel way better if I could share these expert insights with you.

1. Responsive Web Design Is Pretty Legit

I know, nothing new, right? But if I have a few tips from a published author that might fill in a few cracks in your knowledge.

Joe Casabona, author of  Responsive Web Design with WordPress, talked about the fundamentals of responsive design. One thing I found interesting was his responsive workflow. A workflow optimized for growth and making your content presentable everywhere.

His responsive workflow starts with designing mobile first. Why mobile first? Because if you can provide a solid experience at the smallest level you’ll be able to design and implement your content in an expanded view no problem.

Building out mobile first helps you understand what exactly the most important content is that you’re dealing with, what should be emphasized, and what’s not very important. With a larger canvas you may be tempted to fill your space with everything. If you’re designing with mobile in mind, you’ll be sure that no matter what size screen the user has, they’re going to have access to the critical content.

Joe cited Brad Frost (a Pittsburgh resident!) as an inspiration in his talk.  To stress the importance of responsive design and to answer the question “Why does responsive matter?” he shared this image.



There’s no way of knowing exactly the screen size of your audience. The person visiting your site could be on any contraption—from a tv-screen to a flip phone that does a great job of playing snake.

I interviewed Joe Cassabona after his talk. We talked about the wonders of WordPress, responsive design, and more! Listen to in the embedded audio player:

2. A Few Key Tools To Developing Online

One of my favorite presenters was Aaron Jorbin. He bravely took the stage having no idea what he was going to present to the audience. Would it be a talk about how you shouldn’t use Photoshop to design? Or would he explore the political tension in the Congo? He asked the audience to vote on the five topics he would present and whatever won would be what he’d discuss.

All of this decided in real time.

One of the winning topics was exploring Jorbin’s workflow. He’s pretty accomplished in the world of design, UX, WordPress, so I thought I’d share some of the tools he uses to make the web a better place.

  • Rescue Time – Keeps a log of your daily usage. There’s a free version that will track the time spent on websites and applications. Great for understanding what you’re wisely investing your time into.
  • Grunt – Allows you to automate just about anything.  Jorbin uses it to script out his workflow.
  • JSHint – Want to double-check your JavaScript? Drop it in JS Hint and blammo, you’re off to the races.
  • Vagrant – If you need to setup a development environment, quickly and easily, this seems to be the tool for you.
  • XDebug – Working in PHP? XDebug helps you find and squash bugs. And, also is home to one of the most simplistic home pages.

But that wasn’t all that Jorbin had to share with the group. Oh no. Because of the audience vote, we learned why designing in Photoshop is a bad idea. Which was equally educational and another key thing I learned at the conference.

3. Don’t Design In Photoshop (Also, Make Mistakes)

Jorbin was adamant about this point. And adamant is putting it nicely.

But why is designing in Photoshop a bad thing? Because design is an iterative process. Much of what’s created in Photoshop is static mockup. Why is that better than sketching on a piece of paper?

It was really less about Photoshop and more about the idea of creating designs freely and cheaply. If you draw out wireframes on a piece of paper and you change your mind all you have to do is crumple up a piece of paper and toss it into the recycling. Alternative, if you’re dealing with a photoshop mockup, well, now you have to think about throwing away a design you’ve spent a decent amount of time on to make pixel perfect.

Finding the perfect way to create quickly without costing you too much time is vital to harnessing your craft and becoming a better designer. Another aspect of improving was to gather feedback and data points about your design.

Jorbin went on to stress the importance of testing everything. Test your CSS by going to csste.st. Test your designs and iterations by putting them in front of real people. This could be as simple as showing someone a sketch on paper or as complicated as sitting them down with the beta of your product. Any feedback from actual-live people will make you a better designer in the long run.

Also, he suggested making a ton of mistakes. Like. A ton. Obviously, with the caveat that you learn from those mistakes.

WordCamp Was Outstanding

WordCamp Lancaster was a  great time. The talks varied from the advanced to the basic, but all were helpful in their own way. It’s not everyday you can ask Ryan Duff, a WordPress developer who has been working with WordPress since 2004, advice on building plugins. The guy built one of the first contact form plugins for WordPress!

That accessibility and chance to interact with the WordPress community is outstanding. It’s a welcoming environment that encourages collaboration and the exchanging of ideas.

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