A brief blogging pause for Iceland

This may be the most foreign place I’ve ever visited – if one could measure foreign-ness. This week, I’m in Iceland for the Enterprise Design Retreat, exchanging ideas with enterprise architects and designers to explore the field of enterprise design.

The past few weeks have been absolutely jam-packed. I’ve prioritized catching just enough z’s over blogging but will come back to my Blogging Challenge next week!

Tending my garden of live pages

Continuing yesterday’s topic about tinkering with publishing platforms, I want to dig a deeper into one of those experiments, which I’m calling Live Pages.

This blog has three Pages that don’t fit the content type of either a post or a page, in WordPress terms. These are the What I’m working on this month page and Upcoming travel page that I added to the sidebar/menu in addition to the Reading List.

Traditionally, a Page has static content. “About” content would go on a Page, whereas a project update would be a dated Post. This is pretty clear cut in the world of WordPress and hasn’t changed for years.

This month will be maintained throughout the month and archived at the end. It’s a semi real-time status report that gets overwritten until it’s archived, at which point, everything should be in the past tense[1. I’ll create a new page at the beginning of the month and swap the sidebar link. All of this may or may not be too much work. For the time being, it’s fun to lay everything out on one page. It would be great to have these pages for reflection so I’m quite hopeful…!].

Upcoming travel will be updated in the same way as the Reading List. After a trip has passed, that section will be deleted.

They all actually started as posts (or drafts of posts) but I found it boring to write roundups or announcements that would go stale very quickly or already be old by the time it’s published.

These Live Pages morph throughout their lifetime and there are timestamps to indicate when there’s been an update. So far, I really like this feeling of tending to these pages. It gives perspective on how I spend my time, without the pressure of saying something clever after the fact & when I’ve already mentally moved on.

I suppose that it’s also a type of risk hedge for when the frequency of my blogging slows down. These pages are very low-barrier to update, and updating even a little something gets the creative juices flowing. No staring at blank slates.

Tinker with your publishing platform

The first rule of content management systems is that you’re using the wrong one.

This line from a recent ALA article cracked me up since I’d taken on yet another CMS change as part of reviving my blog.

In the past few weeks, I’ve made tweaks to the WordPress theme and played with plugins as I worked out what my posts should look like and how I wanted to publish them[1. For example, the Twenty Fifteen theme has a great cover photo layout but I never have a relevant, good-looking image. On a whim, I scooped up an old favorite from my Flickr account and added a footnote at the end of the post. After repeating this pattern for a dozen posts, I decided it’s one worth keeping, and set up a Custom Field plugin and a child theme to accomplish two things: break out the footnote in the Edit page as its own field to create a separation from the Body (screenshot), and to centralize the styling].

It’s like tinkering with a vintage car in the garage, one that you take for a ride once in a while. I’ve come to accept that it’s a really valuable activity for a UX designer. 

Let me explain.

When I first created my personal website about a decade ago (eek!), I spent a lot of time fiddling with WordPress themes and plugins. On one hand, it was gleeful to spend weekends knee deep in PHP files and support forums. On the other hand, publishing was sporadic, and a sense of disappointment accompanied any thoughts of my site.

In hindsight, these were valuable, self-taught lessons in information architecture, content governance, publication workflows, community support, product feature priority etc. Topics which I wouldn’t be able to name for years.

Future projects with Drupal, Squarespace, Tumblr, XOOPS, Expression Engine and even a full scratch CMS system would bring opportunities to build different perspectives. And now, many of the services we design for center around the interaction of the user capturing something and expressing that via media, which then gets presented for someone else to interact with.

It’s only now, while tinkering with WordPress again like in the good old days, that I can see how formative it was to sweet talk and strong arm a CMS to work with your own content. And I feel thankful for those weekends… even if I didn’t become a star blogger!