Archive for design

automattic v. designers, part 378194

Now they want professional icon designers to produce an icon set within two weeks. That’s not just designing the icons; that’s designing the icons, checking they look good in two sizes, ‘possibly’ throwing colour versions into the mix, submitting them to Automattic, making the changes Matt demands, re-submitting them to Automattic, making further tweaks, and so on until the deadline’s passed. The finished work will of course be GPL, meaning everyone and his dog can rip and redistribute them as they see fit without mentioning the designer’s name. And all the fanboys will hate them and complain about bloat and extra loading time.

It will be nice to have another set of GPL icons to use in blog design, but I am slightly worried that some idiot will offer to do it for nothing and will get the nod over those who are charging appropriately. Fast, cheap, good. You can only have two.

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spoor

I was reading about the PollDaddy acquisition, and now I keep thinking of the version of Spore on my sister’s iPod, where you float around in a big foetid pond absorbing whatever helpless little bits of plankton you stumble across, trying to get big and strong enough to survive to the next level.

at times we have been pushed to the edge due to our various growth spurts over the past couple of years […]Thank you to all of our users who have stuck with us through good times and “down times.”

Down the hatch with you, little drowning minnow! This is opportunism, pure and simple, despite what Matt is now trying to tell us about his fascination with all things poll-related:

For a year or two now, I’ve been minorly obsessed with polls and surveys as a method of lightweight interaction that engages casual users of your website and also can get you some really fun data to play with.

‘Minorly’, I suppose, is the operative word, since I have never seen him put a poll on ma.tt and he didn’t bother publicising the polldaddy shortcodes when they were first introduced. In fact, the only use I have ever seen Automattic make of polls was the recent admin interface surveys, which as we can now see was motivated as much by a desire to play with the new toy as the need to canvass user opinion. So, yeah, flannel.

People were asking for polls pretty much from day one on wordpress.com, but their requests were bracketed alongside those wanting chatboxes, adsense and assorted other blogspot-esque tat, and ignored by staff accordingly. I know timethief did a lot of work sourcing workarounds in the face of Automattic’s indifference. If I’d fielded the queries and done the testing and sent the feedbacks and now had to listen to Matt trumpeting his ‘obsession’ with the blasted things, I don’t know whether I’d giggle or spit.

It would actually have sounded better to say ‘yeah, we didn’t really get the whole poll thing at first, we thought it was all a bit teenage and downmarket, but our users kept on and on and on and in the end we caved in because we love them soooooo much.’ Except, of course, that would be flannel too, because they don’t love us that much. They love the plankton which pushes them to the next level, and that only once it’s been safely digested.

In honour of the occasion, we should really have a poll:

what the hell is that orange thing?

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revolution in the head

Can we expect to see a wordpress.com version of Revolution, then? Because I’m trying to think of what inducements Matt might have offered Bryan to adopt the One True Path — other than access to extend/themes, linkjuice from ma.tt and the withdrawal of his severe disapproval, none of which I’m convinced would have been quite enough — and hiring him to design a wordpress.com theme or two would be quite a good one.

(Well, there’s also ‘join me on the moral high ground so we can spit on Adii people from a great height’, but, again, perhaps not quite compelling enough.)

I actually suspect this was a case of the stick rather than the carrot. It is, to say the least, quite a risky enterprise to try and build a business upon a platform when the owners of said platform are known to be hostile towards your business and given to murmuring about its questionable legality. It would probably only take a couple of WordCamp whispers about Matt talking to lawyers to scare you into toeing the party line.

Comments (28)

slappage

Another day, another theme.

the bottom left bar is associated with your about page. Derek made it clear when designing the theme that he wanted that there.

Oh dear. Did nobody tell him that wordpress.com users don’t take kindly to being told what widget goes where? The kind of fine-grained control that professionals demand is a really, really bad fit with wordpress.com. You may know exactly what you want the sidebar to look like — search box at the top, categories below it, kewl javascripty thing — but your users are not necessarily going to share that view.

I seriously believe that before anyone designs a theme for wordpress.com they need to be sat down and forced to scroll through twenty random blogs, followed by a day or two on the forums. Then they will understand how people plan to mutilate their beautiful design with excessive numbers of pages with unfeasibly long titles, outsized widgets, crazy fonts pasted in from Word, video clips, photos the size of a bus and languages other than English. And, when they have finished sobbing, they will be able to take evasive action to make it slightly more difficult to break.

Meanwhile, yet another discussion on how it is, and will always be, evil in the eyes of the dictator to profiteer from designing for WordPress, wherein I challenge Matt to name his favourite GPL themes before belatedly realising that he is obviously referring to Prologue and Monotone. Like Matt would ever publically express admiration for a theme he wasn’t personally involved with.

Sometimes, still, I am so touchingly naive I am compelled to slap my forehead. Hard.

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almost autumn

I’m trying the new theme, since Automattic’s recent policy of hiring professionals to produce .com themes is broadly to be applauded. Yes, it would be nice if they could also release them for .org in the conventional manner rather than expecting people to grab an svn checkout, but I suppose they need to maintain some semblance of exclusivity or what would be the point in spending the money? The release of another professional theme for free also pretty much confirms that the half-baked theme marketplace idea has been shelved, though I think we’d all figured that out anyway.

Of course, if my previous wordpress.com theme experiences are anything to go by, something will be horribly broken and I’ll be back on Almost Spring by tomorrow. But it looks pretty so I’ll give it a go.

