MalCare, your preferred WordPress security plugin, recently had the chance to sit back with Ben Gillbanks, the veteran WordPress developer regarding his work within the WordPress neighborhood. In the job interview below we reach consult with Ben about his previous work and the way the shifting WordPress scenery will be forcing him to take into account creative ways to remain relevant. The job interview below is thrilling and in-depth. Therefore let’s leap in!
Hi Ben! To begin with, I’d prefer to thank you when planning on taking the time in order to chat with our visitors today. You’ve experienced the WordPress space intended for 13 years now, why don’t you kick items off by introducing yourself and reveal with us a small amount of your trip as a web programmer and how you have what your location is now?
Thank you for inviting me personally to do the job interview! 🙂
We started off likely to university and attempting to study 3D artwork with a look at to working in video gaming. I spent three years focusing on 3D art, however the course was wide and I did so a great deal of web site design as well. This is 1998 and I recall when CSS became something. At that time we were tough coding font attributes straight in the html – so utilizing a CSS file to regulate everything from one location was the truth.
I later got employment at Miniclip.com (a good video game portal) as a casino game performer. I was employee #3 3, plus they needed a web design service. We were all carrying out items of everything and since i have had the most encounter I took over manage of the website. Ultimately becoming Director of Internet Development overseeing a group of 20+. For the reason that period I needed to start out a blog (I currently had an internet site with a home developed CMS) and I came across WordPress. I’ve been using WordPress to get my personal site since.
What made you choose to go full-time within developing your personal WordPress themes?
I worked for Miniclip for 11 yrs. I grew to become Director of Internet Development but over time to do that I decided administration wasn’t for me personally, so I hired you to definitely replace myself, and moved right into a more forwards thinking role – that i very enjoyed.
Miniclip was a games website where you play browser based games. Flash and Unity games mostly. However the future is increasingly moving to mobile, therefore Miniclip opened a development studio in Portugal where they built games. Flash was slowly being killed off and there didn’t appear to be a future in online flash games. So it seemed like a good time to try my own thing.
I started selling WordPress themes in 2007 – we were among the first theme shops and I was working regular at Miniclip. It took 8 years to obtain the courage to go into WordPress regular. In a few ways I wish I’d done it sooner and capitalised on the first success. We did effectively to begin with. Hired some people to accomplish support and everything. However now it’s just me noodling away on various things.
You started Pro Theme Design back 2007, and you also pride your WordPress templates to serve specific purposes instead of being bloated, all-in-one choices. What’s the reasoning behind the approach of providing specialized themes to WordPress users?
I don’t just like the all in a single themes. They’re chaos and whatever you hear on WordPress Twitter/ Facebook/ Slack groups is people complaining about how exactly difficult the themes are to edit. Or how slow and bloated the themes are.
I totally start to see the appeal from the user’s perspective. They’re sold the imagine having the ability to do whatever they need, but the the truth is quite different. Wrangling the website into something resembling the demo is frequently incredibly difficult.
I know you can find developers who don’t like Gutenberg but I believe from the users perspective it’ll make the setup a whole lot simpler. It is possible to build a stylish site quite quickly utilizing the block editor.
Personally I wish to create WordPress themes that instantly appear to be the demo. Once you activate them you’ll be 99% of just how there. I love to put in a few more flexible elements, plus some settings in the Customizer, but mostly they’ll ‘just work’.
Digging just a little deeper on Pro Theme Design’s history, that which was it like for you personally when you initially started the web site? How did you start onboarding your first paying customers?
I don’t even remember now! It had been in the past – however I really do remember that it had been very easy. Since there have been a couple of other theme shops people bought things really quickly. Among our first customers was Adii who co-founded WooThemes.
I do remember that people were the first visitors to make magazine themes. Darren had made a free of charge theme called Mimbo and our first paid theme was Mimbo Pro. Everybody else was making blogging themes.
At the time there have been a lot of different WordPress news blogs (I believe WPTavern may be the only popular one left) and everyone read them. So essentially we didn’t need to work very hard. It simply happened. We told some individuals and made money.
That doesn’t happen anymore unfortunately.
You also mention that you will be the net developer, owner and support person for the themes website. Essentially, you select what themes to create, create them so you reach provide answers for customer questions. That’s just the gist of it, but these roles all include some serious responsibilities. How will you approach time management to be able to balance all three of these?
Darren did most of the design work in the first days, but he isn’t really involved now. He’s moved into music production. THEREFORE I do everything.
I don’t consider time management. My philosophy would be to simplify or automate in so far as i can. THEREFORE I have a build process that manages updating themes. I’ve comprehensive docs that answer frequent questions. I take advantage of IFTTT to inform me when people post on the support forum.
Where possible I build things myself but I’m not afraid of spending money on services to make my entire life easier. My favourite is FreeAgent which does a lot of my accounting for me personally.
Anything I could do to reduce the quantity of work I must do I’ll.
