The Third Way: Navigating Tools and Best Practices

The democratization of website creation tools means that virtually anyone can establish an online presence today with minimal investment of time and resources. However, as we’ve pointed out in several prior articles, this accessibility often comes at the cost of established best practices, even hindering the development of new ones – and there are still, as always, consequences for not building efficient and maintainable websites. In this way, the tension between user-friendly and customizable website creation approaches is also a debate over the balance between required skill level and a quick and easy design process. The necessity of establishing best practices for designing feature-rich, fully customized client sites contrasts with the option of using out-of-the-box solutions, which enables practices that don’t give much concern for other, often more important long-term efficiencies.

Of course, the democratization of website creation tools is a positive development. However, somewhat paradoxically, in a world filled with accessible tools the discourse within the professional design realm often oversimplifies the choices. Framing them as a dichotomy between either crafting easy or hard to use websites for clients. We argue that it is the requisite level of skill and foresight still demanded of the designers themselves to ensure a seamless user experience, rather than the tools used to complete it. I would also say, careful what you wish for. In a carefree approach there is very little daylight between someone with no experience but a commitment and desire to build a website as easily as possible, and a so-called professional. Both use the same tools in essentially the same way, with essentially the same results. Only the pace at which they complete the same task differs.

In a systematic approach informed by best practices the goal is to develop a custom, feature-rich, WordPress site that is easy to use for a client by embracing the full potential of Gutenberg and the advanced capabilities of themes and plugins that take advantage of it. It takes more experience and effort to achieve, but even complex configurations can also be developed to be made convenient and easy to use for clients and their website’s visitors. Let me be clear though, you cannot do that with a powerful tool that provides significant customization opportunities unless you develop a systematic approach for doing so (the one that I’m developing for Blocksy, GreenShift, Meta Box, and block patterns is tentatively called the “indigetal framework”).

As web designers, we are all basically using these tools to build applications for end users, not custom hot rods with space ship dashboards or cardboard forts made out of leftover Amazon boxes (but maybe the logo swapped out :)). For instance, it is in this area that I see GreenShift propelling far beyond the competition with its variables, global classes, and interaction layers that are likely far outside the capabilities of common users but present an opportunity to develop frameworks that can be used to deliver an end result that is both accessible and fully custom. Following best practices is one of our biggest concerns and we have taken seriously the development and adherence to standardized approaches to designing sites within our framework and using the specific features of the theme and plugins that we use in order to deliver powerful, replicable, fully customized websites in a user-friendly package for the benefit of our clients.

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