Making time to experiment

I have a similar feeling lately that I had just before learning CSS properly, right before dropping tables. It’s a feeling of change. A feeling that comes with almost a self sense of urgency to experiment and get my hands into the ‘new’.

I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that in the sense of themeing we are standing on the cusp of a really exciting time. But, there is always a but. It’s easy to sit back and rest on the holy trinity of PHP, HTML and CSS. We kid ourselves into being cutting edge when we just put one toe into jQuery. There is so much more. There is so much innovation we need to look outside the safety of themes. I am thrilled when I see experiments that push beyond the confines. I want to see more and do more myself. I want to shift my own blinkers off.

Designing for humans is a thread that runs throughout my life. My passion for design that is based in psychology will always be at the heart of what I create. I love equally psychology and design. I’ve always felt technology often put up barriers even when we tried to create designs that make sense for humans. Sure, we could get close, but often no cigar and often it was just a smoke cloud in the distance. Often we had to use tricks and half measures. This is changing. That is exciting. Interfaces are more reactive, more intuitive and we are only just getting started. I’m so excited how much closer we can get using the advances and techniques.

The big hurdle is as always time. I put a self mental hurdle on myself with JavaScript. Recently I’ve been working through that with a lot of success. I’m seeing a light in a tunnel but it’s only the first light bulb in a long tunnel. This first glimpse though is making me even more feel the pang of wanting to experiment. The urge to poke a few what ifs and see what happens.

Time is weird, I found this by setting learning time aside each week to get over my jsphobia. Time seems to increase when you focus it. I’ve had success in the past with scheduling focused time. I’ve done this in the past with design and with other skills I wanted to focus on. So, I’ve decided to set myself an experimenting challenge. I’m going to spend an hour a day, just playing with some new script or technique that I can use in themes. Let the fun begin!

Knitting as meditation

One of the big things I have focused on this year is doing more offline things. As a result I have rediscovered knitting. Whilst this has helped in logging me off its also had an unexpected benefit. I’ve found that by knitting a little at night my brain churns through things and unclogs itself.

I’ve always been convinced where my brain is concerned it is a case of letting me in on the thinking somewhere near the end, than an active thinker. I tend to get stuff swirling around brain and after it does the rounds of my neurons, at some undetermined point it pops up with an actionable. This has its benefits and drawbacks. I tend to most of the time be in a 70% pondering state. Doesn’t help focus and adds to my already natural state of permadistraction.

I’ve experimented with meditation. The most I’ve ever managed to keep up is tied to my yoga practice. I find sitting still akin to torture. Hatha yoga is about as passive as my brain can handle. I’m that fidgety kid at heart, not doing makes me almost have to distract myself even with an itch.

My brain I have come to learn over the years doesn’t like to be rushed. It isn’t fond of on the stop thinking, nor a fan of rapid fire questions. Words and me aren’t always friends when time is poor. As a result my thinking times tend to be on the dawdling side. I’ll get there but be a while before anything worth sharing brews.

For me finding a way of depondering my brain and getting those thoughts out in a timely manner is a great benefit. I don’t want to force myself or rush the process though, that never ends well for me. I’ve discovered for me, knitting is oddly a perfect meditation tool.

When I knit my mind whirls into action. I get wave upon wave of thoughts and this ebbs and flows as things come into focus. Often after knitting I will find I write notes, enter to do tasks or in one shot write a blog post like this.

Perhaps it comes down to both the logging off and the action. This may be why sitting still meditation and me never were a good fit. A few years ago I started using beads on my wrist to calm myself in groups. It works really well, but as a side effect helps me muster my brain a bit in the difficult one on one quick fire times. Knitting is a little like that, I’m doing something so my brain is able to free wheel.

Whatever the reason though, I’m enjoying the ability to sort my thoughts out each day. I’m finding it increases my productivity too. A clogged distracted brain is not so useful. In conjunction with the nightly task list dumping I do, I’m getting more out there than stuck in my head.

2014 goals

This year has already kicked off at a rate. The very fact that I find myself writing my goal post several days already into this year proves the point.

I made a lot of life changes in 2013 and feel that 2014 is more about consolidating where the non web life is concerned. This is my list:

  • Attend a yoga class once a week. I do yoga every morning but for a while haven’t found a class that’d fits locally. I want to change this and grow in my yoga study.
  • Do an hour of Codeschool a day. Specific goals are SASS and JavaScript
  • Release at least 2 themes myself into the WordPress theme repo. This will be in my own time and something I want to do for myself outside of work. Whilst I’ve been part of groups theme projects that did and in previous jobs submitted themes for those; I’ve not done one in my own time and I think will be a good experience. I have some fun ideas I’d like to play with.
  • Blog more. I’m not setting a time or number as quite frankly this seems the ‘kiss of death’ whenever I do. I’m opting for a simple more.
  • Release a plugin. I am not totally decided what I’ll do yet but have a few ideas and know this will be a great process for me to go through.
  • This last one is a mutal goal with my husband, we plan on selling our car. Once we move our goal is to not need the car. This will decrease our outgoings and increase our exercise.

