Tammie Lister - Finely Tuned WordPress and BuddyPress DesignerHey y’all, Today I’m talking with Tammie Lister, on twitter @karmatosed, a BuddyPress designer from the UK that I got to meet while attending WordCamp NYC 2012.  Tammie’s philosophy as a designer is that websites may be about machines, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t inject as much humanity back into design as possible.  She believes in communities, content, and users, and also believes in doing the things you love for a living.  That’s why she’s a WordPress designer.

In Her Own Words:

My name is Tammie Lister and I’m a designer from the UK.  I am really passionate about communities, designs with a human touch and BuddyPress.  I work freelance and share my office with 2 labradors that make even the most troublesome browser issue melt away with a puppy hug.  When not prodding pixels I love to travel, go to the gym, do yoga and run.

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

I started out by coming from my own custom CMS solution which was a sort of ‘rite of passage’ a while ago to make.  Back then, I was blogging far more than I unfortunately do now and was also involved in a thriving blogging community called 9rules (unfortunately like many I have left, it was sold and not so great now).  A few of the people I knew went over to using WordPress and as I grew more and more frustrated by my own CMS due to lack of time to maintain as well as noticing how easy things were for them.  This was when WordPress was fairly new, but it already was a much simplier option.  I did find the theming options kind of clunky (this was quite a number of years ago) but spent some time with it and the end result was it within about a year it became my focus – I was well and truly bitten by the WordPress solution.

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

It doesn’t seem too long ago that my response would have been RSS, but I find myself more and more focusing on Twitter.  I do love using Reeder for the iPad though as my morning ‘newspaper’.

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

The unsung heros and heroines for me are those that man the forums and bug test everything within an inch of its life.  Anyone who gives their time and just ‘does’ is to me someone to be respected and valued.  There are so many ways you can contribute that aren’t to do with developing or designing.  I also think a nod deserves to the international translation teams – they really makes WordPress a global community.  If WordPress was only in English it would be a sad narrow viewed product.

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

Less is more probably is the biggest tip I can give someone.  I have lost count of the amount of times I see sites built on sand with plugins piled so high you’d think they were preparing for a plugin shortage.  Far too often people suffer from what I can only think of is a ‘kid in a sweet shop’ mindset when looking at plugins.  Whilst JavaScript is great it’s also fragile if you pile script upon script and with regards to BuddyPress scripting errors are probably close if not the number one issue with front end things not working.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

Learning svn for me was quite a run of fails for a little while. And the same goes with github, but I think I’ve managed to tame those beasts.  I think as a designer my biggest fail when starting to design for communites was being a design snob and forcing what I thought should be designed onto the community.  I now believe very strongly in the community driving the design.  Yes, as the designer you should be the ‘guide’ and the filter for the design, but you should also look strongly as the needs of the community not just look at the latest design trend and use it without a second thought.

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

Tricky one as I don’t really create plugins – if I had the skillset or man power it certainly would be a captcha for BuddyPress that worked. I recently had a nightmare with that one and a client.  I’m a designer though not a plugin developer and if I flip that to ask what theme then I guess one that shows off just one aspect of WordPress.  I’m kind of over the themes that do everything concept and really into lately themes that just focus on doing one thing and doing it well.  Not everything needs a slider, content tabs, theme options by the bucket laod and a rainbow of colour options to choose from.

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

If I have the choice I roll my own.  If I don’t then it will depend on the client.  For all BuddyPress themes I take a child theme approach though using my hand rolled theme as the child.

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

My favourite theme is kind of a by product of being the one I use the most I guess, and for now that is the BuddyPress default theme.  Don’t get me wrong I do see it has faults.  However, it until theme independency (crosses fringers) helps me do my job.

Favorite plugin?

Gravity Forms is my favourite plugin.  It’s the ‘must have plugin’ that I suggest to all clients.  It to me is simply a brainless choice.  It easily allows them to create forms and I can even with my own styles make them responsive.  I’m a great believer in putting control back into the hands of users, and Gravity Forms fits that concept.

Least favorite plugin?

