Interview: Tina Granzo, City Beautiful Design

A photograph of Tina Granzo sitting on red brick stairs outside.Tina Granzo founded City Beautiful Design (CBD), a website design and web application development firm located in Detroit, Michigan, and moved to Portland in 2006.

Tina attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for 2 years, and then transferred to the University of Michigan where she earned a BFA in 1995.

Tina built her first database in 1992. She has been making websites and databases talk to each other since 1997.

A screenshot of Tina Tina Granzo's website, City Beautiful Designs

Below are several websites Tina built recently:

Do you work primarily with WordPress, or do you also work with other frameworks or custom design?

I like to code more than I like design — which may seem odd as I went to art school. I’ve been writing PHP since about 1999. Previous to that, I coded in Perl and, I am loathe to admit it, ASP. I really like working with WordPress. It’s taken me a while to get to this point.

When I first started working with WordPress, when I wanted something changed, I’d change the core files. I didn’t know any better. Back then, I had just one client who used WordPress and they only used it for blogging. They had a custom site with hundreds of pages, and used WordPress only for the blog portion. Most of my clients then had fairly basic sites with custom CMSs that I would create for them to allow them to manage certain parts of their sites themselves.

By the time the economy tanked, I realized that WordPress was a really good, more affordable option for most of my clients. That was about 7 years ago. Since then, I’ve learned about hooks, actions, filters…and other ways to easily add functionality to WordPress and I have a lot more fun with it — and I don’t edit core files anymore :-). I get to use my knowledge of PHP and Javascript/JQuery, but I don’t have to design everything from the ground up.

Even though I had developed my own basic CMSs infrastructure (log-in, user management, etc) and would reuse that for projects all the time, it was not without maintenance needs. As functions get deprecated and security needs change, I’d have to change all of my old projects. WordPress does that sort of thing for me. I get to do the fun stuff. 🙂 I do still like to do custom work — but with WordPress I sort of get the best of both worlds.

Ted: What made you choose WordPress over other content management systems?

At first, it was the ease of working with WordPress. I had, by request of a couple of clients, used Mambo/Joomla a couple of times. They asked me to make them a Mambo/Joomla sites and I did. Then they asked me whenever they wanted content changed. I disliked doing that. I could never remember how to navigate the dashboard.

I’ve only worked with Drupal once. A guy contacted me and said that he had talked to 4 developers about his Drupal issues and they all told him his installation was corrupt. One issue was user error (he kept adding an item to the Spanish language version of his menu instead of the English version — since the item didn’t appear on the English menu, he thought the site was broken). The other issue was a plug-in/module conflict. I fixed the issues, but vowed to never use Drupal.

One WordPress client recently asked me to help with a Weebly site. I resisted at first, but he just needed some minor work, so I did it. It was easy enough, but I’m a one-CMS kind of girl.

I do contract work for an SEO firm — I don’t call their clients my clients (the firm is my client). Through that client, I’ve had to do some Magento and Expression Engine updates. I am not a fan of either of those.

What do you enjoy most about working with WordPress?

The ability to easily customize as needed.

Do you prefer working in the WordPress Visual Editor or the Text Editor, and why?

I don’t work in the editor very much. When I do, I start in text view. I copy whatever content my client provides, paste it in the text editor, then format it in visual mode. I spend most of my time working with functions and styles. I currently use Eclipse or Brackets for that. I did use CodeLobster for a long time, but it’s gotten kind of slow.

If you could change one thing about WordPress, what would it be?

I’ve always had issues with tools that result in a website having way more code than it needs (lots of unused code). It would be cool if one could easily customize WordPress installs so that unneeded files weren’t added and unneeded code were stripped out.

How important do you feel it is for up and coming developers to learn the inner workings of WordPress?

Anyone who calls herself a WordPress developer MUST know: PHP, SQL, HTML, CSS, JS, JQuery, and the core basics of WordPress. I’ve recently met a few people who call themselves WordPress developers — but know no PHP or JS, very little HTML and CSS, and have to be told how to do such basic WP tasks as change a template assignment. Those people are not developers. The ability to make a website in WordPress does not make one a Developer.

Do you have any tips for beginning WordPress designers/developers?

Some of these are obvious, but I’ve meet people who don’t do them.

  • Never use the user name: admin
  • Don’t use the default wp_ table prefix
  • Right after WordPress is installed, install a security plug-in before anything else. I like WP All in One
  • Use a tool like WP All in One Security to change the log-in URL (you can also use it to change the table prefix)
  • If you aren’t making a custom theme, use a child theme. Even if you don’t think you’re going to customize the theme at all, use a child theme from the beginning; it’s better than changing to a child theme later or not being able to update the theme
  • Use themes from reputable companies that make the themes themselves; stay away from consignment shops like Theme Forest/Envato. TF/Envato themes are often abandoned by their developers.
  • Don’t fall for buzzwords or fads. Don’t, for instance, tell every client that he needs a CDN. If a site has that much content and traffic, get a better hosting plan instead. If it gets a lot of traffic internationally, maybe consider a CDN.
  • Don’t keep rejected plug-ins — delete them
  • Keep notes on the plug-ins that the site uses and how they are used; give those to the client. It will be useful if another developer ever takes over the site (you might be tempted to not spend any time on something that could make it easier for someone to takeover the site, but think about it from the other perspective — if you get hired to redesign a large site and you begin by cloning the old site, you may not know which plug-ins you need to keep and which you can get rid of).
  • Always back-up and always update
  • Don’t use inline styling — anywhere…ever.
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