Joining The WordPress UI Team

I've got some rather exciting news to share today which some of you will already know about from a few tweets last Thursday. I've just officially joined the core WordPress UI Team - so I'll be helping to design and develop the WordPress platform on an ongoing basis.

How it All Started

Since the end of 2009 myself and @Japh have been working away coming up with ideas for building a business on WordPress. Themes, plugins, you know, that sort of stuff. Our main ambition with this endeavour was (and still is) to be different. I mean good-different, not Kanye-West-different.

I thought it would be foolish to even consider building said business without being actively aware of what was going on with the platform, so I subscribed to some WordPress mailing lists (yes, they still have those) to stay up to date. One of these lists is for beta testers, people who run installations of the next version of WordPress prior to release and report back with any bugs. It is on this mailing list, where the story really begins.

At the beginning of 2010, whilst checking out one of the very earliest copies of WordPress 3.0, I came across a small bug. It was a small warning message that shouldn't have been there. Pouncing on the opportunity to finally contribute something back to the platform I eagerly sent off this bug to the testers mailing list and, as it turned out, to the attention of the seemingly omnipresent entity that isĀ Andrew Nacin (one of the WordPress core developers).

Now, I don't want to write an autobiography here, so we're going to have to skip a few chapters to keep things coherent. To cut a long story short: Nacin guided me through the process to properly report a bug, have someone reproduce it, fix it, re-test, and so on until it was completely eradicated. He was extremely friendly and welcoming throughout this process (despite some truly n00by questions from yours truly) and he got me introduced to the WordPress bug tracking system, which is basically a forum where each thread is a conversation and code snippets between developers who are working on WordPress.

Any developers reading that last paragraph may have shed a few tears at the painfully oversimplified metaphor used there, but the less techy among you I'm sure will appreciate it.

Getting Involved

Once I'd been introduced to this new world I started meeting people (notably @kimparsell and @andrea_r) who were happy to chat to me about WordPress bugs and other issues well outside of the one which I originally reported. It was at this point that I came across a ticket (or thread, to continue with the forum metaphor) proposing the use of tabs on the themes screen of the WordPress admin interface. I thought the idea was good but I didn't like the way it had been designed - so I chimed in with my, in retrospect, rather convoluted opinion. Unfortunately however, I was told that the decision had been made and the tabs would not be changed.

I understood this response, but I wanted to figure out how I could contribute on issues such as this one from the start - and so I discovered and joined the WordPress UI Group.

Now if you want to know what I've done with the UI Group in detail and how designing for WordPress works, then you should definitely check out the post which I authored for Web Designer Depot a couple of weeks ago:

Designing for Over Twenty Million Users: WordPress 3.0

If, however, you can't be bothered - then here's a very short summary. The WordPress UI Group is composed of people who volunteer their design, front end development, and user experience skills to improve and develop the WordPress platform on an ongoing basis. What that consists of is a weekly meeting (over IRC text chat), and as many tasks that are decided on in these meetings as you feel like trying out.

I did a lot of these tasks.

Fast Forward

Now, just over 3 months down the line, I've gotten fairly heavily involved and I've worked on a whole host of different areas for the upcoming release of WordPress 3.0. I've met an amazing group of people who work tirelessly to keep on building and improving the platform which runs 8.5% of the entire internet, and I really do mean tirelessly. You genuinely can't imagine the amount of work that goes into a release by people who are doing it entirely for love, not money.

In the mean time I've written some big posts about my involvement in WordPress, such as the one for Web Designer Depot - and we've also interviewed Mr Andrew Nacin (the catalyst for all of this) on the ExplicitWeb Podcast to talk in detail about WordPress and the core community.

I was driving on the motorway one week when my phone beeped with the reminder to tell me WordPress UI time was in 5 minutes. Did I blow it off? Nope, I pulled over, found an IRC client for iPhone, bought it, installed it, and got into the meeting right on time. I haven't missed a single one yet. It's addictive.

Good-addictive, not heroine-addictive.

Joining The WordPress UI Team Officially

Side-note: Did you just skim-read down to this heading? If so, shame on you. Go back up to the top and start again. This isn't some cheap design blog with pretty pictures, wishy-washy content, and overpriced ads. If you didn't, I do beg your pardon and please carry on.

So here's what this entire post has been leading up to: Last week Jane Wells (the head of UX for WordPress) asked me if I would like a more extensive and official role in the WordPress UI Team.

I gleefully accepted!

You can read Jane's announcement on the subject, but in summary this means I will be taking a more active and direct role in the UI Team. It'll be a huge honour to lead the weekly UI meetings, project managing the UI aspects of the WordPress projects for Google's Summer of Code, as well as of course continuing to do a lot of hands-on work for WordPress in general.

It's been a roller coaster ride so far and it's only just begun.

Closing Notes

At the start of this article I mentioned that I originally got involved in the core WordPress community because I was taking steps to start a business based on WordPress. Doing this has totally changed my perspective on what, why, when and how to do this.

Interestingly, not a single other person from any premium WordPress themes company is actively involved in the core WordPress development community - which really blows me away.

Finally, if you're interested in getting involved in any way, get in touch. The UI Group was only formed at the start of this year, it's a very small group of people at the moment and we always welcome newcomers!

John O'Nolan

Founder at Ghost.org. Writes about open source, startup life, non-profits, and publishing platforms. Travels the world with a bag of kites.