Welcome to the first installment of an in depth interview with Jeff from PerishablePress . If you have not yet seen or heard of Perishable then do take a moment to check out his site . This is one talented and down to earth chap and it has been a great thing to get to know him.
I have never really done an interview before although I have been interviewed for several sites including Traffikd and CrowdSpring. My main goal was to avoid a numbered question and answer session. The way the questions and answers came about were through conversations in emails rather than to many direct questions. Words free flowed without being constrained to much by a perimeter wall question.
HOW IT BEGAN
Thus it all started with a simple comment left on Mr Perishable’s site after he experienced some server issues and sent out a post regarding possible site performance issues. As a subscriber to Mr Perishable’s site I am sure you remember this post and for me it actually took me to his site to check things out. This was one of the first Email updates I have received, as I had only just recently signed up after finding his site, somehow or other.
For my part, I just felt inclined to let home know that the site seemed to be working just fine, very nifty in fact. I also happened to mention that I just loved his site from every conceivable angle and possibly waffled on a bit about nothing in particular.
A reply back from Mr Perishable, confirmed his acknowledgment and his gratitude in taking time to write him.
And so, from the humblest of beginnings, I soon became to realise that in fact Jeff certainly DID know what he was talking about and that he was also a damn fine gentlemen, oh, with a sense of humour and level of sincerity that left me speechless. So then started exchanges of emails, comments and discussions on ‘stuff’. You know, stuff related to other stuff and stuff.
It was with hesitant foot, that I meekly forwarded him an email asking him if he would be at all interested if he were not busy in anyway whatsoever, that should he have some free moments, would he mind very much if he could just answer some simple questions for a Interview for my own blog.
The reply back was a resounding No. I mean Yes. In fact it cast away any doubts I had that he may of just said yes under duress, but frankly, one could tell that he genuinely thought this was a damn fine idea, and one that he was really looking forward to. Oh, so this put me under no pressure at all to come up with some now interesting questions.
For anyone who doubted me when I said that Jeff seemed genuinely excited about the prospect of being ‘interviewed’, I quote:
“Sure! This sounds like a great opportunity and a lot of fun as well. Shoot me some questions!”
I personally think, that some of these answers will be incredibly useful information for anyone starting out in Blogging, design coding etc. Jeff isn’t just about PHP, coding, design, art, minimalism, he is also clearly passionate about priorities and not getting caught up in the mass hysteria that can often clog the Blogging arteries. Filter the crap as such, have your own thoughts, your own plan, and importantly, be confident in what you are doing and trust yourself, even if many others are doing the opposite.
To get started then with the interview, I casually asked Jeff about some pre-interview strategic, erm, strategies. For my part, I wanted to do everything right, to ensure that I could do what was feasible in making this interview findable, accessible and of course vaguely interesting. So for my part, being somewhat of a newbie this time round, I innocently asked Jeff about any SEO procedures to employ to get the ball moving as such. Any keywords that he may want to use, any particularly marketing strategy etc.
It is so true that people nowadays are just not being true to themselves, or anyone else for that matter. Although this was not ‘officially’ a question it showed my where Jeff is ‘at’ in his own take of what’s important to him personally, rather than everyone else. It set’s Jeff’s tone for things to come.
Haven’t you heard? Keywords don’t work any more! Just kidding. Seriously, though, I am not at all concerned about reaching more people. Never have been too concerned about it really. I like to do things like this for its own sake. It helps me to be myself, get into it, to enjoy and learn from it as much as possible.
On the other hand, I understand how traffic is a totally good thing, to be desired as much as chocolate and coffee. But it really does take time to build up the flow of eyeballs to your site. Apart from advertising and/or black hat-type methods of starting a fire, the best thing to do (in my opinion) is produce quality content on a regular schedule and reach out to other bloggers.
This is all “new” territory for me, Graham — up until just recently, I have kept an extremely low profile: writing posts, designing, and sharing as much as possible without advertising or networking or any of that. And then suddenly, WOW.
The trip is watching the hard work begin to pay off. More has happened in the last few weeks (in terms of recognition, interviews, books, etc than it did during the entire first TWO YEARS of blogging. And something tells me it is just getting started.
Good things comes to those who wait, that are patient and ultimately trust themselves or at least have faith that something will work out further down the line. And even if it doesn’t, totally enjoy the trip anyway.
We moved on, well, I moved on to explaining to Jeff what got me so motivated about his own site, how I felt when I saw it for the first time and more importantly, how it felt, how it worked, how it interacted with you, how you got around. For me this was a classic example of a Usable and Accessible Site .