2013 in review

It’s that time of year between tinsel and party poppers, where we all reflect on the past year and look to the next. I’ve had an amazing year of ups and real downs. It’s been a year with some new places visited and some great new people met. So, grab yourself a cup of whatever seasonal you are drinking and here is what happened in 2013 for me.

Personal life

I was in two minds about including a personal slant to this year review. I tend to not do personal blog posts. However, I feel that the impact made this year by personal things means my review of the year would be missing a part of my story.

The year 2013 for me started with mixed feelings. My husband was throughout the holiday season in and out of hospital just as he had been most of the later part of that year. He has Chrons disease and it decided to remind us both of it’s existence by going into flare (the term for Chrons when it’s active). It made life a weird experience for me in 2013 as at times it looked likely he wouldn’t be with us much longer. I was lucky to travel, got to do amazing projects – but it all happened with a haze of what was happening with him. He’s still not working but on the long road to recovery.

We’ve decided to move back to Brighton. Far too long ago we lived there and I’ve missed the place for ages. Finally in August we went back to start house hunting. This had a bit of a pause during my trial at Automattic but we’re now looking at a Spring move and I’m getting really excited about it finally happening. We’re attempting to do it with as little stress so taking our time but the urge to just live under the pier and get the move done is tempting.

Events and conferences

If I thought I did a lot of speaking in 2012, I topped that in 2013. I was lucky enough to speak at several WordCamps: Norway, San Francisco, Europe, London. I made it to the BuddyCamp in Miami and spoke. I also spoke at two conferences: Future of web design, and The Digital Barn. I also attended Naconf, UX Munich, dConstruct and WordCamp Miami.

I got to see behind the curtain by being one of the organisers of WordCamp Europe. This was a truly incredible experience. I didn’t quite realise what I was getting involved in – not sure any of us did. I kept throughout the entire event wander if this was really happening.


This year I had an unexpected commissioning to write a book about BuddyPress theme development. This was an experience that had good and bad sides to it. I don’t think there is ever a good time to write a book, this one taught me so much about time management and pushed my boundaries.


Last year I set myself the goal of contributing more to WordPress and BuddyPress. Life seemed to want to get in the way of this goal on several occasions. I had successes and failures – kind of a pattern for 2013.

The biggest fail probably has been my WordPress contributions and this is in the sense of follow throughs. This was a year of life getting in the way when I got into projects. This happened with the NUX for the mobile app and then revisions UI. The good thing about open source is people forgive you dropping balls. I’m going to try and learn though from this and not drop any in 2014. I’m glad of the contributions I made but hate that I didn’t get a chance to follow through. Sometimes though I had to accept this year that life outside the internet is more important.

BuddyPress wise, whilst not a failure (yet) the template pack didn’t make 1.9. This was sad as I was leading this and feel if I had been able to drive it a bit more it may have got in. I’m ok about it and doing what I can to slowly get it towards a state for inclusion in 2.0. I guess my big lesson in 2013 was to have patience with myself and give time for everything.


I started 2013 freelance and end it in a full time role at Automattic. I couldn’t be happier but also couldn’t have predicted this happening. I am now about to hit a month next week in my new role as a theme wrangler. I’ve already been on a team meet up and been the most welcome I’ve ever felt of any job. I’m excited where this chapter of my life will take me, what I’m going to create, who I am going to meet and what I am going to learn.

Everyone at Automattic does 3 weeks happiness training. My happiness training has given me a renewed insight into supporting users and the assumptions we make as theme creators, developers and designers. These assumptions create barriers, frustration and confusion. The themes we create can become a life line through being on sites that give people a voice. We sometimes forget that.

What’s next?

Rather than include that here, I am going to do a post this coming week of goals for 2014. I feel we’re dangerously close to needing a refill of that seasonal drink to read any further.

I am becoming a theme wrangler at Automattic

It is with great pleasure that today I start my journey as a theme wrangler at Automattic. I’m thrilled to be starting on an exciting journey where I can grow as a themer and be part of something amazing.

The past few months have seen me lucky enough to be on trial at Automattic. This is a really incredible way to really allow everyone to ‘try before they buy’. I’ve been juggling this trial with WordCamp Europe and projects, so it’s been a challenge but one I am pleased to have been able to do.

I got to not only meet the theme team at WordCamp London but also the few days before and after attend their meetup. I was made to feel so welcome and now I am really keen to get started.

I’m proud to say that as of today I am an Automattician.

WordCamp Europe is a happening, come join the fun

I’m pleased to be part of those helping organising a new type of WordCamp this October. On the 5th-7th October the first WordCamp Europe will take place in Leiden. This should be an amazing event and the start hopefully of an event that will see other countries host it in years to come.

