WordCamp UK 2013

This weekend I was at WordCamp UK 2013 in Lancaster. After being an organiser at last year’s event in Edinburgh, and spending most of the event worried that everything would work, I was just an attendee this time and it made for a much more relaxing weekend.

Location

George Fox Building, Lancaster University

George Fox Building, Lancaster University

This year’s WordCamp UK took place at Lancaster University, only two hours from Glasgow on a direct train. The campus is really nice, set in attractive countryside (except the M6) around 2 miles from the city centre. It did mean that there was a slight split in the group as some would prefer to be in the city centre, but that didn’t cause any issues.

I found it pretty hard to find my way round the campus, but the conference facilities were excellent and the staff were really helpful. Even the food was good! I did get kicked off the WiFi every ten minutes but I actually got used to that. Overall it was a great venue.

The talks

I hadn’t paid much attention to the running order before the event but was a little disappointed to see that a few of the talks I wanted to attend were on at the same time. Luckily, the WordCamp guys are very good at publishing their slides and blogging about their presentations!

While all of the talks I attended were really enjoyable, four really stood out for me.

Bridging the gap between design and development

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Ngaire Ackerley opened the weekend with a look at how we bridge the gap between design and development. As a developer who works with a variety of designers this was absolutely fantastic. One of the key things that came out of it is the importance of discussing designs with the developer before showing them to the client. Over the years I’ve been asked to build a site from a single jpg and been asked why certain parts of a site don’t work the way the designer expected because there were no indications of functionality in the mockup. This is a waste of everyone’s time and will only lead to frustration for the designer/developer and ultimately to a disappointed client.

Build themes like a heavyweight

One of my disappointments from Edinburgh was that I missed Jonny Allbut‘s talk on building themes. This year I couldn’t make the same mistake again.

Jonny talked us through the process of building a custom theme, sharing best practise and lots of handy code snippets and functions.

I found it very reassuring to hear someone from a design background pose the question of whether pixel perfection has had it’s day. Personally I think pixel perfection can be completely impractical when you consider the sheer number of devices people use to visit websites. Even on a desktop there’s a balance between ensuring that each browser renders the site identically and coding a theme so that each browser renders the site attractively. Controversial.

Equally important is doing things in the right order. Tying in nicely with Ngaire’s talk, Jonny discussed how important it is to have a strategy for content and functionality before you even consider the design. I can’t stress how difficult it is to build a site if this part isn’t done properly.

WordPress accessibility and how far we’ve come

One of last year’s highlights was Graham Arfield‘s talk on accessibility in the WordPress admin area. It was a revelation. One of my first web jobs was an assessment on the DFID website’s compliance to the WCAG AA accessibility guidelines. I really enjoyed the work, from bugfixing the HTML to running training sessions where staff were blindfolded and had to carry out tasks on the website using only a screen reader.

Graham talked us through all of the improvements which had been made as a result of last year’s presentation, which was very impressive. We do however have a long way to go. We were shown how difficult it is to use the new media manager with just the keyboard. The menu manager has been improved but still isn’t particularly user friendly if you don’t use a mouse.

As it’s been a while since I did accessibility specific work I was surprised (and delighted) to hear that access keys are a thing of the past, due to the shortcuts used in screen readers. There were countless other gems in the presentation, and anyone who builds with WordPress really should take a look.

Why the WordPress dashboard doesn’t work and how to fix it

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Kimb Jones closed WordCamp with an enlightening talk on how the WP dashboard has become really quite difficult to use for non-experts.

His comparison between the number of actionable options on the dashboard to the Windows 7 and OSX control panels was an eye opener. There are 36 things you can do on the WP dashboard! That’s insane.

Kimb then walked us through some design changes which would make it much more manageable. We looked at the inconsistencies between files and media, how plugins can add their own settings links absolutely anywhere on the admin menu and whether there’s a need for the admin bar in the back end.

I think the best thing to come out of Kimb’s talk was his settings page redesign (badly pictured above). It cuts the admin menu down to two areas – content management and site settings. Each of your post types and the renamed “File manager” have their own top level menu links, but everything else is on a one-page dashboard. It’s magnificent.

The discussions and ideas that were coming out during session inspired me to volunteer to take part in a project looking at how we could make these improvements. If this sounds like something you’d like to know more about, sign up on the wpclarity.com website!

Summary

WordCamp UK 2013 was a great success and I’m really happy I went. The outcomes for me were completely different to last year, but this didn’t really take anything away from the event. This year I left reassured that I’m doing things right. It’s an empowering feeling to come to an event like this and hear some of the foremost experts in your field describe how they work and realise that you’re doing almost exactly the same thing.

I probably didn’t learn as much as I did last year, but it’s just as important to be inspired every now and then.