“It’s not because the light here is brighter
And it’s not that I’m evil
I just don’t like to pretend
That I could ever be your friend”
Now when I need a minute; I just go back to my office, shut the door, and stare at my house plans.
Today the WordPress core team announced WordPress 3.8 “Parker”, a major milestone for the web’s most popular blogging software. In its 10 years WordPress has seen many changes, one of the most significant being the “Crazyhorse” redesign that came with version 2.7 in 2008. Today’s update is the biggest visual update to WordPress since that release. And while I’m not a member of the core team myself, I got to contribute to this version by leading one of the first featured plugin projects incorporated into WordPress. The MP6 redesign project originally began last March with a set of new icons once under consideration for WordPress 3.6. It’s expanded into a visual reinterpretation of WordPress that’s responsive too, so folks with phones and tablets and computers of all sizes1 can now use WordPress well. We’ve done all this without significantly altering the well-known WordPress user experience, meaning that we think you’ll find that 3.8 is a fresh update that won’t feel foreign to long-time users.
From the outset we knew that we wanted to create an evolution, not a revolution, of WordPress. So we kept the basic structure and layout of items the same, but rethought their visual treatment. We used a unified color for the top toolbar and sidebar menu, more clearly separating navigation from content. We un-rounded corners, simplified shadows and gradients, and eliminated other visual effects, but did so carefully, while maintaining a sense of hierarchy and depth, and without flattening elements like buttons and form fields beyond recognition. We also used color judiciously to indicate activity and state, so something like an alert message or an activated plugin is easy to discern at a glance.
We overhauled and streamlined typography, reducing to a single typeface, Open Sans. With multiple weights and extended character sets, the type in WordPress is both more expressive and more consistent than ever. Another new font, an iconfont called Dashicons, provides elegant vector iconography that can scale to any size, so WordPress looks great whether you’re on an ultra-high-DPI mobile device or you use browser zooming for accessibility. A set of eight new color schemes range from quietly reserved to brilliantly expressive, and they’re extensible using SASS for developers to build their own. Dashicons change color on the fly, so they work with all our new built-in color schemes and custom schemes you create yourself. Throughout you’ll now find a WordPress that’s simpler, but more fun and more personal. One of my favorite things about the new design is how even the tiny details like checkboxes and buttons take on our new color schemes.
Back in May, I linked to some commentary from John Gruber about theoretical iOS 7 mockups. This was in the days of rampant speculation before Apple released their surprisingly bold redesign at WWDC. He wrote:
A new look is one thing (and we’re going to get it), but when you’re well established and have a large user base, as iOS does, you need to maintain familiarity. If users are asking “What is this? Where am I? Where’s all the stuff I’m used to?” it’s going to be a disaster.Daring Fireball, 10 May 2013
It’s a testament to the power of Apple’s product that so many designers invested time in creating their own proposed iOS 7 redesigns. Some were stunning, some were intriguing, and some were head-scratching, but none came close to capturing Apple’s vision for the platform: a refreshed, iterative design that built on the existing interface that millions already knew. WordPress has been lucky to receive some of the same sort of attention lately; there have been a number of interesting attempts at reinventing the WordPress user experience. I see this as a reflection of its strong position in the market and the creative energy of the community around it. This update broke a lot of new ground for WordPress while maintaining the user experience that millions of users already know. I hope those interested in the future of WordPress will contribute their energy toward even bigger changes in future versions.
I’m proud of and grateful for the efforts of our team. Shaun Andrews, Joen Asmussen, Mel Choyce, Ben Dunkle, Kelly Dwan, Michael (mitcho) Erlewine, Helen Hou-Sandí, Isaac Keyet, Till Krüss, Andy Peatling, and Samuel (otto) Wood helped turn our early concepts into something worthy of being included in core. Dave Whitley and Kate Whitley helped create the beautiful color schemes you’ll find when you update. Dion Hulse, Andrew Nacin, Andrew Ozz, and Zack Tollman helped us with the transition into core. The DASH and THX38 project teams created the new Dashboard and Themes pages that accompany our redesign. Matt Mullenweg led the way by proposing a redesign via plugin that paved the way for a new development strategy for WordPress. And many, many more contributed their feedback & ideas, fixed bugs, and submitted patches as we transitioned from a plugin to where we are today, the official new design for WordPress.
