| Design Trends, Web Design

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WordPress is a widely used blogging and content management system (CMS) that many people rave about because it is free and easy to use. However, there are a lot misconceptions out there about using the tool.

The idea for content management systems came as a way for non-techie people to be able to update their own web sites. In the past, if your web designer or developer created your site as pure HTML (or .asp or .php, etc.) you would not be able to make updates without also understanding the coding behind the pages. We’ve all heard horror stories of small business owners who need a simple update to their web site, but it takes their web developer two weeks and $100 to make the change.

Using a tool like WordPress empowers the business owner to make updates on their own. If they spot a typo or want to update information on the site they can do it themselves quickly and for free.

However, many small business owners seem to be taking this too far and try to set up their entire site themselves using WordPress. This can lead to all types of headaches, depending on the design and coding skills of the person involved.

Once you have a better understanding of these 5 myths about setting up, designing and using a WordPress site, you can more effectively use the tool on your own web site.

Myth 1: For best results, sign up for a free blog at WordPress.com

When I first learned about WordPress, one of the most confusing things was the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org If you go to WordPress.com you will have the option of setting up a free blog for yourself, using the domain name www.whateveryouchoose.wordpress.com This is not the ideal way for a small business to set up their blog or to use WordPress as a content management tool. It’s best to install the WordPress software directly onto your own domain name. To get that software, you can download it at WordPress.org, or many web hosts have self-installations available.

In the end, I think of WordPress.com as a tool someone might use for a personal blog, whereas WordPress.org is where a professional would go to implement WordPress on a corporate site.

Myth 2: WordPress is just a blogging software

WordPress started as a blogging tool, but can be an effective way to manage any type of content. We have built sites that use the WordPress software to run their whole web site, and not even include a blog.

Myth 3: WordPress is so easy to set up and use

This is where I see a lot of pain and confusion. WordPress is definitely easy to use. Our clients love the administrative dashboard where they can easily add, edit, and delete content such as text, graphics, documents and videos. They can add links and add in or take away pages. The interface is friendly and fairly intuitive. With minimal training, they are able to make web updates that used to require HTML knowledge and specialty software.

But, we’ve done the painful part for them… we’ve designed the user side of the site (ie the design) and we’ve set up the WordPress functionality. Our clients are just using the finished product.

There are people selling (and giving away) themes that do much of the design work for you. And there is loads of information from WordPress and from other developers about how to set up a WordPress site. But, if you don’t know anything about coding, I don’t think you’re going to find it easy to create a custom site for yourself.

Myth 4: WordPress is too basic for anything complicated

In the scheme of things, the amount of HTML, CSS and PHP you need to learn to make WordPress work, is fairly minimal. Therefore, I get the sense that some web developers feel it’s not a “real” development tool. However, as we continue to work with it, we realize it can really do a lot. The more you know about PHP and how it works with the WordPress system, you start to build in a lot of functionality that still works off the same admin dashboard that our clients love. Here a list of some pretty robust web sites and large scale brand using WordPress to power their sites.

Myth 5: You can recognize a WordPress site a mile away

As web designers, this one always surprises me. We are building more and more sites in WordPress and we continue to follow our motto: Don’t Let the CMS Drive the Design! We work out an ideal design solution outside of the bounds of WordPress and then work the HTML, CSS and WordPress configuration into it. Having said that, regardless of the CMS you are using, whenever you create things like dynamic navigational menus, you need to understand enough about the development side to create things that are possible.

What I think people are reacting to are so many of the free themes that do tend to follow certain design trends. And, there are some themes that have been used multiple times (without much customization) that certainly are recognizable. But there really are no limitations within WordPress that should stifle anyone’s design ambitions.

Here are a few examples from our own portfolio of WordPress sites.

Customized WordPress design
Customized WordPress Design For NarrativePros

NarrativePros: This site is gritty, texturally-rich and lavishly designed. This is not out-of-the-box design or a free theme. Check out the live site: www.narrativepros.com


Customized WordPress Design for Global Citizenship Experience Private School
Customized WordPress Design for Global Citizenship Experience Private School

Global Citizenship Experience: Following the branding established by their logo, color palette and other visual elements, we created this web site design that is custom WordPress design. Check out the live site: www.gcechicago.com


Custom WordPress Design for ClaimVantage
Custom WordPress Design for ClaimVantage

ClaimVantage: ClaimVantage is involved with insurance claims processing and I included this example as a contrast to Narrative Pros. This design is light, clean and corporate. See the site live at: www.claimvantage.com


Just the facts

I think the main confusion with WordPress is that people think it’s sooo easy that anyone can set up a well-designed site by themselves. If you don’t have knowledge of design, CSS and PHP, you’ll likely end up with a pre-designed theme that will lack your brand’s custom identity and then you will frustrate yourself as you try to customize it.

If you work with the right design and development team, you’ll find that WordPress will be easy for you to use (as an administrator)… once it’s been set up by a pro.

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