Creating a Blog: Behind the Scenes of WordPress Theme Customizations

13 Mar

When I started my job in marketing, I had only a basic understanding of Photoshop. At this point, I feel like I can do (or figure out how to do) pretty much anything with the software.

And that’s how I feel about WordPress. Though I started out with a simple understanding of how the thing worked (Dashboard–>Posts–>Add New–>Done), I’ve come a long way. I’ve figured out tags, categories (kind of), and how to customize themes. So last night, when my friend decided she wanted to make a travel/photography blog, I figured I could help.

Basically this is how I figure stuff out.

Basically this is how I figure stuff out.

Of course, the hardest part of making a blog is deciding on a name. The blog went from Liv in a Van, to adVANtures Across America, with some other pretty punny ideas scattered in between. To the author’s credit, I was no help in coming up with names. As the Rhetoric and Composition Society can tell you, my original name for our school club was Community Of Writing (we ARE an agricultural school, after all!).

me trying to draw a cow

At first, Liv just wanted a blog. I suggested she try out several different blogging sites and choose whichever one was easiest for her to use. I know from experience that if you can’t figure out how to use something right away– if it isn’t intuitive– you’ll probably give up (or return your Droid). I directed her to Tumblr and WordPress,  but then  she asked me about Blogger. I couldn’t even hide my disgust. I HATE Blogger. It’s slow, doesn’t have tags, and it is so hard to customize.

No, Tumblr I understand. If all you want to do is post visuals, Tumblr is good. But clearly my preference is for WordPress, the platform that I convinced my company to host their website on, and the best CMS I’ve ever used. If you want a website, go to WordPress. (I swear I’m not being paid to say this).

As I suspected, once Liv saw the beautiful (free) WordPress themes, all Tumblr talk went out the proverbial window (our living room doesn’t have a window, after all). Her dreams expanded from lowly blog to multifaceted website. That’s when I knew I was out of my depth.

As a tour leader that drives groups of tourists across America, she wanted to be able to have a separate page for each tour group so that they could follow the trip and have a link to share with friends. She’s also a photographer, so she wanted a portfolio-type page to showcase her work. I knew WordPress could do that (in theory), but I wasn’t exactly sure how to make it happen.

So first I helped her pick a theme. She settled on Hero, which has a post slider and three “Callouts,” or featured posts. It basically looks like something I would pay somebody to make. But hey– it’s a theme! How hard could it be?

Hero Theme for WordPress Sample Layout

Well, apparently when you start a new theme it doesn’t automatically look exactly like the picture. In fact, it looked a little something like this:

This looks nothing like the sample Hero theme

Where were the glorious post sliders? The wide images? The grid-like featured post display? Gone, all gone. Liv was devastated. Why had I lied to her about WordPress?,  she demanded to know!

I bade her to be calm. If there was anything I knew about design, coding, or WordPress, it was this: Google always has the answer. I realized that I needed to read the instructions below the theme in order the activate the full range of features. So read I did. I discovered that I had to make new pages, set the home page as static, tag posts, and set featured images. Okay! Those changes got me the slider.

Then I learned that I had to tag posts with unique tags in order to get the Callouts– and don’t confuse tags with categories, because I did and it took me about twenty minutes to realize it. Also, those posts have to have featured images, too. Okay! Got the Callouts.

But Liv reeeeaaallly wanted that drop down menu bar! I knew I could do it– it would just take a bit of reading and some finagling. After making the wrong assumption that the bar was only for paying WordPress users, I realized that multiple page menus are created not by clicking the plus sign, but by dragging and dropping. Jeez! The horizontal/vertical thing should really match up, guys!

Anyway, after much cursing, groaning, and sweating (my apartment was getting really hot, and doing design/web work always makes me a little bit sweaty. Is that weird?) I finally ended up with this:

adVANtures across america   Livin  on the road

Success! After an hour’s work and many mistakes, I finally made the template look the way it was born to look. Oh and by the way, that is a drop down menu you see right there.

3 Responses to “Creating a Blog: Behind the Scenes of WordPress Theme Customizations”

  1. maejenna March 18, 2013 at 8:35 am #

    You are an expert! I need your skills. And NICE cow 🙂

    • Caitlin Garzi March 18, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      But your blog is so beautiful! I see you also adopted a new theme– I have to think about changing mine up, as well. If you DO need help though, let me know 🙂

      Also, I’m glad someone got the COW reference…


  1. NEW BEGINNING, NEW LOOK: The Half-Eaten Mind unveils new makeover | halfeatenmind - March 16, 2013

    […] Creating a Blog: Behind the Scenes of WordPress Theme Customizations ( […]

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