Anything SEO related – I’ll be honest SEO drives me nuts and makes my brain assume the fetal position, turn off and start hearing ‘blah blah blah blah’, much like Santas Little Helper from the Simpsons when people talk to him.  I’ve also been driven midly insane recently by captcha plugins for BuddyPress, so can name about 3 that I’d be quite happy to vote off the island.  I can now do a nice range in soap box rants on the subject without much provocation…

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

For me, the coolest thing was the first time I used them.  I spent a while before I used them thinking it would ba a mountain to climb and in the end sat down with a clear day to ‘grab the bull by the horns,’ and less than a hour later was staring at a complete implementation.  My mind kind of blew a bit that it was so easy.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012?

I think the biggest challenge will be to specialise or die in a sea of many.  I think the days where everyone did (or tried) everything are fading.  We’re now entering a more specialist phase.  We now have specialists for security, for copy writing, and so on – all within just WordPress.  Outside of WordPress specialisation in designer, developer and ‘other’ web related roles has been increasing over the past few years.  This now I see as becoming more and more part of WordPress.  Go beyond just being a ‘designer’ look for what you’re passionate about designing for and focus on that – for me it’s communities.  Find your niche and stick to that would be my advice.

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

For me it would be to change one thing about BuddyPress.  That would be theme compatibility which to me is where BuddyPress shoots itself in the foot.  I truly believe that is one of the biggest issues currently standing with BuddyPress.  It creates a learning curve and it sets limits on creativity.  The current approach takes an ‘all’ approach to theming – I look forward to seeing themes just for activity streams, themes just for directories or even just for profiles.

I often get a bit protective when people ‘kick the BuddyPress puppy,’ but on theme compatibility I’m at the front with a big boot.  When I first started out with BuddyPress I spent a hellish week of very long days and nights trying to get my head aroud theming.  I was already creating WordPress themes so it was hardly a new area for me, but the learning curve was massive.  Things have come on since then a bit and there is a different default theme, but it’s still a learning curve that is often too great for many.

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

I hope it goes from strength to strength and that the people that work with it are able to get professional rates (not $30 for a BuddyPress theme).  What I fear sometimes is people undervaluing what they do and this in turn undervaluing the community as a whole.  I think what those of us that are a big ‘longer in the tooth’ in this industry maybe need to do is pass on to the next generation coming up some of what we’ve learnt.  We also need to be aware of the double edged sword of rates and think of ‘pricing karmically’ – price fairly for both parties and give back as you don’t pay for WordPress, so if you do earn give back

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

I’m going to bring that one back to BuddyPress and a client of mine that are called shift.ms.  They are a charity and, (hopefully) without speaking out of turn, they had been taken for a ride by a company.  They needed a solution that didn’t cost them the earth and that simply worked – any company that charges stupid prices for charities and fails to deliver just is asking for a big bad karma dose if you ask me.  Fast forward a few good people being involved (this was a great joint effort by 5-6 people) and they now are finally live and gaining members in leaps and bounds.  It really may sound corny but each community success I see with BuddyPress (both my clients and other people’s) makes me really pleased and gives me a bit of a soul hug.  I love seeing how people are using and designing with BuddyPress.

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

I guess that it’s hard.  Yes, it can be complicated but it’s a little like a certain iProducts range in ‘just works’.  Sometimes in this day and age that’s a hard thing to get your head around.  I find people often look at you blankly wondering where the catch is.  I like to think of WordPress has having levels of difficulty like a game.  The easy level is the ‘just works’ and what most clients would experience.  Then you have the levels going all the way up to ‘hardcore mode’ which probably is a core contributor.

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

I’m kind of anti interviews.  I do think that people’s work speaks for itself or at least that should be the starting point then you talk.  If I am looking to work with a developer then I usually ask: ‘What have you done’.  I don’t just mean client work either. Contributions, forum posts even sites you do for yourself all count to me.

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

As I mentioned before I used to blog a lot and recently I’ve become part of a community blog called WP Realm. It’s a recently launched blog that is focuses on the community worldwide. WP Realm is open for anyone to join and you can check out the ways you can contribute here – even the theme is on Github and people can contribute. There is a great bunch of people behind it and I’m so pleased to be involved.



Thanks so much Tammie!

Check out Tammie’s site, LogicalDesign, to get a sense for her design philosophy, the way she works with clients, and for snippets of her (rather good) work.