As WordCamp Europe is just one day away, we now have the opportunity to look back at what we’ve accomplished during the past year. One of the things that makes us proud is the new WordCamp theme that our Design team have been working on for the past few months. As the theme has gone into beta testing (testers still needed!), we took a moment to talk with Sonja Leix (Design team lead), Bernhard Kau, and Lucijan Blagonic – who extensively worked on the new theme.
WordCamp Europe’s Design team work all year long to prepare styles and graphics for the conference. The team’s job is not an easy one but rather very challenging, especially with a team working remotely to prepare an event this huge. Like that wasn’t enough, they took on an even bigger task this year to develop a new WordCamp theme.
I talked to them about the new theme, but also about other things like working remotely, designing a new logo, and how they see the greater European community.
Sonja, you were leading the WCEU Design team this year. Your team did some great work leading up to this event, including the new WordCamp theme which is now in beta testing. Where did this idea came from?
Sonja: Let me start by saying how proud I am of my team of 5 amazing designers and developers and what a pleasure it was to work with them. The idea for a new WordCamp theme came from a general frustration every time I was involved in customising a WordCamp website over the years and the very limited options out of the box. It usually meant lots of CSS hacks and I knew there had to be a better way. Being a team of six designers/developers this year, we were excited and up for the challenge.
Not every WordCamp has the same setup and needs
Bernhard, you are living in Germany, in Berlin, you are also one of the organisers of WordCamp Berlin and an active member of the design team. Given the circumstances where you don’t have the ability to “change that much” of any WordCamp theme, how did you overcome these obstacles? Can you share more about the process behind building a new WordCamp theme? I suppose this was a challenge for you.
Bernhard: Yes, developing a theme for a “closed platform” where you can’t just edit files or upload plugins really is a challenge. Trying to implement a theme for any type of WordCamp anywhere in the world is another one. I have visited dozens of WordCamps in many different cities and countries to know that not every WordCamp has the same setup and needs.
My approach was to get the bare minimum for any WordCamp and its potential website design. I didn’t want to make any assumptions whatsoever on how the theme might be used. My believe is that a theme is there to make something nice, not to add any functionality. So even things we have planned as “functionalities” in the first place, like a page template for speakers bio pages, didn’t make it into the theme. Instead, I worked on a patch to make this available to any theme on WordCamp.org, so even the default themes.
Lucijan, you did a talk about style guides at last year’s WordCamp Europe in Vienna and this year one of the main deliverables of the new theme is a detailed style guide – something you used for our WCEU website too. How does it help and how can people build on top of your CSS – as I understand you (the WCEU Design team) wanted to give people the opportunity to start from scratch?
Lucijan: My talk last year was title “Moving the Design Process to the Browser” which was based on the power of living style guides that enable us to make certain decisions based on how something looks and works directly in the browser and not only in a static mockup. We also adopted a modular approach to building a WordCamp Europe website where we could showcase all modules (or components) in the style guide — therefore empowering others to use and remix even the smallest details.
Everyone can use our style guide process to build their WordCamp website from scratch but they can also use only some of components they need, like the ticket widget which was very nicely received. So in the end, what we wanted to really share with others was a set of tools and process which can be tailored to personal preferences — with a style guide as an end–product.
Monthly goals helped us focus
Being part of this year’s organising team myself, I’ve seen how other teams performed and what a challenge it was to get everything together, especially with people being in different time zones all over the world. This question is not only about the work the design team did for the WordCamp theme, but more general. Sonja, do you have any tips, maybe, that you can share – what helped you and the design team get everything done in time for the conference?
Sonja: Essentially we all had the same goal: creating a memorable and valuable event for the community here in Europe and our guests from abroad. WordCamp Europe keeps raising the bar every year and we wanted to continue this trend. What I think helped us as a team was setting monthly goals to focus on and having weekly team meetings to keep us on track and get to know each other better. It’s been a fun journey!
Bernhard, I followed the design team Slack channel so I was aware of all the challenges Sonja, Lucijan and you had, from selecting a base theme to getting things approved. To me, it seemed pretty straightforward but I feel there were times when you were maybe thinking “why did I accept this job.” 🙂 What was the biggest challenge you had, was it a page showing all attendees, especially with the amount of attendees on bigger WordCamps like WordCamp Europe?
Bernhard: I never had the feeling that I had accepted “the wrong job.” 😉 If you look at my profile you would wonder why I am in the design team anyway. 🙂 I am not a designer and the only thing I can contribute is my personal taste on the designs my awesome teammates came up with. I had some useful suggestions as an “outsider” from time to time, but couldn’t contribute to the design process. But being a WordPress developer with some decent knowledge on theme development and the workflow behind meta made this the perfect job for me, and it really was a lot of fun.
