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Q&A with Phu Ly

Many people are using his themes, probably without knowing who he is, but Phu Ly startled the WordPress community when he found the time, energy and will to release a theme a day back in February of this year. And in six days, resting on the seventh of course, Phu released some amazing themes. You know them as Simpla, Emire, Ambiru, Treba, Jentri, and Bosa.
While he is a little of an internet celebrity to me as his themes are of quality that I feel a little jealous. Thankfully, it has not gone to his head, and Phu was willing to answer a few of my questions.
1.) Can you tell me a bit about your motivation behind starting your Theme a Day challenge? You mention in your original post doing it in part because of a lack of ‘real’ posts on your blog, was that honestly part of your motivation?
Phu Ly: As with many things, the reason is multi-faceted; the idea of a theme a day week makes for excellent blog fodder as well as a huge anti-procratination motivator. However, the root of the challenge was that I like web-design, I like seeing my works being enjoyed by others and that I wanted to make a point that you don’t necessarily have to spend ages to get something that isn’t Kubrick.
I’ll admit that the spontaneity, novelty and challenge held a sort of perverse pleasure; I was also aware that it was the sort of post that attracts attention. But had I not enjoyed web design, I wouldn’t have even considered embarking on such a crazy challenge. When you’re working full-time, it’s not always easy to find time to design, develop or even write. Like people who run marathons for charity, having an external motivator is a great incentive to do something that you want to do, even if it is torturous and painful.
2.) Would you ever do another project like the Theme a Day challenge you imposed on yourself?
Phu Ly: It’s highly unlikely at least not under the same constraints. Whilst the WP theming engine made the technical side simple, the creative aspect (that is designing a new usable, aesthetically pleasing and non-derivitative design) as well as the tight time constraints (design, develop and test each theme in a day whilst maintaining a full-time job) meant that the challenge was quite intense to say the least.
If I were to do the same again, I’d either design and develop the themes (and release them over the course of a week) or make it into a theme a month challenge.
3.) What kind of projects are you working on now? I noticed you have been rather busy, or are you just taking more time to cuddle with your new(ish) MacBook still?
Phu Ly: As with many people, the day job takes priority; between that, the world cup, and enjoying the summer weather, the blog has been sadly neglected recently. Hopefully, I have a few projects on the horizons and I’ll certainly be getting back into the blogging groove so keep your feed-readers tuned in. 🙂
4.) There are many 9rules members using other blogging engines, why did you chose WordPress and are you the type of user that always makes sure they are using the latest version?
Phu Ly: It’s always a good idea to make sure WP is up-to-date but I’ll confess that, even with the use of Subversion, I’m not always that diligent. As to why did I choose WP? Initially ,the choice was a lot easier; when I’d first started, the choice was really between MT and WP; TXP was still in the process of being born and Movable Type static page generation and perl background meant that I was never completely at ease with it.
WP was the first blogging platform that I’d actually enjoyed using; I’d been using a custom home-grown CMS for my sites up to that point and it didn’t take long for it to convince me to move wholesale onto it.
Nowadays, we’re flattered with choice; TXP, EE, Typo, there’s a plethora of options for all your needs but WP still has my heart. The back-end is still the most comfortable (for me) to use and the flexibility of the theming engine has meant that your only constraints are your own ambitions. Combined with the maturity of the package and level of support by the community, it’s easy for me to still consider it my first choice blogging platform.
5.) What do you think of the current state of WordPress, and its plugin and theme communities?
Phu Ly: It’s fair to say that WP is probably the most mature package around; it’s easily the most well supported in terms of plugins and themes and it’s by far the most popular self-managed blogging solutions. Probably the next big item on many people’s wish-list is probably the integration of the recent Shuttle UI design work. However, there are a number of features on competing platforms that’d be nice to see implemented; increased modularity, throttling, version controlled content, analytics ( e.g. stat tracking) etc.
With regards to the plugin and theme communities; the recent work on the Theme Viewer has been a boon for users but there really isn’t a community as such. We have theme developers and plugin developers but no real place for people to congregate, find out more or get started. There’s a lot of knowledge on individual sites but no real single place for people to get started. For example, when you start a new WP blog, what are the recommended plugins? What should we do to stop spam? The support forums are a good start but they’re really a place to go for answers to questions; sometimes, what you don’t know what the question is. This would be something I’m planning to help address.
6.) Are there any tips that you could give to someone looking to create a WordPress theme?
Phu Ly: If you’re planning to design a WP theme, the first thing you should do is forget that it’s a WP theme that you’re developing. It’s better to start with the basics by asking yourself what it is that you’re trying to achieve; for my blog, I know what my writing style is, what type of content I write about, what type of image I’m trying to project which gives me a starting point from which to begin designing.
You should aim to get the structure in place, and then play around with the components; when you eventually begin coding, create the html/css first. Don’t even touch any PHP. Get a test page mocked up looking the way you want it to; after you’ve tuned it to your hearts content, it should be only then that you start turning it into a theme by replacing and separating out the various blocks with their respective WP code.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when you initially start but if you work on it piece by piece, it’s much more manageable.
7.) And since you are part of the very popular 9rules network, I have to ask… What do you think of blog networks? Also, are we ever going to see a video of you dancing?
Phu Ly: There are a number of different types of blog networks; some start with the aim of financial return, some to satisfy specific niches and some, such as in the case of 9rules, to simply create a haven for good content. Each of these will experience different levels and types of success but at the end of the day, all networks have the same two simple goals.
If you’re a content producer, being part of a network has to provide you with more utility than not being part of one; whether that utility is exposure, opportunity, community or financial gains will differ from network to network and writer to writer but there has to be an appropriate quid pro quo for joining the network. If you’re a consumer, then a network should make it easy to find worthwhile content; this can be directly i.e. a particular network becomes the jumping point for a particular piece of content or indirectly i.e. a being part of a particular brand provides a signal or cue for a given level or type of content. Unless a blog network achieves these two goals, then there is no additional value of that network beyond than it being the sum of it’s parts.
As to your other question; there’s more chance of seeing Bill Gates rap than me dance in a video. Take it from me, you’re better off not imagining either…
Thank you so much for spending this time to let me know your thoughts on this very wide variety of topics. You can catch Phu Ly over at his personal blog, If..Else, the 9rules Network and of course his themes at his blog under the A Theme a Day project.