What I learned building my first Wordpress website

Check out my first Wordpress website! https://www.midiatoursglobal.com/

As a visual graphic designer, I got on board the Squarespace train when I was looking for a platform to build my portfolio website. It’s easy to use with many built-in features, you can create gorgeous websites quickly, and I didn’t have to code. I knew I was missing out on the mysterious world of Wordpress and beyond, but I didn’t really know where to start when it came to building a beautiful Wordpress website (and as a designer I can’t settle for less than beautiful). I was overwhelmed.

Then I got the client Midia Tours Global, a European travel company expanding its offering into the USA, that preferred to have their website built on Wordpress so it could be hosted on a server of their choice (with Squarespace you are forced to use the Squarespace servers). I told him I could definitely figure it out, but it will take a bit longer as I’m in the process of learning Wordpress. He was fine with that (as long as I didn’t charge for my learning time of course) so this finally pushed me to learn.

Now that I’ve created my first Wordpress site, I am absolutely stoked about the amazing sites you can build on the platform, with way more flexibility and creative freedom (and faster server options, aka faster websites… I’m not the biggest fan of Squarespace’s server...). I have rambled to friends thinking about learning to build websites, so I wrote down some things I learned along the way and what I recommend if you are ready to build your first Wordpress website. Of course just contact me if you are starting out and want advice. I’m fresh from getting over the learning curve and am happy to help!

Building your first Wordpress website? Read this before you start!

1. Become Website-Savvy (aka - learn some code)

You will want to be familiar with how websites are actually built before you jump in. You really don’t have to be a master at coding to build a great Wordpress site, but you’ll be way more comfortable and be in a better place to expand your skills as you build websites, as long as you have a good base.

I’ve dabbled in learning code here and there, as it’s also useful for my full-time gig as a digital marketer. But even though I knew HTML and CSS I still didn’t fully understand how to apply my learning and actually turn my HTML and CSS into a live site. So I was kind of stuck.

Then I came across a complete web developer course on Udemy for only $20 -  I have taken great lessons for free from CodeAcademy and General Assembly which gave me a good HTML/CSS/Java base, but the Udemy course is what made me understand the full picture - how websites are built, how I actually put a domain name on a hosting service, using a good tool (FireFTP) to upload files to my website, and ultimately make my work come to life. I ended up actually building my first Wordpress website with a premium theme that comes with this course.

Also you should start playing with the chrome developer tools (also you should be using the Chrome browser if you aren’t already. It’s great for developers. You can also use Firefox if that’s your jam but I like Chrome). This will help you explore websites you like and then learn from their code, and apply it to yours.

My favorite things to do with the Chrome developer tools are:

1. View Page Source - this shows you how the current page you are on was built - sometimes you can see things like “this website was built on Squarespace” or type in “wp-” in your Finder and you may find the website was built on Wordpress. (you can also use builtwith.com to find out what tools/CMS a website uses).


Right click, then select Right click, then select "View Page Source"


If you do it on my website you will see this at the top of the code!  If you do it on my website you will see this at the top of the code!


2. Inspect Element Tool: Right-click on an element on a webpage, like the header, for example, and click “Inspect”. Chrome pulls up a sidebar that shows you where the element is within the site’s code, and provides the CSS and other properties being applied to the element. So if you want to find out what font something is, this is a good way to use it (or just install FontFace Ninja on your browser). You can even change the font size to see how it may look before you make any changes on your own website. You can also change the HTML to say what you want, if you just like messing with websites ?  wpmudev has a good article on all the ways you can use this tool, but I def recommend installing it and having a play around when you are browsing the interwebs.


"Hover Right click > Inspect"/> Hover over the element you want to check out > Right click > Inspect


The screen on the right gives you all the info you need. Plus you can edit it and see how it shows up live on the website!  The screen on the right gives you all the info you need. Plus you can edit it and see how it shows up live on the website!


2. Build an actual website for someone

As I said, what finally pushed me to really learn how to build Wordpress websites is because one of my clients wanted a Wordpress website, and I wasn’t going to turn down work just because I refused to learn one of the most essential skills for a web designer. So you should find a friend starting a business, or someone who wants a portfolio website, or maybe you want to just start your own website, and commit to building one that needs to be live in 2-3 months. Then you have something real to work towards.

However, don’t start with an existing website - you could mess it up or accidentally ruin its SEO when you’re just starting out (unless it’s a horrible website no one looks at). If you really just want to learn without publishing anything live, just learn in a local development environment (the web course I mentioned shows you how to do that. It’s easy). But having someone rely on you to build the website really motivated me, so that may be helpful.

