Improve WordPress Theme Development Process

There is so much to learn about WordPress theme development. The Internet is home to hundreds of articles about building WordPress themes, to countless theme frameworks that will help you get started, and to endless WordPress themes, some of which are beautiful and professional but not a few of which are (to be honest) a bit crappy.

Rather than write another article on building a WordPress theme (which would be silly, really, since any theme I build would fall into the “crappy” category), I’ve asked some of the top theme designers and developers to share some tips and techniques to help you improve and refine your theme development and design process.

Before we get into that, Mark Forrester, cofounder of WooThemes, has shared some insight into his firm’s development process. Given WooThemes’ success, no doubt we can all learn something from it.

A Peek Into Woo

Whether you work in a large theme shop or are a lone designer, you can learn plentyfrom another designer or developer’s workflow.

  1. A theme at WooThemes starts life on the ideas board, through specifications provided by the community or based on a concept that’s emerged from customer research. It is designed either in house or by an industry-leading designer who is hired on contract.
  2. The theme is then meticulously designed in Photoshop. All of the major elements are styled and the pages constructed before any code is touched. Mark recommends Photoshop Etiquette for guidelines on structuring your design file. He says, “The better the Photoshop file, the easier the theme build.”
  3. Once the design is approved, it’s assigned to a developer, who works from WooThemes’ base theme. This includes the templates that come with every WooTheme, along with basic styling. The base theme has a responsive layout, and the CSS is managed using LESS, which Mark strongly recommends.
  4. Theme development is managed with Trello, and milestones are set withTeamGantt.
  5. Once the theme is finalized, the developer creates a demo for the website that is populated with dummy content and that tests almost every element of the design.
  6. The team sets about beta testing the theme. A list of bugs, tweaks and solutions is compiled, a hackathon is scheduled, and everything is completed by the developer.
  7. For WooThemes’ own redesign (which is awesome — congrats, guys!), the team started to use BugHerd, which helped them gather user feedback and track it directly in the pages.
  8. All revisions are included in the change log for easy reference. A strict numbering convention distinguishes between bug fixes and new features.

That’s a lot of process right there. Creating a WooTheme theme is about much more than knocking out a few lines of code. Here’s what Mark has to say:

“When we create and edit our themes it is not simply diving into the code. We have to carefully consider our community of users and how any code might impact their usage, and the template files’ customization ability.”

Apart from workflow, what else can be learned from professional theme designers and developers?

Develop Locally

If you’re not developing locally, then now’s the time to start. Here’s what Chris Coyier has to say about it:

“Designers and developers who work mostly on WordPress sites are, in my experience, the worst offenders of the “just do it live” development system. FTP commandos, if you will. I know — I was one for a lot of years. I suspect it’s the case because there are quite a few requirements to run a WordPress site locally: an Apache server running PHP and a MySQL database.

These things aren’t preinstalled on most computers like they are on most servers. Even if you get over those hurdles, setting up a workflow between local and live isn’t trivial.”

Luckily for you, Chris is going to show you a better way. Developing locally is easy to get started with.

STEP 2: GET OFF FTP

Developing locally has so many benefits. In particular, you’ll be able to do the following:

  • Have a record of everything that has ever changed and when it changed.
  • Roll back mistakes.
  • Become more efficient by using text-editor features such as “Find in Project.”
  • Work on major redesigns without worrying about screwing up a live website.

ALTERNATIVE TOOLS FOR A LOCAL SERVER

Use Live Reload

When you’re developing a theme, switching to the browser and reloading the page gets old pretty fast. That’s why Drew Strojny, founder of The Theme Foundry and the guy behind WordPress’ gorgeous new Twenty Twelve default theme, uses LiveReload:

“LiveReload is a great little application that works through a browser extension. LiveReload automatically reloads your page when a file has been changed in your project.

This is a huge productivity boon when you’re editing and tweaking a WordPress theme. All those small page refreshes add up to a big chunk of time saved at the end of the day. Not to mention, your fingers get a much needed break!”

The Theme Foundry loves LiveReload so much that it’s built support for it into Forge, its free command-line toolkit for bootstrapping and developing WordPress themes.

Use Git

Git is a distributed version-control system that is popular among developers all over the world. The great thing about Git is that you can quickly create a branch, make changes within that branch and then test those changes without affecting the master version. It’s what The Theme Foundry uses for every project:

“Quite honestly, we’d be lost without it. Git makes branching cheap and easy. You can experiment quickly with different ideas without worrying about getting lost. Think of it like the trail of pebbles left by Hansel and Gretel to help them find their way back home.

Git gives you the power to leave nicely annotated pebbles along your development path. If you see something interesting and wander off the trail, but then later change your mind, you can always get back to where you started.”

LEARNING GIT

 

from : http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/02/21/wp-theme-development-process/

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