About a year ago I moved back to WordPress from Hugo. At the time I was generally happy with my Hugo theme so I ported it to my site in WordPress and have been using it ever since. While it has worked out OK for me it never really was what I would consider my ideal theme. It made due for a while and made for a great experiment on how minimal I could make a theme but, after a year, it’s time time to move on.
As of today my site is running on the Blocksy theme with a few new features to make it more a site I could grow with rather than an experiment that always felt like it was limiting me to one extent or another.
Why a new theme?
My theme was OK, but in truth I am simply not a theme developer. Just like so many other DIY computer projects I’ve tried over the last few years, my theme had gone from something that was fun to experiment with to something that was a pain to maintain and often didn’t do well at implementing new content with blocks and other newer tech.
Goals of the project
A redesign of your personal site might not seem like a big deal but, if you ask anyone who has agonized over their site for a decade or more, it is often a bigger project than any other, at work or personally. My site is, for the most part, a representation of me on the internet so it needs to be perfect.
As it became clear over the last few months that running my own theme was anything but perfect, I set forth a few goals for a redesign based around the idea that I want my site to be a place where I can share what I build, not the only thing I have time to build itself. Given that, before I started the project I came up with the following goals for it:
- The site should not require a child theme to do what I want to do with it
- I should only have to write a bare minimum of code to keep this site running
- The theme should be easily customizable so I can tweak layouts and more in the future without losing a day to code
- The theme should be well coded
- The theme should be light-weight and fast. It should not be a drain on anyone’s data plan nor device battery
- The theme should be accessible
- The theme should be well supported as I would like it to be the last theme I need until themes are no longer needed at all for WordPress
I landed on Blocksy
After test-driving two excellent themes, GeneratePress and Blocksy, I landed on Blocksy (comparison post coming soon). While both would have been able to produce the design you see here today, Blocksy simply made it easier to get to it and should make it easier to change elements of the design in the future without resorting to code to do so.
While I am not a fan of their use of Freemius, the Blocksy theme made it surprisingly easy to really make a design that works while still keeping a descent page weight and speed.
What about the other new features?
On top of the theme there were a few other things I needed to add to the site to really move it forward again. Analytics and a form plugin for contact forms.
In the case of analytics I’ve gone with Plausible Analytics due to their focus on privacy and ethics. While the idea of not knowing who is reading any of my posts sounds great on paper, in practice it meant that I often felt like I was writing for no one. In addition, in the times where I have been most active on this site it has been the analytics that have really helped me determine what people are looking for. Without those insights I feel as if many of the posts here aren’t written for anyone at all and I’ve been told it shows in my writing. To fix this I’m now using Plausible tuned for as much privacy as possible and I’m looking forward to seeing the results going forward.
The other feature I needed to re-introduce was a contact form. I had used an email address on here for a while. This was another one of those ideas that sounded great on paper but also failed to help anything in real life. I’ve received more spam email in the past year than ever, all through that address, and the few legitimate messages I have received are often lost in the spam box until I happen to find them days or weeks later.
To solve this I’ve gone back to Gravity Forms, a plugin I’ve trusted for years, to add a contact form to start with the option of being able to add other forms in the future where they might make sense. I have, of course, also tuned this for as much privacy as possible by removing IP addresses from form submissions and setting all submissions to expire after 30 days after which they are automatically deleted.
So what’s the point of all this?
In the end, for me changing to a commercial theme is a big reversal from the idea of a “minimal theme” that I’ve been after for years. While the theme I build might have been minimal on data it was never minimal on my time. This new site will allow me to focus on writing on this site, not maintaining the site itself, as well as a number of software projects I’ve been contemplating for a very long time.