Chris Coyier Interview – The Man Behind CodePen and CSS-Tricks

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Hi, friends! Another month, another interview from our side. Today we’re talking about web design, WordPress, awesome projects (like CodePen and CSS-Tricks), and other diverse topics in our Chris Coyier interview. It’s all live for you.

Before passing it on to today’s guest, I want to give a shout-out to last month’s discussion with social media specialist Bridget Willard and to our full collection of interviews with WordPress connoisseurs from around the world. Check them out if you need inspiration from professionals.

Chris Coyier Interview on Themeisle blog about WordPress, web design and web development

Now, if you’re a designer or an aspiring designer and haven’t heard of CodePen and/or CSS-Tricks before, you’re missing out. CodePen is a superb online editor and encyclopedia of design code snippets, while CSS-Tricks is one of the greatest blogs for front-end developers. They both exist thanks to Chris Coyier and his team.

Chris managed to create loyal communities around these projects over the years, and you can take part, too. You can contribute either by writing a piece of content for the blog or sharing your awesome code with other web development enthusiasts.

When he’s not building websites, he’s writing educational content and podcasting about building websites. And if that’s not enough, he’s also the author of “Digging Into WordPress” book, which many of you probably know.

Keep reading to hear more insights from Chris himself:

Chris Coyier Interview – The Man Behind CodePen and CSS-Tricks

When and how did you start working with WordPress? Is there an interesting story here?

Other than some very bad Flash work in College, my very first websites, circa 2004, were WordPress. I liked, and still like, how powerful WordPress makes me feel. I struggled through those first steps of buying a domain and hosting and getting WordPress installed, and once I did, I had a very solid looking website with more features than I could ever dream of building on my own. So I started hacking at the templates and the CSS and making them do what I wanted. I found that work fun, so low and behold, I turned into a web designer.

What’s your technique for staying productive throughout the day?

One thing that occurs to me, and I’m lucky to have this, is that I have a lot of freedom in my day. I’ll always have these chunks of time I can dedicate to some work, and I can pick what I work on based on priorities, and just as importantly, my mood. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood to write, so I code something instead. Sometimes it strikes me that I should design something or think through the UX of something. Sometimes, believe it or not, I feel like doing email.

How do you define “being successful”?

I have no idea. Some days I feel like the king of the world and why would I ever want for more. Some days I feel like I’ve worked way too hard for way too long to only be where I am.

What do you wish more people knew about WordPress?

I feel like WordPress went through a weird period where the developer zeitgeist kinda poo-poo’d WordPress. And now we’ve come around where developers largely recognize it for the great tool that it is. I enjoy telling people just how empowering it is for me, which I hope plays some small role in convincing some devs, that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise, that it is worth a look.

Who’s doing things that are just cutting-edge and incredible in the WordPress space right now?

Everyone who has shifted a lot of development effort into blocks is being smart I think. I was recently incredibly impressed by the new Advanced Custom Fields release of their blocks support, and the new support of which are like ACF blocks that accept arbitrary native blocks within them, which unlock a lot of power.

Describe the WordPress community in one word.

What’s the one thing you’d like to change about WordPress?

I think I’d vote for GraphQL getting into core. The REST API was a smart move, but GraphQL is much nicer, and I think would help keep WordPress as an option for lots of people no matter how you end up building the front end. I’d like to see the commenting system get a kick in the butt too. It’s very odd to me how a logged in user leaving a comment can’t then edit or delete that comment or see a basic profile page with all the comments they have left.

What’s the main threat to WordPress these days?

I would think complexity is the main threat. WordPress has a fairly high level of it. There is a solid learning curve. Should some other site builder product manage to replicate most of what people use WordPress for with a higher level of simplicity, and manage to chip away at the mindshare of WordPress, maybe that’s a threat? I dunno. I admire WordPress for being a product of such scale, and heading off what would have become long term problems well before they are that big of problems. Having to self-host a site is a major one, and WordPress.com handled that. An editor experience that feels long in the tooth? Totally batted away with the block editor.

What are your recommendations for a WordPress novice?

Just install it and go for it. You don’t have to know a ton about programming to make that happen. That was my experience, anyway. I basically learned everything I know about building websites from getting WordPress installed ages ago and hacking at the files to see if I could get it to do the stuff I wanted.

How do you see the evolution of WordPress compared to, say, ten years ago? Is it on the right track?

It seems to be for me. The releases seem strong to me. As controversial as the block editor was, I’m very convinced it’s the thing that makes WordPress a dominant player for a long time to come.

What’s your honest opinion about the WordPress block editor? Does it bring any value, from a developer’s perspective?

It’s amazing. It’s the future. It makes writing and building pages in WordPress a pleasure. And the best part is that it’s absolutely core to WordPress. Buying into it doesn’t mean rolling the dice on some third-party thing you aren’t sure if you can count on in the long term. Even as someone who really only dabbles in custom WordPress development, I’ve managed to make some of my own blocks that have really helped our editorial and publishing process.

What do you think is the most efficient way to market an online product at this moment (be it a plugin, an app, an extension, even a blog)?

I wish I knew. If I knew exactly how it was done, I’m sure I’d be far more successful (in business growth terms) as I am now. But I do have one idea: blogging. Make some very valuable for free, build an audience around that, and sell them something that is related to how they know you in the first place. That something can be writing words that are useful to people and making them easy to find.

What’s your personal definition of a “quality website”?

One that is fast and accessible.

Apart from being a designer, you’re also a writer. What’s your personal definition of a “quality piece of content”?

There is a Frank Chimero post where he says the web has become a dumping ground for poor content. Just marketing-driven surface-level junk. He said of posts like that “One hardly gets the sensation of lived experience and professional acumen in the words” and now I’m obsessed with that phrase. When I read something, I want to feel your lived experience and feel like you are sharing something with me that you’ve lived.

How did you manage to create these amazing communities around both CSS-Tricks and CodePen over the years? What do you think was the key?

Perhaps one of them has just been keeping at it. None of the projects I work on are spring chickens. I get convinced they are a good idea (even if honestly they are probably just mediocre ideas) and then keep plugging away at it day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. If I do my best to tell people about then that long, I’m convinced eventually I can convince them.

Did the pandemic have any impact on your business (positive or negative)? Any measures you and your team had to take in this regard?

I’d estimate CSS-Tricks took at least a 25% hit or so in terms of advertising and sponsorship income. And nobody has any idea what COVID is going to do to the global economy moving forward. We’re still in the thick of it. One thing we’ve done is starting selling things via WooCommerce on the site. So we’ve got posters for sale (grid and flexbox) and a membership product that allows you to read my latest book.

Do you have any favorite tools you’re using often to streamline the website building process? Or simply great tools you want to recommend to developers.

I’m a big fan of Local by Flywheel. Hard to beat that for an incredibly easy to use way to spin up WordPress sites locally.

Are you part of any cool online/offline communities or groups? Can be about any topic, not necessarily career-related.

I’m fortunate to have some musicians locally that I play with just for fun. COVID has kinda halted that, so I’m very much looking forward to being able to get together with those people again. Same with our local JavaScript meetup. That’s been on a kind of forced hiatus.

Any design trends that you think will get all the hype in the upcoming years?

What is driving you to keep doing what you’re doing? What’s your personal mission?

I want to help people learn. I hope my experience and insight can benefit others. I want to build tools that make things easier for people. I want people to feel empowered like I feel empowered.

That sums up our Chris Coyier interview. If you enjoyed it and want to learn more, please leave your comments in the section below. Also, if you have any ideas for who we should talk to next, feel free to share your suggestions with us!

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