WordPress DC: Introduction to Themes and Theme Development with Thad Allender

This month’s meeting of WordPress DC was an introduction to themes and theme development.

WordPress DC is a monthly meetup group of WP developers, designers and bloggers. The meeting was held at Fathom Creative, in a beautiful second floor space overlooking 14th St. With hardwood floors and track lighting, it’s pretty enough to be an art gallery. And it has been – just last month, this space was host to Instant DC, an exhibit of amazing photos taken by cellphones. (It’s hard to believe but just a few years ago this building was an auto repair shop.)

There were about forty people in the audience, most of whom were WP developers, though there were also designers and bloggers, like me. And since developers were present, there was, of course, free beer. That seems a requisite for geeky meetups.

The meeting was kicked off by Andrew Nacin, who is a WP core developer and evangelist for the WP platform. He gave a short presentation on the basics of a theme – how they worked and were structured. And he answered something that’s always confused me – what’s the difference between categories and tags?

Categories are hierarchical (didn’t realize that) and are broad subject areas. For example, you could have a category called “writing” and a sub-category called “essays”. Tags are like keywords and are more granular. So, you could tag your fish stew recipe with tags like “cod, carrots, onions, broth” and so on.

In practice, most individual bloggers don’t seem to use categories but instead just use keywords.

The main speaker was Thad Allender, a photographer and designer based in Washington, D.C. In 2007, he founded Graph Paper Press, a web development company focused on creating minimalist designs for creatives using WordPress. Previously, Thad worked as a multimedia producer at USA TODAY and director of photography for The World Company publications.

He got into an incredible amount of detail on how WP themes work, providing breakdowns of header, index, footer, sidebar and other files, all the backend of WP that maybe you’ve glanced at but never really closely examined. Thad then discussed theme development – what you should develop with, how to maintain version control and so on. He also touched on child themes. These are sub-themes you use on your site, so you can have a photo post that’s 800 pixels wide while your article posts are 400 pixels wide.

Here’s Thad’s presentation (large PDF).

Time was set aside after the presentation for questions. People presented Thad and Andrew with some very specific technical questions on how to do things with WordPress, such as adding Java elements to a site, how to upgrade a WP theme without losing your custom changes and the weirdness that is BuddyPress.

At the end, Andrew then asked:

  1. Who’s looking for a job?
  2. Who’s hiring?

Which was great, I thought. Several people in the audience were looking to hire web developers.

I’ve used WP for a while but never really understood how themes worked. Now I do, as well as learning about the flexibility of WordPress and the vibrancy of the WP community. I may not develop my own theme but I’ll be a lot more comfortable working with them, as well as being aware of how much can be done with the WordPress platform.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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