3. Goals, navigation design and branding FIRST

I tried to work out the navigation design and branding before diving into the website build because that makes the process a lot smoother. But even then, I got too excited (I just wanted to learn how to make the website already) so I didn’t really solidify my client’s branding and font choices until I was making the website. It’s a much smoother process to determine the purpose that the website will serve, exactly what information will be on it, what are any CTA’s (call-to-action for the viewer) and color and font choices before diving in the build. Of course you’ll learn by trial and error but if you are tight on time spend the extra effort at the start and it will save you tons of time down the line.

I changed the font combinations on this site 6+ times by uploading custom fonts and testing everything in the CSS only to change it all again… until I finally just did the font design in Adobe Illustrator and then chose the final combination before installing online - that was so much faster hah…

Also, you should definitely determine the goal of the website because you will also ask the question “how is this page/element serving the goal” so you should understand that before diving in!

4. Then choose the Theme - child theme or use a premium theme with a website-builder

Once you have identified the purpose for the website and know what type of information will live on the website, you’ll need to choose a theme - go to wordpress.com/themes to check out some free themes you can start with, or you can check out premium theme websites like themeforest.



People use themes so they don’t have to build the whole site from scratch. You just use the theme as a base and then you customize from there. You want to use a theme - this is what people do (I thought that was ‘code-cheating’ at first but then realized there’s plenty of other coding work to be done - so start with a theme!!!). Great web developers build themes/templates from scratch, but I don’t recommend that when you’re starting out (three wordpress sites deep and I still would not be able to do that).

Some themes like the X theme come with a website builder so it’s really easy to customize the website content by adding blocks of theme and design elements without any code. They also often come with support team that answers questions quickly - in the essence of time I used this theme for my first wordpress website (which came free with the Udemy course!).

If you pick a free Wordpress theme and want to customize a bit more, then you will have to make a child theme. You never edit the code of the main Wordpress theme becasue when the theme updates, you will lose any updates you have. I’m not going to try and explain child themes here but know that you can do customization and build really cool websites by using one - http://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-themes/how-to-create-a-wordpress-child-theme-video/

5. Reach out for help and feedback

There are tons of online communities and Meetups for Wordpress development. Get in the mindset that once you start building a Wordpress website you are a ‘web designer’ even if you are v confused. Just keep asking questions and people are happy to help (including me - I’m still a newbie but I can help clarify beginner stuff and we can learn together).

Don't finish the website alone. Ask friends to check out your website and provide feedback - is it a smooth experience? Do they understand the offering/purpose of the website? Is anything missing? Is anything ugly? Do a few rounds of this to make sure the website is in a great place when you launch.

6. Never ‘set and forget’ !!!

The first mistake I made when I built my own website was that I created it and then pretty much left it there for 18 months until I realized it wasn't me at all anymore! It needed serious updates. Web design is a fluid process - the digital world, your business and you are always changing - your website should reflect your evolution. As you or your business develops, you may want to add/delete/edit pages, update your branding, add new features as you get better at web design, etc.

You’ll also want to integrate with email marketing, SEO and social media to get more people viewing your work of art! Once you have this baby you need to keep learning and growing with the website. This is the fun part ?

I’m pretty excited to finally get over the initial learning curve of Wordpress development - it’s opened a new door for freelance opportunities and I am much more easily able to help friends build their businesses, which is one of my favorite things to do. Let me know if you get stuck anywhere along the way and I can try to help while I keep learning too ! ☺

PS - I like this article for setting goals and expectations as you get started creating a website: https://www.inc.com/ilya-pozin/build-a-killer-website-19-dos-and-donts.html

Pipeline 5 Has Got 2 Go

Since I am a planet nerd I checked out a Great Lakes preservation event at Patagonia last night! If you are a lover of the Great Lakes or attuned to the Flint Michigan crisis, you might find the aged pipeline running under the Mackinaw bridge concerning: http://www.oilandwaterdontmix.org/problem

If this pipeline were to burst, best case scenario it would leak over a million gallons and due to the water current in this area, it would be the most difficult spot to clean up an oil spill in the Great Lakes. For perspective, a 2010 spill in Marshall, MI spilled 843,444 gallons of oil and took 4 years to clean up, all the while dealing with a local water crisis from an economic perspective.

Overall the event was a massive success for the grassroots campaign. I think over 75 people squeezed into the LP store to watch the film and the discussion following was really interesting. Also being at a huge corporate communications agency, seeing an NGO fighting against a corporation (Canadian oil company Enbridge) got me thinking, what if Enbridge was our client? What would we encourage the company to do and say? (I for one would tell them to just shut it down before they face the inevitable and worst PR scenario of all time, especially since they would hardly lose profit from shutting down Line 5 in the grand scheme of things)

There were so many questions with great answers at this panel, I could go on and on. Happy to give anyone the low-down if you’re interested! Or check out the website and encourage the Michigan government to shut Line 5 down!

