Today we interview Galin Simeonov from AlienWP. Galin has release a couple of really popular minimal responsive themes. The best thing is that you can grab them for free from his site www.alienwp.com. In the interview we discuss Galin’s work with WordPress and also talk about the usefulness of frameworks when developing.
Hope you find the interview inspirational for your own designing and development efforts! As always, we invite you to join in with your comments at the end of this post.
Thanks for joining us today Galin, please tell us a bit more about your background, how long you’ve been working with WordPress and about your current ventures.
Hey WPMayor readers! My name is Galin Simeonov and I live in (mostly) sunny Bulgaria.
Some 4 years ago I grew extremely bored with my job at the time, and started looking for an alternative career. To cut a long story short, I left the big city, came back to my home town, and a few months later co-founded a small web development company with an old friend of mine. Naturally, that first attempt at entrepreneurship didn’t go too well, but it helped me realize something important about myself – I wanted to be a designer. That was something completely different from what I had been doing. Nevertheless, I decided to turn my back to my existing professional experience and pursue the career of a web designer…but not any web designer.
I quickly discovered that I’m notably ambitious and vain about any design work I do. I guess these are the signs of a passion. But this was an already over-saturated territory and I couldn’t stand being just one of many and do a mediocre job for a living. Some of the existing designers were 10+ years ahead of me. I had to find a way to catch up with them and I didn’t have 10 years at my disposal. So I decided to get what most of them were lacking – a classic design education. No, I didn’t join some art school. But while most web designers were honing their technical skills by doing Photoshop tutorials from various online sources, I was reading piles of books on design theory. In order to become competitive, I had to go back to the basics.
As I don’t want to bore you with all details, I’ll just tell that it took me a couple of years to get where I am today. During that time I’ve been mostly freelancing and WordPress naturally found its place in my arsenal.
Your recent theme releases have been making some noise in the WordPress community. Tell us why you decided to go for responsive themes, and what qualities you like to incorporate in all your themes?
Initially I gauged the market interest. Then I got hooked with the technical aspect of creating fluid, scalable layouts. If I have to be honest, I think “Responsive Web Design” is not a well-grounded trend. Instead of expecting and demanding the devices to be adapted to the web, we are trying to adapt the web to a certain class of devices (and especially those made by a particular company). Kind of a backward way of doing things, don’t you think?
I like to build solid themes that follow best practices and the official WordPress coding standards. Themes that provide real value for the WordPress users. Adding fancy pictures, sleek jQuery animations, tens of shortcodes, and hundreds of theme options is not the way to provide value. I also make sure each theme comes with a consistent and well-founded design out of the box. Additionally, I add theme-matching styles for popular form plugins. Because contact forms are functionality contrary to the popular practice their place is in plugins rather than in the theme itself.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered when it comes to creating responsive themes?
Creating a responsive theme sets a lot of limitations. A lot of traditional design choices and techniques simply don’t make sense in a responsive layout. So you are forced to make a lot hard choices, sacrifices, and workarounds. All designers experience these limitations so the biggest challenge is to create a theme that is both responsive and original.
Do you have any plans to sell premium themes via AlienWP? Or do you plan on using a theme marketplace?
AlienWP will have its commercial side, yes. But it would be totally optional. There will be more 100% free themes, packed with documentation. So most people will continue to enjoy quality WordPress products without the need to spend a dime on the site. I don’t want to go into details yet, as things are under development.
Where do you get inspiration from when designing new themes?
When seeking inspiration, I have a simple rule: “Ignore the existing WordPress themes!”. I generally browse various sites, collect screenshots and bookmarks, make notes… Another approach I often practice is trying to remove the web altogether from the inspiration process. There are lots of ideas to be taken from books, movies, architecture.
As a web designer/developer, what are the online communities (e.g. Dribbble, Twitter etc) you like to hang out at and what value do each of them provide?
Mainly Twitter and the Theme Hybrid forums. And since I recently joined the Theme Reviewers team (@wordpress.org), I’ve added the theme reviewers’ mailing list to my favorite online communities. That’s all I think. I follow a selection of great people on Twitter and they often post links to new valuable resources or share interesting thoughts. The Hybrid forum is actually my WordPress encyclopedia – usually better than Google.
Can you mention some plugins that you find yourself relying on when developing new WordPress sites?
The same plugins that theme reviewers use – Theme Check, Log Deprecated Notices, and Debogger. They are priceless when you are trying to build a decent theme.
Tell us a bit about your development setup (hardware + software). Can you show us a picture of your desk?
Aaah, you got me here – I actually don’t have a desk 🙂 . I can’t stand desks. I’ve been working on desks for years. Most of the time I’m on the sofa, switching between various positions. All of them quite relaxed 🙂 . Understandably, I don’t use desktop computers. Currently I’m using a 1-year old 17″ Dell laptop, but will be getting the next MacBook Air. Can’t wait actually.
My favorite code editor is Komodo Edit. It’s simple, with everything I really need. And I usually design and develop “in the browser”. The browser is Chrome (90% of the time).
What new features would you like to see in upcoming versions of WordPress?
New features you say? I actually wish those guys chill down a bit with the new stuff. I find it hard to keep up with all the awesome additions in the latest versions.
Any other online tools or resources you use on a daily basis?
I use Dropbox for backups and simple version control. And if I’m making a responsive theme, the Windows calculator is open most of the time.
Can you mention some of your hobbies? How do your hobbies help keep a good work-life balance?
I actually managed to turn my hobby into a daily job. Aside from that, I run a few kilometers 3-4 times a week, and you can see in my Twitter profile that I’ve described myself as an ‘Woodsman’, due to the fact that I enjoy hiking and long walks in the mountains. These also help to negate the effects of the long hours with WordPress.
Tell us a bit about your future plans, any new projects in the pipeline?
Alien WP has all of my attention these days. But I have another, secret and quite ambitious project, and it will be partially related to Alien WP. Can’t say more at this point, except that the majority of its development is already done and neatly packed into a WordPress plugin.
What made you choose Hybrid as a framework, and have you used any other responsive frameworks to build your site?
I used Thematic for a past project, and played with Genesis, then I settled with Hybrid Core. It has a couple of key advantages. All other so-called WordPress theme “frameworks” are technically parent themes. Hybrid Core is not a theme, it’s a framework for building parent themes. In other words, one can use it to build his/her own frameworks. The benefits are obvious – lots of power for the developer, and flexibility/choice for the theme user.
If I want to provide this amount of value to the end user, I need to make a parent theme. A parent theme that he would be able to customize in his own child theme. If I offer a ready-made child theme, I’m setting a limitation out of the box.
A “traditional” theme framework is just a single parent theme that looks and behaves the same way. And there are at least 10 different parent themes that use Hybrid Core. When I want to create a new theme, I just pick one of them (the closest to the desired end result) as a base and apply my changes. This is the fastest and the easiest way of creating a solid theme for a client or for sale.
As for CSS responsive frameworks – I don’t use any. Took ideas from some of them, yes. But didn’t actually use them as this would add some unneeded bloat. I learned the principles and wrote the CSS myself.
Thank you once again to Galin and we wish him best of luck with all his new projects!
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