ETA: ok, thirty seconds and I’ve found the brokenness; the widget implementation is a weirdly partial thing which has a static sidebar of search, categories and a funny little module you can switch between top posts/latest comments/tags. You can’t move or remove the top three ‘widgets’ regardless of whether you need or want them.

If you want to enable widgets, enable the whole damn sidebar, not just the bottom half of it. Fail.

[sighs and goes back to Almost Spring]

Comments (5)

discouraged

So, I thought I’d get around to updating all my old Sandbox skins to support gravatars, spamlinks related posts and the like. But nuh-uh.

Once more Automattic’s hatred of all things design-related intervenes and I can’t upload .txt files anymore. Like it wasn’t annoying enough being denied .zip and .css. Wait, it gets better. We can’t even pop the CSS in a textarea for people to copy/paste.

What is especially hilarious is that the default text in the ‘edit CSS’ box still says:

Things we encourage include:
* @media blocks!
* sharing your CSS!
* testing in several browsers!
* helping others in the forum!

Let’s leave aside for now the fact that helping others in the forum is emphatically not encouraged: how, exactly, do they want me to share my CSS? Put it in a Word document? Paste the entire 550-line production into one of their ugly sourcecode shortcodes? Host it elsewhere? They really don’t want us using any of that 3gb they so generously ‘gave’ us, do they?

(Of course, the main reason I’m blogging this is to get a response to my support ticket. That’s how it works these days: you fill in the form, and then you blog about it. It’s really about time they bit the bullet and set up an autoresponder, because the current method of having to report things twice isn’t the most efficient.)

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all your site are belong to kids

I observe that Matt is compensating for the loss of his beloved default blogroll by sneaking a link to his blog into the footer of wordpress.com:

pimpage

Cute. He’s got couple of years at most before people cease to find his obsession with being #1 in Google endearing and start to think it sad (it is rather adolescent, after all), so he might as well optimise while the sun shines.

Also, they have done away with the stupid faux-blog design of the forums and made the fonts teeny-tiny to further discourage participation by anyone over the age of fourteen. Yay!

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depressingly like somebody forgot to clear their floats

I poked my head around the door of the attempt at an official theme repository, and, well, you know me, I’m no good at keeping things in the respectable obscurity of censored comments and feedback forms:

Theme tags don’t paginate properly. http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/tags/fixed-width/page/2 throws a 404, making it unnecessarily difficult to browse themes. Either scrap the page links or make them work. My preference is for the latter, as ideally I would like to be able to view more than 15 themes in any given category.

Also, as I’m sure you’re aware, search results display diagonally rather than vertically or even horizontally (http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/search.php?q=widgets). I applaud your willingness to try new ways of presenting information, but on the other hand it does look depressingly like somebody forgot to clear their floats.

If I were logged in on my usual account there’d be screenshots and debugging. Sigh.

I am not normally this snarky in my bug reports, but a) they had a year to get this right, b) it’s a part of the site used by designers, and not bothering to test whether your own design functions properly is sort of rude, to be honest, as it betrays once more how very little you care about their vocation and c) I can’t view more than fifteen themes in any given category?!? are you real?

Comments (9)

one-fingered salute

It being over a year since the senseless killing of themes.wordpress.net, Automattic have thrown up some content at extend/themes in a vain attempt to stop people bitching about it.

I say ’some content’.

Three themes.

[laughs for two minutes straight.]

They couldn’t even be bothered to include the ones they’re using on wordpress.com. There’s the photoblog one by Matt’s pet designer friend, the inevitable Prologue, and Tarski. The authors of that one must have handed development over to Automattic, or maybe they’ve just been doing so much inhouse mutilation they think it constitutes a new theme.

The so-called preview blog has evidently been thrown together in four minutes. It doesn’t have blockquotes, it doesn’t have an entry truncated with <!- -more- ->, it doesn’t have multiple pages (let alone child pages), it doesn’t have any trackbacks or pingbacks, it doesn’t have an oversized image, it doesn’t have any links in comments, it doesn’t have a password-protected post… I could go on, but I’m sure you’re getting bored.

Oh, and naturally your theme will have to get past the Great Firewall of Matt, so unless you’re a personal friend of his I wouldn’t bother uploading anything. Well, you could try, just don’t expect it to be published before Christmas. He’s a busy guy.

As for the requirements, it’s more important to include a version number than to ensure your theme supports the current version of WP. (This is perhaps understandable, since Prologue apparently breaks in 2.6). You don’t even have to include widgets, let alone tags or gravatars. As for valid xhtml or CSS, this is not important either. It doesn’t have to work in multiple browsers or resolutions. Basically you can upload any crap you like, as long as it doesn’t have sponsored links in it and you don’t demand people keep your linkback. Because vanity links are sooo much more evil than broken layouts 🙄

So yeah, another one-fingered salute to theme designers and users. Somehow, I doubt the likes of wpthemesfree will be quaking in their boots.

Comments (16)

slaughtering sandbox?

There are so many responses by bubel on the forums about how you absolutely can NOT use your own themes on wordpress.com that not only am I now convinced the theme marketplace has finally been shelved but I’m starting to think custom CSS must be on the way out as well 😦 This user wanting multiple themes on the same blog, for example, could have been profitably directed to Sandbox, where anyone with a fair degree of CSS competency can achieve different looks for different types of pages. If it was a volunteer giving that answer, I’d just shrug my shoulders and assume they didn’t know what can be achieved with the CSS upgrade, but if it’s staff you have to assume that they have some other reason for not mentioning it.

This sucks, as I was seriously thinking of offering custom custom CSS skins for a small fee even though such services are officially discouraged. Ah well. I should really apply my efforts to learning Drupal instead.

Comments (17)

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