The Planet!! My Thoughts on Mailers and Marketing

Over the holidays, about ten million marketing mailers were delivered to our apartment. I had to address this situation (a fewwww months late/maybe nearly a year late, but here I am). So for one week, I collected all the mailers and kept them in a convenient pile in the middle of my room. I collected about 20, and know I missed a few. But LOOK AT ALL OF THIS!

Just one week, one apartment. This means that alone, my 4 apartment building probably got 80-100 mailers a week. With the rapid rise of digital marketing and the planet's deteriorating health, I wanted to explore whether or not these tree-killers were even worth it. I'm a sucker for beautiful paper goods, but I think if you're going to print advertising, do it right. 

So here we go:

Hahah yes. Us four recent college graduates were dying for the opportunity to purchase some swagged out mink coats. We were on the El to Winnetka before I could even ask "is mink more eco-friendly than faux fur?!" (that answer is unclear and I researched this 'hairy situation' here. Also don't think you can take the El train to Winnetka. I have no idea.) But the thing with this mass marketing mailer approach is that these are reaching so many audiences, but most of them are totally off target. I'm guessing maybe 5% of the recipients of this promotional piece were intrigued. (And then probably jumped in their Escalade to head out to Winnetka on a Tuesday afternoon because that's probably what you do in that situation. Idk.) In the past years, marketing has and will continue to be more and more personalized. Mass marketing doesn't always resonate anymore. 

Thought: What if McElroy Furs invested a little less in mailers, and a little more in market research. Find out who really wants (and can afford) a fur coat, but still wants a good deal. Where do they live? What inspires them to act? Are they online, or does print advertising reach them better? Assuming old people are most interested in new fur coats, McElroy may be on the right track with the mailers. But maybe just target those people, and even make the mailer furry or something interactive and attention-grabbing. Bring the fur experience to the home with the mailers. Yes they'd be more expensive to make but you'd be making less of them to just reach your target audience and drive the sales that really matter. Just sayin. 

Moving on:

Victoria's Secret sneaks its way into our mail every couple weeks. A real regular in the Southport APT mailbox. They do a really great job of creating beautiful content though. And they're sending these to us because our household has purchased from VS, and continues to do so. We probably have a rewards member up in here too, so at least they know who they're marketing to. I'll let it slide. (but maybe I'm biased because I love their swimsuits?)

But then...

THEN Victoria started sending us BOOKS. Like...good content and all. But CHILLLLLLLL these are thicker than my fitness magazines!!! (Although both publications probably inspire me to work out and only eat spinach) A little overboard Victoria. Keep some of your secrets to yourself.

Okay, neighborly coupon book. This one does have a target in mind. And I appreciate that. It's called Neighborhood Direct after all. The content makes sense. Coupons for restaurants and businesses right by our apartment. Now all we need as a sprinkle of good design on this baby and it'd be a winner (although consumers are moving from "clipping to clicking", so digital/mobile coupons may be a better and more environmentally friendly approach...) Maybe I'm being a font snob but the cover is killin me, and the business on the inside makes it look like more trouble than it's worth to find the great deals in the mailer. Good design goes a long way!

Here we go! Nice photography, cohesive and consistent font choice. Clear and attractive ads on the inside. This has all the goods of the previous mailer + decent design. Can't say I used any coupons but I can respect it. I think one improvement would be to include a call to action on the front to inspire viewers to open it, but this is better than lots of other things gracing our mailbox these days. 

Obviously a great cause. But idk about donating my car. There's probably a better way to find those car donations. Maybe mass marketing is the best approach for this (could imagine it might be hard to find random people with cars they could donate) but think this would be just as effective/less detrimental to the planet with a digital campaign.

Nowwww here's a winner. I think this United States Postal Service campaign is the best (part of a larger integrated campaign here):

I like the "Inside: Everything you need to win the holidays." Inspires you to open. And right when you open, you see the campaign website link! Fun language, consistent and attractive design. Integrated with an interactive mobile campaign. Target market is on point (pretty easy for postal service to target mailboxes, but I mean, it's on point...). Win! 

It doesn't really get better than USPS...

You know what feels like getting money in your mailbox? Getting money in your mailbox. 

Your standard holiday catalog. Fine.

VICTORIA! Again. Brought the boobs this time. Okay this is just a little mailer with a coupon on it. And again, well targeted. She's just so needy though. Keeps coming back for more. 