On behalf of the team, I hope this update inspires you to blog more often and from more places, from a WordPress that’s more tailored to you.
- Joen Asmussen, 3.8
- Isaac Keyet, WordPress 3.8 is Here and Why It’s a Big Deal
- Takashi Irie, Twenty Fourteen is out with WordPress 3.8 “Parker”
At the end of the day, I’ll begin a sabbatical from Automattic that will last until October. It will be the first time since 2004 that I’ve had more than two consecutive weeks away from work. The idea of not working for an extended period of time is all at once exciting, relieving, and terrifying. But I’m grateful to work for a company like Automattic that not only allows but encourages employees to take time off when they need it. As I take this break, it seemed like a good time to reflect on how I got here.
In the summer of 2005, Matt Mullenweg got in touch with me to do some freelance design work1. He was starting a new service called Akismet, and I built a very simple website to introduce it to the world. We worked well together, and a while later he asked me to design the logo and website for a new company he was starting called Automattic. It was the biggest project of my very short career, and was soon followed by a bigger one: the redesign of WordPress.org that launched in December 2005. In the middle of all that, Matt asked me to join Automattic full-time. And I said no.
It wasn’t that I was skeptical of Automattic’s prospects. But commitments are important to me. When Matt made the offer, I was just three months into my first real design job. The company had taken a chance on me, a self-taught web designer with a degree in print design, and had helped me move to Baltimore for the job. I told Matt that out of loyalty, I wanted to stay there for a year. But in my spare time, I continued to freelance for Automattic. And after that year was up, I decided to join full time. Yet after almost seven years, Matt still likes to introduce me to people by saying that I rejected him the first time he offered me a job. :)
My career at Automattic has been the most fun I could ever imagine having while working this hard. It’s been thrilling to help both Automattic and WordPress grow from their tiny beginnings. And I am nowhere close to done. The last survey taken by A List Apart shows that over half of the web professionals surveyed had been in their job two years or less. Just over 10% had been at the same company for seven years or longer. And no knock against designers who changes jobs more often, whether out of necessity or choice. But I’m inspired by designers like Dieter Rams and Jony Ive, professionals who built careers designing products largely for a single company. It’s certainly possible for a great designer to do good work for many different clients, without spending much time with any one of them. But I’ve never considered myself to be a great designer. I’m a designer who’s determined to produce good work, and I have to work hard at it. Creativity and inspiration do not flow through me like a typically “artistic” person. But I love design, I love the things I work on, and nothing excites me more than seeing that through for the long term.
So no, I’m not leaving Automattic. I’m planning to spend some time both relaxing and working to accomplish some personal goals I’ve been neglecting for too long. I plan on spending a little less time in front of my Mac. I hope to find a new place to call home. But most of all I’m looking forward to coming back to Automattic in the Fall with a renewed focus and energy for the work I love.
1 The TextDrive VC200 started my career. When I began teaching myself the basics of web development, I chose Textpattern to power my first blog. I signed up for the VC200, became involved in the TextDrive user community, and did some freelance work for them. Matt Mullenweg asked Jason Hoffman to recommend a designer, and the rest, as they say, is history. ⤴
Exodus International, the most well-known of the “ex-gay” advocacy organizations, announced yesterday that it’s “shutting down” and the president of the organization issued a public apology to “the people that have been hurt by Exodus International.” I’ve written about my experience in the ex-gay movement before but I’ve had a hard time formulating a response to this latest news.
The immediate and most obvious reaction is one of relief. The ex-gay message has been thoroughly discredited and has harmed thousands of LGBT and questioning men and women, many of them teenagers. So it’s good to see Exodus and its president publicly disavow it and apologize for the harm they have done by selling it.
