January 30, 2022
I’ve been building websites and teaching front-end development for the last fifteen years. For the first few years, I was pretty impressed with myself and my static HTML skills (and my table-based layouts). I didn’t really understand what a Content Management System was, but somewhere in the early twenty-tens, I realized that if I didn’t upgrade my skill set, I would rapidly become obsolete. Clients were asking for websites that they could update by themselves and I wanted to rise to that challenge.
I did my obligatory Googling, read a bunch of tutorials, talked with my developer friends, and chose WordPress for the road ahead. I learned a lot from great sites like WP-Beginner, and I finally found a client who needed a simple WordPress site. I figured out how to work with WordPress themes, I learned how to write some PHP, and I learned how to install some plugins. With my newfound confidence, I began to market myself as a WordPress expert, I added it to my curriculum where I teach, and I even spoke at an official WordCamp conference in 2104. What could go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, I was not an expert. I knew nothing about child themes or updates, how to find a reputable plugin, or keep a site secure or backed up.
The sites I was building were always breaking and my clients were contacting me after a few months and asking me to them. I was also pretty ignorant about how I wrote my contracts at the time, so I would frequently just fix the problem often for little or no pay. This wasn’t a total disaster, because it forced me to learn about how vulnerable WordPress is, how to fix a hacked site, and all the best practices that I now possess.
But this brings me to the key point of the article. Even though I love WordPress and enjoy building sites with it, there is always something going wrong and I’m continually explaining this to clients. Normal people aren’t interested in why “free and open-source” needs constant updates. And most mere mortals, who just want to quickly update their site, find its way too complex and cumbersome. They would frequently email me with questions, asking “How do I do this (…) again”?
So I moved into a new phase where I offered WordPress training early on in the design process. I would earnestly lean on my teaching skills and I’d explain everything early on and empower them to be great WordPress users. But as my approach expanded, so did WordPress in its complexity. Just as I felt I’d reached a place of WordPress mastery, they launched the new “Gutenberg” block editor and I had clients calling me, saying they hated it and wondering if I could make it go away. While I now think it’s a great feature, I also found it confusing a buggy when it first came out.
I’m now familiar with a lot of different platforms, and I can advise my clients as to which CMS is best for their needs. Recently, Webflow came out with a commercial where they ask, “What if life were like web design?”. The story takes place in a creative agency and everything is breaking, disappearing, or difficult. They finish with the key point, “With Webflow, everything just works”. As I watched this commercial, I can't help but feel like they’re targeting WordPress, and I can’t really come up with a counter-argument.
While I can now build fast, reliable, and secure WordPress sites, I only build them for larger teams or experienced users. It still helps if you have a technically skilled person around if something goes wrong.
When I first heard of Webflow a few years ago, I was skeptical. Now that I’ve built a few sites with it, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well things are going. I’m not having any awkward conversations, explaining why things aren’t working, or rushing to fix a broken site. Training people how to use the Webflow editor usually takes just one session. I can build sites more quickly, my clients are more at ease, and, to echo the tagline in the commercial, everything just works. I still build projects on both platforms and always try to find the best for my clients, but more and more clients are quickly moving towards Webflow.
In addition to building websites, I offer custom training in WordPress, Webflow, and Figma. If you’re interested in learning more please take a look.