Becky Davis Interview
WordPress designer, developer, and educator Becky Davis’ (@beckyddesign) very first web project was a site for her mom, who does needlepoint canvas painting. She got into WordPress by making a site for her dad, spent a bit of time learning the ropes, and the rest is history. She enjoys biking, gardening, and movies in her spare time. Learn how she helps site owners to understand and embrace their role in site creation, which smoothes the design process, and gives clients the knowledge and confidence they need to maintain their content post hand-off.
Tell us the story of how you got into working with WordPress.
My first WordPress site was for my dad, who was a retired school teacher and a poet. I set up a WordPress site to give him a place to blog. At the same time my clients were asking for a way to edit their own sites, so I started doing more WP sites. For a while it was harder to do things in WP, than to just hard-code something. But when I finally learned enough and got to the point where I could get a basic theme structure done in a matter of hours, I started doing everything in WP and never looked back.
You’re a developer and a designer — tell us how you keep your skills current in both disciplines.
I was a theater design major back in the day and I still do some design work, but honestly not that much anymore. Most of my work the past couple of years has come from other designers and agencies, so I’ve focused more on the development skills. I’m really glad that I’ve got a design background though — most of the designers I develop for come from a print background who don’t really get web design. Hopefully I’m able to help them understand the need for flexibility in a web design and that even if pages are different lengths or a layout changes responsively, that’s OK and it can still be beautiful.
Theater design! How has theater design informed your work as a designer/developer?
Theater production is not done in a vacuum — you have to have a team of actors, designers, technicians, and a director. Being a developer/designer is kind of like being a director, but getting the site owner fully involved in the process as the star is so important. I’ve had several projects stall for a while as the owner finally wakes up and actually pays attention. (“Oh, this content is terrible, we need to re-write it.”) This may wreak havoc with my calendar, but it does wonders for the end product. It’s not my business, it’s theirs. When they fully participate, everything is better.
You run regular seminars in the Chicago area to help teach business owners about website design and how to manage their own sites. What are the typical barriers that business owners face and how do you help them overcome those barriers and empower them? What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from running seminars and how has that changed the way you approach your WordPress work?
I started my first seminar for site owners because of my own client experience. Many business owners assume that just because I can build a site, I have a magic wand and can just create something with no input from them. There are two things that I hope they come away with: that everything needs to be planned before they even talk to a designer and that they need to participate in and take ownership of the whole process. The site needs to reflect their vision and help their clients, not mine.
I’ve always been a big advocate of training site owners and have gotten a lot of business from people who were just handed a site and had no idea how to even edit a page, much less anything else. It’s very frustrating to see how many WP developers do this. I used to always include a 90-minute training session at the end. But what I found was that they would leave with what they thought was an understanding and then get lost when they tried to do something six weeks later. This past year, I’ve really pushed for the client to add at least some if not most of the content, before launch. The training session happens in the middle, not the end. By the time they’ve added a page, gotten the layout to work, added the page to the menu, had to deal with image sizing, etc., several times, they’re much more comfortable with their abilities and their site. I’m always open for more questions later, but the panic/frustration level is greatly reduced and they’re much more satisfied with what they have. (This also makes it better for me — I hate adding content!)
I also like to make the editing area as user-friendly as possible. Using custom post types and custom fields to define where content goes and adding theme-specific styles to the editor go a long way to enabling the
admin user to create pages with ease and confidence. This is what my latest presentation at WordCamp Chicago was all about.
You have a huge appreciation for the plight of the user brand-new to WP, who gets a site handed off to them, that they must maintain after the design and coding work is done. What advice / suggestions can you offer to fellow Code Poets on easing that transition and helping the user to get comfortable in WP and maintaining the content on their sites? What three things can freelancers / small shops do to make it easier for their clients to work in WP with confidence post-hand-off?
Training for content, training for images, training for updates. Actually, what I started doing this year that has been a huge success is to have the site-owner do a lot of their own content — BEFORE launch. This is a win-win in several areas. If they actually have to do it, instead of just sitting through a lesson at the end, then their confidence/happiness level at launch is much higher. I present this in the quote as a way for them to save money and it saves me from the part that I hate the most. I definitely want them to be comfortable with content and if I can get them to understand the methods I use for backups and updates, all the better. Having them in the back-end of the site for more than an hour, really opens their eyes and also makes them better appreciate all the work I did. Join.me has become my best friend, so I can see their screen and help them out when they get stuck. This works even for larger clients: on the big site I’m launching right now, the girls in the office that manage the orders populated the cart and the site’s editor did most of the content.
What’s the best thing women can do to help encourage other women to learn to code, learn to design, and get involved with the WordPress community?
There is a prevalent attitude in tech and IT fields in general of assuming that everyone else is stupid and couldn’t possibly understand what we do and that technically-minded people can’t/won’t explain things. My experience with the WordPress community is almost the opposite of that — people are willing to help and explain things — especially if you’re willing to put in the work and learn. I keep hearing the lament about the lack of women in WP, but honestly, (and especially having spent years in the IT world), there are more women in WP than any other tech field that I know of. I have half-a-dozen close WP friends who I can call when I get stuck, or when I just want to geek out. Only one of them is a guy. I encourage other women by helping them and by putting myself out there at meetups and WordCamps. What I do see is that if a man and a woman have the same skills, the man will be more willing to flaunt it, talk about it, and present on it. I do like to encourage women to step up to the plate and do presentations and have more confidence in their own abilities! This is one of the reasons I started my Northside Chicago Meetup — I want everyone to participate!
What do you enjoy doing for fun outside of your work in the world of WordPress?
When I actually have time to get out of the house, I’ll probably be on my bike or digging in the garden during the summer. I’m also a huge movie fan, so that and knitting keeps me happy in the winter. On Friday nights, hopefully I’ve found a friend to go out with and have a drink!