Ian Stewart is a man standing behind WordPress.com state. Convinced believer that the world can be a more exciting and divine place through theming. Responsible for WordPress.com Automattic Theme Division, running the ThemeShaper blog and a personal blog of his own. While doing a whole bunch of other cool stuff, Ian seems to still be thinking of WordPress themes for every single minute:)
Delve into the inspirational talk about the beautiful and amazing future of WordPress themes and CMS.
Huge thanks for agreeing to this interview, Ian. Could you please share with our readers how did you first get involved with WordPress CMS? Why did you decide to contribute exactly this platform?
I started out using WordPress in 2007, looking to upgrade my blog. I had, like many others, a blog on Google’s Blogger. As I learned more about the community of bloggers, I noticed that seemingly everyone who was taking blogging seriously was using WordPress. The better commenting system, the quality of themes like Kubrick and The Sandbox, and the chance to take some sort of ownership of the software convinced me to switch. Contributing back to the community seemed like a natural extension of that ownership. Thanks to the open source roots of WordPress and the graciousness of others in the community, I felt like I was part of something. Over time, it encouraged and inspired me to give back and share what I’d learned with others.
When did you discover your passion for WordPress theming? How did you learn to create themes? Were there any particular tutorials / personalities that you followed?
It was the Blogger experience that turned me into a themer. I’ve written about it a bit on my blog. The challenge of designing a template for many users and many uses – the pluralization of a design – really excited me as a designer. It still does! It’s a really interesting design puzzle.
When I started, Small Potato (Tung Do) of WPDesigner was the person to follow. He had a really great and super-popular tutorial on his blog. But it was a smaller series of posts on WordPress themes on a blog – that unfortunately I can’t remember! – that helped me understand how themes worked. The posts showed how you could have a simple HTML-only template and use template tags to display WordPress data, starting with bloginfo and the blog title. When I saw that, I finally felt like I understood what was going on. Scott Wallick of The Sandbox theme taught me how to make a child theme with his Sandbox Design Contest. That contest and lesson from Scott changed my career path.
You are currently working as a Theme Wrangler for the ever-awesome Automattic. What was your dream job when you were a child? Could you describe your first design experience?
My high school yearbook notes that I wanted to “do something with computers or art” and I spent a lot of time training to be a comic book illustrator – probably way too much. I’ve always been interested in art and design but also telling stories. Working on themes fulfills all of that neatly for me. Except in this case the story being told is hopefully by the person using a theme. I want to see them succeed in whatever they’ve set out to do with WordPress and an excellent theme is a big part of that.
My first professional design experience came a short time after high school was over when I started working as a sign maker and designer. I made a lot of mistakes! 🙂 But I feel like I learned how to work fast. I also worked with a lot of small businesses during those years which might be why I think about them so much in the work I do now.
You have written a very interesting article in your blog. Please, provide in a few sentences the answer to the question “Should every designer consider a certain set of principles while creating, or rather be guided by intuitive feelings of their own?”
Absolutely. But both. Everyone applies a set of (sometimes undefined) principles based on experience, culture, learning, and so on to everything they do. Design, as work, is part of life and no different. The application of those principles, however, is going to be unique to each individual and project. They’re often defined very strictly and explicitly at the project level – your client will have certain particular needs or goals – and sometimes more or less defined at a higher level as well. For example, I’m often concerned about the owner of a design being able to project themselves into or see themselves in a design. I think it’s important. I’ll almost always come back to that when evaluating a design project in addition to any particular project requirements.
Every Theme Wrangler has their special understanding of what a perfect theme is. What is yours? Would you name your top 5 most beloved WP themes?
I have a threefold standard for theme excellence. An excellent theme has brilliant design polished in every last detail. It should be a pristine example of current best practices and standards in elegant template coding. It must enhance the WordPress experience by fading into the background after activation with intelligent default settings and only a minimal set of intuitive theme-specific features, if any.
Top five time! Unranked but selected based on the love I currently have for them:
Kubrick. The design that launched a thousand themes. It gets knocked around now and is almost a byword for “dated” in the WordPress theme community, but it was gorgeous during its time and still feels the most like “this is WordPress” to me.
The Sandbox. This theme brought me to WordPress and taught me how to be good themer.
Twenty Eleven. I have fond memories of working on this with many awesome people and designing it together with Matías Ventura. I like to think it also helped to further encourage responsive web design in the WordPress community.
Hemingway. The original one. This “non-standard blog template” encouraged me to think differently about theme design when I first saw it being used.
Twenty Sixteen. The next default theme! I’m always in love with the next default theme but I think Takashi Irie has done an exceptional job with this one. It’s definitely polished. I’m excited to see it being used.
What do you think the future holds for WordPress CMS? Do you plan to be engaged in its development for the upcoming 5 years?
I’m not sure what the future holds for WordPress but I’m hopeful that it’ll get easier and easier to use. I plan to stick around to see that happen.
If not WordPress, what alternative would you decide on? Why?
If not WordPress, Drupal. It’s open source with a super-smart, engaged community.
What’s your view on website migration across different CMS solutions? Have you ever experienced it? Do you think that keeping the same design is of crucial importance?
Website migration across different CMS solutions should be clean and easy. I wouldn’t want to be locked into one particular tool. Personally, I’ve been involved in migrating Blogger and Movable Type blogs to WordPress.
Keeping the same design depends on the particular needs of a project. Sometimes it’s important, but sometimes you want a refresh or upgrade.
As you once mentioned in your post: “A talk is something that should inspire someone to go away and do something”. What would you say for those hesitating whether to switch to WordPress or not?
Go away and switch to WordPress. 🙂 The community of plugin developers, theme authors, volunteers, and all-around friendly people who are all rooting for your success is pretty amazing. They’ve helped me grow and succeed in my WordPress efforts and they’ll help you too.
To conclude, share 3 interesting non-WordPress-related facts about yourself.
I love creating in general, so outside of WordPress and work you’ll see me learning about game design or trying to be a better cook. I can juggle and play harmonica at the same time. I love reading, and books in general, which has led to me having a totally out-of-control personal library of almost a thousand books.
Great thanks for hanging round with aisite. Such was the interview with amazing Ian Stewart. In case WordPress seems like a seduction now, migrate your site for this enticing web solution with aisite.