Interview With Leland Of Themelab.com

How long have you been a part of the WordPress community?

I’ve been using WordPress since about 2006. Back then I was a newbie, and just using it for basic development. I liked how it was easy to hack up and theme to make pretty much any kind of site I wanted. Over time with lots of practice I started to get pretty good at XHTML/CSS and WordPress theming. I started ThemeLab.com in June of 2007 which is I guess when I became a part of the WP community. I started interacting with other WP community members via blog commenting. Later I started to get involved with Twitter. Right now I try to follow pretty much every WordPress-related Twitter user I can find. Forums like WPTavern also make it really easy to communicate with the more active community members.

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What is the process of releasing a theme on ThemeLab.com?

Pretty much all the themes released on Theme Lab are not designed by me (I am admittedly not a designer) so the first step would have to be getting a design to code and port into WordPress. A lot of these designs are already coded templates in XHTML/CSS which I port to WordPress. Others are sent to me from designers in PSD form which I have to code in XHTML/CSS and then port to WordPress.

I upload to the test site and make sure all the basic elements are styled properly. Another thing I usually have to do is create threaded comment styles which is usually a huge pain. After everything is styled I might
make a theme options page and widgetize several areas of the theme if appropriate. After the theme is completely finished, I also spend a lot of time writing out how to use the theme with screenshots. This takes a long time, but I think detailed instructions help cut down on support requests if users know how exactly to set up a specific theme. Occasionally people offer to beta test the themes before I officially release it because I post “sneak previews” on Twitter, which can be very helpful to have another set of eyes look things over.

What are some of the lessons you can share when dealing with outside collaboration.

Like I mentioned above, I do collaborate with designers and such where the relationship usually is: they design and I code. Communication is always key in collaboration. Since I usually only collaborate with one designer per project, things like e-mail are usually suitable for communication. For larger collaborations I may want to look into using something like the P2 theme, which some have said has been very helpful in collaborating with multiple people.

Jungleland Is One Of The Most Recent Themes Released By ThemeLabs
Jungleland Is One Of The Most Recent Themes Released By ThemeLab

What does your daily routine consist of?

After I wake up, the first thing I usually do is check email and catch up on my Twitter stream. I use TweetDeck and have columns set up to track my replies plus a search column to see if anyone is using words like “themelab, theme lab, or custom theme” in any of their tweets, so I check on those too. I used to check Google Reader as I subscribe to a number of WP-related blogs, but honestly I think Twitter has effectively replaced that for me. After I’ve caught up on emails and tweets, I make up a daily todo list of things I have to do, and just work down the list.

With ThemeLab being responsible for over 90 themes, how much freelance work have you managed to undertake?

I had been doing a little bit of freelance work on the side, mostly people who have contacted me through ThemeLab.com. These projects usually WordPress or coding-related. I never really advertised or actively promoted my services until I launched CustomTheme.com which is where I provide a custom WordPress theme development service. That usually keeps me pretty busy now, but I do try to find time to release high quality free themes when time allows.

Why have you decided to work with WordPress rather than other software?

While I think the simplicity of WordPress is a huge plus, the real reason I decided to work with WordPress is the strong community. Pretty much every problem I run into can be solved by searching Google or the WordPress.org support forums. If I still can’t figure something out, I’m sure someone on the WPTavern forums would be happy to help out.

Simply Minimal Theme
Simply Minimal Theme

What are some of the pains and tribulations of being a WordPress theme developer?

As I said above, styling comments is pretty painful. This is where products like CommentBits from Ryan Imel (wherever he is) provides a nice solution for theme developers who hate styling comments. While comment styling is pretty bad, I think most theme developers would agree with my that support is probably the most painful activity to have to deal with. While a lot of theme developers have gone commercial and either charge for the theme download or support, I charge for neither. Most people probably think it’s pretty stupid of me to do all this for free, but I really don’t get that many support requests, probably no more than a couple per week in the forums. I like to think this is because my themes are easy to use and well-documented. My blog at ThemeLab is more just for fun, and also an indirect way of promoting my other commercial services.

What would you like to see added to WordPress to help make your job as a developer easier?

That’s a good question and I really can’t think of anything that would make anything easier, it’s already pretty flexible as of now. I thought something like syntax highlighting in the code editor would be helpful, but when CodePress syntax highlighting was introduced in WordPress 2.8, I found it was more of an annoyance than anything.

Anything you’d like to get off your chest or throw out to the public?

Thanks for the interview!

Who is Jeff Chandler


Jeff Chandler is a WordPress guy in the buckeye state. Contributing writer for WPTavern. Have been writing about WordPress since 2007. Host of the WordPress Weekly Podcast.

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