Finely Tune Consultant 3200 CreativeToday I’m chatting with Ryan and Cathi Murray, the development and design duo of 3200 Creative. The pair both have been doing design and dev work with technology since the early 2000s, met in design school on the first day of class, and you might say that the rest is history.

Together, they’ve built 3200 Creative and ridden the WordPress wave of site design and development. As a company, 3200 Creative focuses on Genesis Framework for all the sites they build, and are featured developers on the framework. They also do branding work, including logos, print, and digital illustration for their clients.

In 3200 Creative’s Own Words:

We enjoy creating great work for great people. We like the challenge of designing and developing unique projects to fit our clients’ style.

Now onto 3200 Creative’s answers!

When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?

We chose to use WordPress in 2005 after experimenting with the variety of popular open source CMSs available at the time. The simplicity and power in its design, ease of customization, and strong community really made it stand out. At the time we were more well known for our CMS Flash websites and we used WordPress for smaller projects. The introduction of the iPhone in 2008 required us to migrate many of our clients Flash based websites to something smartphone savvy. WordPress was a a great solution.

Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?

When we need insight during development and design we search a well phrased question in Google over visiting any particular site. CSS-Tricks.com, Studiopress.com, and a variety of independent bloggers are our biggest resource. In regards to the essential news and updates we rely heavily on our hosting provider (WP Engine) and framework community at StudioPress.

Which WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?

The first team that comes to mind are the folks at Rocket Genius. They make Gravity forms and it has been a real pleasure to use and it just seems to be getting better. We’ve also learned a lot from Pippin Williamson. His plugins are very well done and he is really active in the community.

What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?

Here are 4 resources we use on a weekly basis: We’ve started testing our websites using webpagetest.org. This has been a nice go-to for free speed and optimization testing. It also is a nice tool for explaining website performance to clients by comparing websites. WP Engine hosting is one of our first recommendations to every client we work with. It’s great having a large team of WordPress pros working with you to keep your clients informed, well supported, sites up-to-date, and secure. Since we’ve started recommending WP Engine our clients work more freely on their sites due to the staging environment and simple backup process. They stress out less and try more. It’s been awesome.

Our design and development approach always starts with the Genesis Framework. This speeds up our design process and strengthens the base of each site we build. Because each site’s interior is built similarly we no longer have to decode a new theme’s development approach prior to customizing it to fit client needs. Genesis has also proven to increase the shelf life of our clients’ websites substantially. We work with clients that have a wide range of online knowledge. Some have none. We recommend that our less computer savvy clients watch several basic content management chapters of the course WordPress 3 Essential Training by Lynda.com. It’s free if they watch it in less than a week and it really starts them off on the right foot with WordPress.

Confess to us your biggest WordPress fail?

When we first started designing WordPress websites we’d use any theme we could find as long as it looked good. Fast forward two years and several WordPress version updates and a handful of the themes we chose couldn’t handle the updates or weren’t being maintained by the theme developer. I specifically remember in 2010 one of our larger client’s site crashed due to the 3.0 update. I found the theme developer’s phone number online and called him directly. A woman picked up the phone and notified me that he wouldn’t be home from school until 2:35. He was 15 years old. After that we moved our clients websites to a premium framework and we’ve been working with that framework ever since.

If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

We are WordPress plugin consumers rather than developers. If a fully completed plugin fell from the sky this weekend we’d hope it somehow allowed us to design themes using only vector graphics. It’s what we miss most from designing websites in Flash.

Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?

We always use a child theme. For larger projects we design and develop a custom child theme. For smaller projects we modify prebuilt child themes.

What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?

100% of the WordPress websites we’ve designed since 2010 use the Genesis Framework. Why? As mentioned in an earlier question we used to pluck themes from different theme providers and then modify them. This was basically gambling with the base of each website. The quality, different coding styles, and providing ongoing support got really confusing after developing 100+ sites. With the Genesis Framework each site looks the same under the hood and entirely different on the front-end. It creates a consistency for us on a site by site basis.

Favorite plugin?

Our most used plugins are Gravity Forms, SEO for WordPress, and Genesis Simple Sidebars.

Least favorite plugin?

Out of the 20k+ plugins available we use 5-10 on each site we make. Out of the rest there are a ton of bad ones and we have a really hard time naming the worst. A poorly built or improperly setup caching plugin can be a real pain.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?

Out of all of the custom post types we’ve created we can’t think of any of them standing out as the cool kid at the lunch table. We typically use CPTs for pretty general reasons like galleries, testimonials, videos etc. We actually find it pretty cool when we can create an approach that requires clever CSS rather than CPTs.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WordPress consultants will face in 2013?

The transition to HTML5 over the next few years may be a little unpredictable. Some website designers and developers may not re-educate themselves and continue designing in XHTML. Eventually all new themes will be HTML5 out of the box and a fair amount of clients will show up with HTML5 sites that have been maintained using XHTML standards.

If you could change one thing today about WordPress, what would it be?

We’d like to see themes designed entirely with raw vector graphics. Vector is our favorite style of illustrating and putting all of our clean vectors into raster format feels deconstructive.

Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?

The internet is constantly evolving and luckily WordPress does too. It’s grown a ton in the past two years. 19% of the top websites are built on WordPress. In the next two years it could possibly be sitting at around 30%, similar to the market share of the open source browser Firefox.

Tell us a story where you saved the WordPress day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?

Recently we designed a larger website for a new client hosted on WP Engine. They had a secondary site that needed to be built next on their WP Engine Pro account. While building the first site we were underbid for the next site and the client had a secondary design team build that next site. The new design team developed the entire second site in the staging area rather than on an actual backed up secondary installation in one of the ten WP installations included in a pro account. The staging area is meant to test changes and tinker around and you really don’t want to design an entire site in the staging area. Towards the middle of the project the design team and the client had a heavy falling out and the designers quit. The client called us back and asked if we’d design the second site. Their sites have been doing extremely well and we’ve been happy to work with them on updates and support.

What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?

Our most common client misconception is a simple one. We’ve regularly have clients call or email us in a panic because they noticed the ‘edit post’ button on the pages of their site and worry that anyone on the internet can edit their content by pressing the edit link.

If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?

We’d ask to see what they’ve done in the past and show how well it works. Showing what you’ve done in the past vouches for what you say you can do in the future. What it has done for the client or cause is as important as how it looks, if not more. Form follows function.

What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!

We work very personally and directly with our clients. Many clients give us the artistic freedom to create the branding of their company and website. Others come to us with a prioritized lists of needs or a .psd. While we enjoy our creative perspective and style we also like trying something new based on someone else’s vision. The sites featured in our portfolio are a mixture of both. You’ll see a mixture of styles and that’s because we work with a wide variety of companies.

We’re often asked who is the developer and who is the artist. We are both lifelong artists who also have a love for code. Outside of WordPress the two of us share a love for electronic music, spending time with friends and family, and working on personal art projects. Cathi is a DIYer, crafter and has a passion for botany. Ryan enjoys digital illustration, electronic music production, 3D graphics, and urban art.

Thanks Guys!

Check out 3200Creative.comΒ to learn more about Ryan and Cathi, and then check out their portfolio of work to see what they can do for your company!