Sure there were times, when things were frustrating, but overall, it went quite well. When you work on a feature for meta (in our case the WordCamp.org component), you need to stick to a specific workflow to get things approved and finally merged. For this, you need some patience. 🙂
I would say the biggest challenge was to find a good default for the new features in terms of UX. As you’ve mentioned the attendees list, the new functionality is still not merged. We haven’t yet found a generic solutions for a paginated list, including a search. This is due to the fact that some WordCamps have more than one attendee list on a single page (like WordCamp US 2015 has a separate list for Live Streaming attendees) and you don’t want to break any site when introducing a new feature. That’s probably one of the greatest challenges.
This question is for both Lucijan and Sonja. One of the cool new features of the new theme will be “The Day Of” template. Can you share insights about how you got to that, what was the process of designing it?
Lucijan: I’ll leave this question to Sonja. 🙂
Sonja: This idea actually came from Ian Dunn while I shared what progress we’ve made on the theme on the Make blog. The “Day Of” template specifically came from a wish to feature relevant content for attendees on the various days of the event rather than just a blogroll. We gathered ideas and decided together to create a solution utilising widget areas for maximum flexibility – since different WordCamp sizes and formats will call for different types of “Day Of” content.
Building a new logo was an iterative process
Lucijan, part of your work on this year’s Design team was the new WordCamp Europe logo (which we announced a few months back). Reactions were mixed, with a majority of the people generally liking the new logo. It’s not that different than the previous years, but you did change something. What did you do, and how your creative process looked like?
Lucijan: It was an iterative process among the whole Design team. Everyone contributed with their own ideas and concepts. One of the approaches we agreed upon in the process was mine, which was based on the logo from previous years (designed by Tammie Lister) which we decided to develop further, by solving challenges which were observed in previous years.
I contributed with my own ideas and took it on myself to work on it in more detail, with really valuable insight from Sonja and others in the organising team. Our main goal for the new logo was to make it recognisable (we played with different dot sizes and resolution), customisable and location–agnostic. Since WordCamp Europe changes country each year we wanted to give future organisers an opportunity to customise the logo colours and the location focus based on the approximative location of next WCEU on styled Europe map in the symbol.
We worked on dozens of variations and even created a simple logo generator to test different dot sizes with the final result being what you see on the website. In the spirit of open source, the logo is available as an SVG which can be styled or animated even further with a few lines of CSS. In the upcoming weeks we’ll work to build a true logo generator where you can customise the logo directly in your browser and save it to your computer.
Everything starts in our local communities
One last question is for everyone here, and it’s not about design. Sonja, I saw that you were at WordCamp Berlin and you it was the first WordCamp in Germany for you. Bernhard, you were the lead organiser this year as Lucijan organises WordCamp Zagreb. All of you are part of this bigger European and global community. But, let’s take a step back and let’s try to see Europe as a whole. How much has WordCamp Europe helped to get people together and helped the communities to be more agile, welcoming and inclusive?
Lucijan: WordCamp Europe is for me an event that brings together a really diverse group of people: developers, designers, clients, project manages, content editors, etc. People with diverse backgrounds and perspectives on publishing, design and other areas of interest. By sharing our experiences, processes and values we can learn a lot from each other. For me personally, speaking, volunteering or simply attending WordCamps is really rewarding and if you get the honour to help organise one such events — that’s a really valuable experience I would suggest to anyone wanting to get involved deeper with the community.
Bernhard: In Germany, we have a very active, strong and welcoming community. But I really like to escape “the German bubble” and experience new countries and WordPress communities, like just this month in Copenhagen or last year in Bilbao. Even if you don’t speak the local language, you instantly connect to new people. And you usually meet most of them at WordCamp Europe (or other European WordCamps) and that’s what I think a regional WordCamp should be about. I almost only did WordCamp related vacations in the last three years, and it’s always like meeting old (and new) friends. Just in some other city/country. Nationalities, languages, political and religious beliefs, genders and such things, they really don’t matter. We are all Europeans, cosmopolitan, humans and WordPress community members. That’s all that counts for me.
Sonja: For most of us, I think, everything starts in our local communities. Big events like WordCamp Europe then bring all these various communities together. It’s beautiful to see how people share their experience, knowledge, and form connections. I witnessed over the past few years how so many people brought back the enthusiasm from WCEU to their local communities and new communities started forming and thriving. It’s a wonderful phenomenon.