Last year I got to visit Leiden along with some of the other founders of WordCamp Europe as part of Ready to Inspire. I was lucky enough to speak there and the venue I can vouch for as jaw dropping and an incredible experience to stand on stage at. It’s a really cool place to visit and has a very chilled vibe but great food and drinking.

Along with helping design wise with the organisation, I am also speaking at the conference. I’m really pleased to be talking also about something a little different and that’s the life of a theme. It’s going to be a bit of a different talk for me and I’m really pleased to have the chance to give it. I’m focusing quite literally on my design process and how I create themes.

I hope to see many old and new faces at WordCamp Europe. If you’ve not got a ticket I can highly recommend it as a chance to enjoy some good times with the European side of the WordPress family.

Reclaiming photography

I’ve started a new blog in an attempt to move a lot of my photography from Flickr and my disk drives into one place. Photography has always been a reoccurring part to my life and I am merging them into one place now. You can find my new photography blog here at ‘Lens Karma’.

As part of this move I am going to try and start photo blogging a bit more – I love doing it but tend to never publish my images sticking them on my drives or hidden intermittently in Flickr. I’m slowly adding a selection of my photographs to Lens Karma over the next few weeks. In addition I’m bringing some of my hand developed images I scanned in a few years ago into the blog which is a fun thing to do as a lot of them have never been online.

My plan is to have a photo blog category along with over time add selected images. It should be fun and whilst I enjoy Flickr there is nothing like reclaiming your own content.

WordCamp San Francisco 2013 amazing

I’m now back home after a really awesome few days away at WordCamp San Francisco 2013. My mind is buzzing despite the jet lag and I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced the awesome that this weekend was.

My first day in San Francisco saw me at the amazing Automattic offices catching up with old faces and meeting new ones. It really was great to have the opportunity to go through my talk the day before and get to hear Siobhan’s talk as mine was going to be on at the same time. I got some excellent feedback that meant a few refinements to my talk and I feel made it better.

I spoke about ‘Beyond the default – Explorations and Experiments in BuddyPress‘ in the first slot, my slides are up here. I’m humbled by the reactions I got and feel so lucky to have had the chance to speak. It was a really personal subject for me as I was showing my sketches and ideas. I’m glad I did it and having the first slot of the day worked out really well as I was then set to enjoy the awesome next few days.

Picking out talks is hard as the entire experience was incredible. However, some particular talks really impacted me. Ian Stewart’s talk ‘(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Themes, Love, and Understanding‘, Alison Barrett’s ‘Lessons Learned in Unit Testing‘ and John James Jacoby’s ‘Beyond the Blog with BuddyPress and bbPress‘ all stood out for me. Ian’s talk struck a chord with my thinking about themes, Alison’s talk about unit tests was on a level that really gave me a good starting point I’d not had before and John showed some awesome examples of BuddyPress and bbPress along with bravely opened up the floor to any questions not just on his talk.

After the main conference there was the contribution day. Before that I had a lovely themers breakfast which I would like to say a large thank you for being invited to. I spent most of the day working in the BB cave (we had a room for BuddyPress and bbPress) on the new template pack for 1.9. Towards the end of the day we shifted gear and started working on some ideas for and specifically how to show off the components. It was an amazing day and we got new contributions to BuddyPress which rocks.

I hope I have the pleasure to go again to WordCamp San Francisco. I’d like to say thanks to all the old and new faces I met. It was so amazing I think most of the trip back to England I had a huge grin on my face. My brain is trying to process all the amazing of the trip despite it’s brain fog. I’ve got so many new ideas buzzing around I hope to write about them later in this week. I feel energised, recharge, enthused and ready to get into some projects.

A blogging challenge

Blogs are hard to keep going, we all know that. Over the past few years this blog has experienced ups and downs in terms of my posting. As of today I am taking part in a WordPress blogging challenge. Mario laid down the gauntlet to start blogging 3 times a week.

I’m excited about joining in with the challenge. This week I am going to be doing a large amount of travelling as I head towards WordCamp San Francisco. I plan on using this time to churn out a few posts.

Is your blog feeling unloved? Maybe come and join us as it’s open for anyone to join. We can all unite together, breathe some life into our blogs and pass on some WordPress thoughts and knowledge.

Speaking at WordCamp San Francisco

I was all set for a calm summer thinking this year couldn’t get more roller coaster than it was and then bamn! I was accepted to speak at WordCamp San Francisco. I’ll have to admit when I applied I clicked the send button not expecting to speak. I’m truly grateful to get a chance to speak.

I’ll be talking about something that’s of a personal interest to me which is slightly different from some of my talks in the past. My topic is “Beyond the default – explorations and experiments in BuddyPress”. This builds on some of the things I’ve done over at buddydesignlabs and also a lot on my current thoughts of a need to break away from the same patterns community design has fallen into.

I hope to see others there and put some faces to the amazing people in the community. If you see me around please do come and say hi. I’d love to meet as many people are possible both new and old. I’m also really looking forward to joining in with the contribution day and working on some fun things.