Redesigning the Look of Domain of One’s Own

Domain of One’s Own (aka UMW Domains) has a new look! Besides my own superficial reasons for wanting to give the site a new look, there are some practical reasons as to why the Domain of One’s Own site needed a redesign. The most important reason for the update is we needed to separate custom code from the original theme to make sure it was working, and to allow us to change themes more easily in the future.

The previous iteration of the site used a Neuro child theme called UMW Domains created by Tim Owens and Martha Burtis. The front page featured the most recent posts across Domain of One’s Own, syndicated tags, featured sites, a count of how many domains there were, and a small “About” box. All great things, until one by one, they stopped working. Additionally, there was a page where people could manage their sites and the syndication settings for the DoOO homepage, a page for a directory, a page for migration EPP codes, and a page for cPanel. Each of those pages were custom page templates embedded into the child theme. Creating custom page templates is a good solution to an immediate need for customization, but it makes it difficult to preserve those pages when moving to another theme. In other words, a lot of custom code was written into the theme, and we wanted that code out of the theme and working, so Martha and I set out to refresh the DoOO site.

Martha worked on separating the custom code from the previous theme and converting it into a plugin that uses shortcodes to do the same functions, while I observed and learned. We created a site on a development server to make sure the plugin worked properly without all of the complications of the main DoOO site. Because Martha is amazing, her plugin works! The shortcodes for the plugin use the same functions the previous theme was using, but now they don’t rely on a specific theme. After Martha fixed the functionality of the DoOO landing page, it was my turn. I had to change up the site’s design. I had a few key aspects I was looking for when searching for a new theme:

  1. It must be open-source.  I wanted us to use an open source theme since open source technology is something that DTLT supports and recommends. It also usually makes customizing the theme easier since the code was written to be seen by users who may want to change it.

  2. It must be responsive. You’d think that was a no brainer component for all sites in 2016, but sadly, it is not. We’ve all come across sites that look awful on our mobile devices.

  3. It cannot be too complicated but also not too simple. This sounds super vague because it is. I wanted a theme with more options than the default WordPress themes, but not as many options as many premium themes tend to have. The reasoning behind this was  that if my colleagues needed or wanted to tweak the site, they would be able to without me having to explain all the minutiae of the theme.

  4. It can’t be ugly. Again, vague, but I think there is a somewhat general consensus on what some “ugly” sites look like (i.e. unreadable fonts, poorly thought out margins that squish paragraphs into tiny little slivers, unnecessary animation everywhere). Yes, I could customize the theme to make it look the way I wanted, but I believe it’s better to started with a look that you already like (it’s also more time-efficient).

  5. It has to have a 4 star rating or higher if it is in the WordPress repository, or good reviews if it is not in the WordPress repository. As I’ve mentioned before in my post, Jess’s Quick Guide to Plugins, Widgets, and Themes, themes with better reviews and ratings are generally better themes, and they’ve been used by people who like it enough to review it and rate it. Searching for themes is simply the same as shopping.

I went through a few themes before deciding on one. Currently, the DoOO site is using a custom child theme of Illdy by ColorLib. Illdy has some cool functions and features for businesses built into the theme such as Yoast SEO, as well as sections for services, testimonials, and stats, but I turned all of those off. We may, however, turn some of them back on in the future.  It’s a clean, easy to use theme that is responsive, has good reviews, and has documentation available from the developers. I created a child theme of Illdy so I could add in custom CSS and so we could create custom page templates without having to worry about theme upgrades overwriting the customizations.

Our only custom page template right now was made by my colleague Kris Shaffer, and it is our page that shows users their cPanel, which is now embedded on the page. Instead of having it show up underneath the theme heading and menu and whatnot, we wanted the cPanel embed to take up the entire page, because that is how users were interacting with their cPanel before. We wanted to change the look of the site, but also take into consideration that users may be confused by the change.

In an attempt to limit users’ confusion, I made sure that the log-in/sign up button is prominent, the navigation is simple and straightforward, and that the landing page very simple. Eventually, we want to add more to the DoOO site homepage, but we are still discussing, which features we would like to add, and what would be interesting and beneficial to users.

I’m happy with the redesign, and I’m excited to tinker with the site in the future!