The timing could not of been better for me. Prior to this I had and continue to expend a lot of time reading, studying about Web Usability and Accessibility. The new Web Standards (well, not so knew, but more mainstream and accepted as the way forward). Books such as:
- Dont Make Me think – Steve Krug
- Blog Design Solutions – Friends of Ed
- Designing with Web Standards – New Riders
- Ambient Findability – Peter Morville
- BulletProof Web Design – New Riders
- How to be a complete and utter failure in life work and everything – Steve McDermott
And heaps more similar books have been read, reread, studied and used as paper weights. Never have I been so excited about the prospect of learning over again.
I first did a mega monster site in Dreamweaver in early 2000. It was huge, unplanned, and a beast in every way. I am still disturbed by this even now. But things are becoming easier for me now, and meeting someone like Jeff has been a huge bonus for me.
Yes, in a way I am forgetting everything I ever knew, which really was not much, but starting again with a clean slate, starting learning CSS again from scratch, hand coding XHTML in BBEdit, having several Blogs on the go, some with WordPress and now a new project with ExpressionEngine.
In talking to Jeff I have been able to get over some of my self imposed limits and beliefs about if I have what it takes to do all this at the age of 36. The man says ‘Yes’, and you know what, I believe him.
Analyzing his site after reading all about this stuff was proof enough to me that I was on the right course. The other crucial point here was that Jeff’s site was just simplicity in action. Don’t misunderstand me here, I have a very good idea that the stuff under the hood is less than simple, that I know and appreciate, but what Jeff has done, is create a site that oozes minimalistic yumminess. It works damn well, has features that are nicely positioned, it opens up to many cool areas.
But enough singing Jeff’s praises. What did he have to say about all of this?
I am a huge advocate of usability and accessibility.
I have also read a number of books on both topics and have found the practice as deep as it is wide. There is a great deal of overlap between the two, and some would even argue that they are in fact two different sides of the same coin, or even the same thing. I am far from an expert on the topic, but I feel that even a basic understanding of the topic along with a desire to implement it goes a long way to improving the usability and accessibility of a site.
So affirming the usable and accessible aspect as a clear winner, I asked Jeff if this site evolve over time. Or was it a planned design to incorporate as much of the web standards and usability factors as you could, and was that your motive for creating this site, to show that it could all be done?
“Did the site evolve over time?” Absolutely.
The first few versions of the site were absolutely atrocious. (ED: Find that utterly hard to believe!) But I was inspired by what I could do with WordPress and spit out like ten or more designs before I finally hit on one that I could run with. Even then, I was still beginning to get the hang of “accessible design”, and continued to redesign the same basic theme like three or four times before finally arriving at the current one.
That your passion for minimalism and stylish simplicity clearly defines some of what you feel, did that enable you to more easily adopt a site that was more accessible than a more complicated less minimalistic graphic based site?” I say that because I got the gist that a lot of the accessibility requirements are notoriously hard to implement like the keyboard navigation and assigning access key inputs.
For the current theme, the design aesthetic improved along with the usability and accessibility. Along the way, however, I got hung up on adding way too many bells and whistles and my design quickly became “gimmicky” and tiring. So, for the current design, I stripped everything down to the absolute essentials and fully embraced a completely minimalist layout. Since then, I have been completely fascinated by the “depth” and potential encompassed by minimalist design. It certainly forces you to focus on the deeper aspects of design: usability, accessibility, structure, navigation — all of it!
How can you not agree with any of that?
Knowing that Jeff has a healthy supply of themes that he has previously coded, me, not ever being greatful asked If I could have his own theme for my own use. Well, someone had to ask and you never know, he may have been contemplating changing it, so what better donor to give it to. Than me ofcourse! I could not think of a better more deserving foster home for that perishing theme.
I am flattered that the design is so well-received. So far, I have managed to “generalize” and package around half of the themes developed for the site (1), and fully intend to release all of them as soon as time allows! (1)
Given my lack of current coding skills, experience with CSS, PHP and everything else. Being a creative chap myself, I find it very frustrating not being able to create a site for myself that looks exactly the way I want it. It needs to be a extension of my soul in a way, it has to reflect my perceptions and views on life. So I have to make do with finding themes that are as close to possible to the sort of thing that I would be happy with.
You have a fair number of themes you have coded and have available for ‘free’, what are your thoughts on Premium WP Themes, the themes that supposedly offer more in terms of functionality, support etc.
I may try my hand at a premium theme later on, but at this point, I just don’t have the time. I have many projects that I am trying to complete, and may decide to switch from WordPress altogether by the time I finally finish.
I think I might be a total rebel, design a stellar premium theme, and then give it away freely! ;)
Rebel indeed Jeff.
The next installment will be arriving in a few days, so make sure to subscribe to my RSS feeds.