Some months ago, as I was hustling work contracts, I submitted what I thought was a pretty good quote for a compliance training effort. Online scenario-based training seemed to be a good strategy for the context, and I thought I had pretty deep and relevant experience to apply to the project. The response I got back surprised me a bit.
There was acknowledgement that my experience was good, the quote reasonable in price, and my skills likely up to snuff, but the end client had a look at my little web site, and thought it was, well, too ugly and old-looking. They decided an instructional designer with a web site like this couldn’t be trusted to work in a modern corporate training development context.
Just a few years ago I had received a number of compliments on my little WordPress site based on the “Dark Essence” theme. And already, I was a dinosaur and my web site was a pig.
It took me a while to get over my righteous indignation at having my instructional design and e-learning abilities questioned because I had the wrong WordPress theme. It didn’t seem very relevant to the creation and implementation of effective and impactful training scenarios. And of course, it’s not.
But I gave in. The kind colleague who had provided me with this project lead was nice enough to suggest some updates to my site, including perhaps one of those new parallax scrolling WordPress themes. This week, at long last, I took another plunge into the WordPress theme quagmire, and as several times before, it was not fun. I knew that putting some needed lipstick on my little web site pig would take way longer than it should, and of course, it did.
The result, as you can see, is very basic. First off, I decided to stay away from parallax scrolling themes. Simply put, they make me sick. Not figuratively. Literally, like those amusement park rides that I used to relish as a kid, but that now make me toss my cookies (not the web kind). Then there were many single page themes, another current rage related in part to the parallax scrolling craze. I knew that if I chose one of those, I’d probably be spending many hours re-jigging the site content, etc., and I couldn’t face that. So I searched for a simple, modern, attractive, reliable, responsive (hey, I even know what that means!) theme that puts the focus on the content. I ended up choosing the Highwind theme. My little pig make-up adventure was not over, however.
My first tiny task with my new theme was to find out how to put my little headshot photo into the obvious placeholder for that photo in the centre of the theme’s top banner/header. In many made-for-regular-humans software tools, this would be simple – click on the placeholder in edit mode, and a dialog comes up, asking you to browse to the image file, maybe providing guidelines on image size, and Bob’s your uncle. But this is WordPress, which is only partly made for regular humans, and in too large part still made for PHP and CSS and who-knows-what coders.
My nice new theme had no accompanying help or directions on this issue, but a Google search quickly revealed that many theme users were wondering the same bloody thing. Why do you have a clear placeholder for the blogger’s photo, yet no instruction anywhere for how to freakin put it in?? About an hour later, the stupid solution was revealed – I had to either try to set up a generic “gravatar” account somewhere (didn’t work), or else find a plugin that would allow me to use my profile picture from Facebook, Google+ or something like that. Highwind theme developer, shame on you. As far as theme design AND customer service are concerned, you got a ways to go.
With my mug now firmly implanted in the banner, my next wish was to reduce the height of the banner, because it’s just too big. Again, you would think this would be a slam-dunk. But this is WordPress. In 2014, “flexible header” themes are just beginning to hit the streets, so with most other themes, changing the height of the header is another exercise in search and frustration. WordPress and theme forums threw out all kinds of code snippets, code changes and possible locations for these edits and additions, and then maybe if 3 planets aligned, the banner would change size. No such luck for me. Another hour of searching and swearing, and my banner stubbornly remained at 600 goddamn pixels high.
Glutton for punishment that I am, I turned to my third task, which was to stop the page titles from being displayed, which is unnecessary and annoying. Guess what. Yet again, something that should be so bloody simple took another 45 minutes, and I was only partly successful! I had to get yet another plugin that provides an option of removing the title from a page. But some of my pages are actually lists of posts of certain categories, so that led to more searching about alternative ways to display categories on pages, and there are still raging debates among WordPress coders about how to do that. After so many years of WordPress supposed evolution and development, with a massive community of coders at work, there is still no basic procedure nor agreement on how to display categories on a page!! WTF!!
For coders, this is all fun of course. Just more challenges to play with. But for regular humans trying to USE WordPress rather than TINKER with it, this is continuous, protracted, lonely psychological warfare. When oh when will the needs of us folks be actually considered by WordPress platform and theme developers and the rest of this community? I’m perfectly happy to pay for themes or other WordPress stuff, but that hasn’t made much difference. Paid themes seem to have similar issues of lousy documentation and needlessly complex functions.
Are we destined to only farm pigs on the web, with or without lipstick? Who will design the first platform to raise racehorses?