As you mentioned, in collaboration with Darren Hoyt you created Mimbo Pro. It really is among the original premium magazine themes for the platform. Its development also resulted in the creation of the image resize script TimThumb. How was it like dealing with Darren in completing this well respected project? How happy are you currently with the outcomes?
It was lots of fun. At that time nobody was using version control, so we spent plenty of evenings editing files go on a dev server. We regularly overwrote each other’s changes and broke things and didn’t learn how to fix them. Therefore it took considerably longer to build than it will have.
Darren also came at things from the idea of view of a designer. He was less thinking about the technical aspect, and much more interested in making items that are attractive and simple to use, so that’s how exactly we came up with things such as TimThumb, and the carousel; which nobody else was doing at that time. In the first days we tried to truly have a unique feature for each theme we made. A thing that made it a little different from everybody else.
Mimbo Pro has since been rewritten 4 times, but it’s showing its age now and I don’t think it fits right into a world of block building anymore. Nonetheless it was an enormous learning experience then one I enjoyed doing at that time.
TimThumb was a complete other thing. It’s due to TimThumb that featured images got contained in WordPress. That was an enormous revelation and, I believe, area of the reason we did well in early stages. People wanted to observe how we’d used it and add the script with their own themes.
Being the one-man army behind Pro Theme Design, how will you go about brainstorming the next theme? Which are the main parameters that you take into account before deciding to start out focus on a project?
I use Sketch for my theme designs. I’ve a Sketch file which has about 50 designs inside it. It acts such as a “Sketch” book. I simply add things when i think of them. A lot of the designs aren’t finished, they’re literally digital doodles, but sometimes something works therefore i develop it more.
I don’t do much planning though. I have a tendency to design the homepage to generate the feel of the theme and I begin to build in the browser. Because the homepage gets built all of those other design largely falls into place naturally. Any moment I get stuck I get back to Sketch and design the element I’m stuck on.
That said I don’t make many themes nowadays. I haven’t released anything new in after some duration. I think the continuing future of themes is fairly limited and more and much more they’ll be consumed by WordPress core. They’ll be replaced largely by the block editor.
As such I’ve spent lots of time thinking about how I could continue being relevant. And, for me personally, the near future is in WordPress plugins/ blocks therefore that’s what I’m hanging out on.
I am also really thinking about ethics, privacy, sustainability and accessibility. The main one theme I’m currently working on was created to be super lightweight, and accessible. This helps it be fast, and efficient, and possible for everyone to utilize. The code is on Github so anyone can contribute/ fork it. You can view the look on Binary Moon.
Tell us more about Binary Moon. It includes a portfolio and an extremely active blog with users regularly commenting on each post. Reveal more concerning the site’s purpose.
BinaryMoon.co.uk has been my own site since i have started designing things online. Probably 1999 ish. It became a blog in 2005. I don’t understand how important it’s been from money point of view. I believe it had been probably more important when we started. Nowadays it’s mostly me speaking with other developers who make themes so don’t need my products.
In terms of learning, I believe the ultimate way to learn would be to test things yourself on real life projects. It doesn’t matter just how much I test themes locally when I take advantage of them by myself site I usually find problems. But that’s great because I could then fix these problems in order that others don’t see them.
As I mentioned earlier; the theme currently running on Binary Moon is Jarvis, the theme I’m currently focusing on. I reach trial new features with it. For instance it includes a light and dark mode and changes colour pallette automatically. You select the light and dark background colour and the rest of the colours change so that they remain readable.
From a user’s viewpoint that is really simple. There’s only two settings to improve and you have a completely different website. In addition, it respects the visitors’ setup. I believe it’s a good feature and something we don’t see a lot of in WordPress since WordPress includes a built-in background colour setting that only enables you to set an individual colour.
You’ve been with us the WordPress development community going back 12 years. Thus giving you a unique capability to look back, but it addittionally gives you a distinctive edge with regards to seeing what’s next coming. What three bits of advice can you impart to a newcomer who’s seeking to dive into WordPress development in 2020?
1. Don’t sell themes
This is advice, if you wish to sell themes then don’t i want to stop you. But it’s an extremely hard business to find yourself in and the quick bucks which used to exist are over.
I am luckily enough that I sell my themes on WordPress.com, and that’s where I make the majority of my income. If it wasn’t for that I’d probably be doing another thing.
If you intend to build things for the WordPress editor then it could also be worth learning React. This can also be useful if you wish to build headless sites with software like Gatsby.
3. TAKE ACTION different
I don’t mean take action that’s not WordPress, but take action that hasn’t been done before with WordPress. Be creative. Don’t make another block collection if you don’t have something unique to provide or think you can certainly do much better than what already exists. Assuming you intend to build things for the block editor i quickly believe there’s plenty of potential that hasn’t been achieved. It’s still really new, we simply need to work out where in fact the pain points are and fix them.
Thank you when planning on taking the time to speak to our blog audience today Ben. We greatly enjoy it. To your blog readers, if you’d prefer to find out about Ben’s work it is possible to find out more by heading to Binary Moon.
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