But my next reaction was of concern. I was lucky in that it didn’t take me long to realize that reparative therapy was a sham. But what about the thousands of LGBT men and women who have invested years of their lives and hundreds or thousands of dollars on Exodus’ conferences and literature? What about the young people undergoing reparative therapy right now? My heart aches for those people, knowing the sense of betrayal they must feel today.
And my final reaction was one of suspicion. While I appreciate Alan Chambers’ apology, it doesn’t make me trust him. I think the appropriate course of action would be to apologize, shut down the organization, and then perhaps spend some time humbly reflecting on the damage to the world that I have caused and the responsibility I have to try to correct it. I don’t think I’d wait to make my announcement until my annual conference, for which I charge attendees hundreds of dollars to attend. I almost certainly would not forge ahead with the conference, continuing to assert myself as a trusted authority on the subject of what’s best for LGBT people. I definitely would not start up my new organization on the same day I shut down the old one. I think I’d probably take down the pages on my site that solicit donations.
I accept Alan Chambers’ apology as someone who was hurt by Exodus’ actions in the past. I’m glad that they’re no longer trying to sell Christianity to gay people by claiming to be able to fix them. But I’m not much more optimistic about them trying to sell Christianity to gay people by claiming to love them just the way they are.
There’s a set of theoretical designs for iOS 7 going around, and while they’re pretty to look at I’m a little disappointed by those declaring that it should be Apple’s next move. John Gruber thinks differently:
“There are a lot of clever ideas and nice designs in this iOS 7 ‘concept’ by Philip Joyce of design firm Simply Zesty. But they’re only clever and nice in the abstract, as possible designs for a touchscreen phone interface. Nice and clever though they are, this would be a disaster as a new design for the actual iPhone. A new look is one thing (and we’re going to get it), but when you’re well established and have a large user base, as iOS does, you need to maintain familiarity. If users are asking ‘What is this? Where am I? Where’s all the stuff I’m used to?‘ it’s going to be a disaster.”Daring Fireball
I haven’t been a user interface designer for very long in the scheme of things. I trained as a print designer, learned how to draw typography, and created color separations for press runs. Interactive design is still something we’re all making up as we go along. But one thing I have learned is that users have no fundamental problem with a redesign. They do, however, recoil in horror when you introduce them to something that is a top-to-bottom replacement for a product they’ve grown to feel comfortable with, while calling it a “redesign.” It’s fundamentally dishonest — Windows 8, whatever your opinion of it (and I am generally a fan), was not a “redesign” of Windows. It’s an entirely new design for an operating system that happens to still be called “Windows.”
Designers wanna design. It’s in our DNA to seek out and eliminate every trace of hokiness, or half-assedness, or what seemed cool at the time but now looks tired. If WordPress were run entirely by designers, it would likely have an all new interface every year, but a fraction of the user base.
This is the challenge in continuing to freshen and update the design of software that millions (or billions, in the case of iOS) of users already know and understand. But those millions of existing users are what makes the work worthwhile. It’s the guiding principle behind the MP6 redesign project for WordPress. We made it our goal to refresh WordPress’ aesthetic styling and improve accessibility by making the dashboard responsive — but doing this without making major changes to the way users interact with the software. It’s not that there aren’t opportunities for it — I could spend an entire cycle alone on the Edit Post screen — but through years of experience we’ve found how much users appreciate it when we separate visual redesigns from major, sweeping architectural changes. In short, it’s about iteration, something both WordPress and Apple have always embraced.
Flat design is sexy. And simplicity rules the day. Both of these concepts should inform the future work done by all interaction designers (including for WordPress and for iOS). But to paraphrase Gruber’s quote from above: a new look is one thing (and WordPress is going to get it), but when you’re well established and have a large user base, as WordPress does, you need to maintain familiarity. If users are asking “What is this? Where am I? Where’s all the stuff I’m used to?” it’s going to be a disaster.