So to review: I think the most successful mailers were not only properly targeted and well-designed with a call-to-action, but are also a part of a larger integrated marketing campaign. The one-off marketing approach doesn't always work. Everything is connected now and I think the overall marketing message resonates more when it the message appears consistently in different channels. The coupon books are fine, but mobile coupons are all the rage now so maybe a mobile coupon book is the move. What do you think? If you are going to do a mailer, DO IT RIGHT so it's not a waste of paper! #savetheplanet

InstaFood - Inspiration

I currently manage the social media accounts for a Fortune 500 food brand, so I'm always on the lookout for great content marketing ideas in the food arena. An old colleague of mine showed me Tillamook's Instagram, and their photos scream "fun with food." I think they are worth following even if you aren't a content marketer. 

Instagram Post for National Grilled Cheese Day. Killed it. 
Instagram Post for National Grilled Cheese Day. Killed it. 
This visually represents data after posing the question
This visually represents data after posing the question "What's your ideal ice cream topping?" 

They also do a ton of creative GIFs which is totally where marketing is going. They're all over it. I didn't feel like figuring out how to put GIFs on my blog post (sorry) so you'll have to check out their Insta to see! But they are so creative! 

(PS-The company's mission is also awesome. They're a "farmer-owned dairy co-op" from Tillamook, Oregon. And their website is also very interactive and cool.)

Even as I write this post, I'm learning more and more about the company and checking out its creative design. Into itttttt 


Creating my personal logo was unlike any other design project. There was a lot of pressure to make a logo representing my name, my work, my website...really anything I put forward. It could by no means be lame, weird, ugly or boring. It had to be something I wouldn’t get sick of looking at or using, at least for a while.

I really craved a logo that represents my style, my type of work, my vibes, and my personality. After lots (and lots) of drawing, testing, gathering feedback, and trying again, I FINALLY have a logo! This was one of the most time-consuming design projects for me, but so worth it in the end (all for a simple logo). I really think I could tweak again, but I’ll settle for now. The design process is never-ending...

Some friends have said “oh you’re lucky you have a cool name, so the ‘E’ and ‘G’ can work together.” Let me tell you my friends, my name did NOT seem cool. When I was in the discovery phase researching and collecting inspiration, I thought THAT’S NOT FAIR--some people have such easy names to inspire cool logos! Well everyone’s name has something unique and cool to it...but you might have to dig deep to find it.

Made some business cards to help market my design work (and because it seems like a trendy thing for designers to do these days). Really need to crowdfund for an actual camera or something so I can get decent pictures of my work, but for now, check these out:

An Ode to FOAM

For those who don’t know, I’m somewhat of a nerd for magazines. Last month, I opened my mailbox, excited to see that the new issue of FOAM arrived. FOAM—Fashion, Ocean (/Outdoors), Art, and Music—encompasses essentially all my passions summed up in a cool acronym. So naturally this magazine rules.

Well, ruled. Unfortunately FOAM had to discontinue publishing print versions of the magazine. UGH. But I must thank FOAM for the inspiration in all forms—style, art, traveling, action sports, music…I ended up keeping a lot of the issues because they’re well-made, beautiful, and I still find new inspiration when I randomly pick one up to read. I continue to follow the FOAM community online at foammagazine.com. If you’re into fashion, ocean, art, music, traveling, outdoors, action sports, or just cool chicks…you should check it out!

Thanks for keeping up with the inspiration, FOAM.

Typography Served Cold: Salt & Straw

After graduation, I took at trip to Portland, Oregon, and WOW hipsters know how to do food. We enjoyed a variety of dishes and desserts with fresh, local and powerful ingredients. Plus, all the shops and restaurants around had the best typography! My friends kept making fun of my because I’d exclaim “THE FONTS!!” like every other block.

This is the new Salt & Straw storefront in LA. Photo is from LAWonders.net This is the new Salt & Straw storefront in LA. Photo is from LAWonders.net

One of the must-do’s in Portland is to wait in line for some Salt & Straw ice cream. It’s worth the wait. One bite and you’re like 😮 jaw-dropped. They have really unique flavors like Almond Brittle with Salted Ganache or Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper or Pear & Blue Cheese (like wut). But I swear it’s actually really good, and I’m not one to venture outside of chocolate-based flavors.

But anyways, it warms my heart to see custom storefront signs with beautiful artistic typogrpahy. This is what inspires me to take hand-lettering classes myself. A lot of logo projects for my clients incorporate custom lettering, and this just serves as another tasty bit of designspiration.

I need to get back to Portland. I can only imagine even more great food places popped up.

Photo in thumbnail is from sprudge.com

all U.S.A. travels