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Interview with Blog Designer – Chris Pearson

Posted By Darren Rowse 6th of August 2008 Blog Design 0 Comments

One of my favorite blog designers is Chris Pearson – the designer behind the newly released Thesis premium WordPress theme (which I reviewed here).

Chris has consistently produced great blog designs over the last few years so after the launch of Thesis I thought it would be worthwhile to do a short interview with him here at ProBlogger to talk about Thesis and blog design. I hope you enjoy this interview.

1. There are a lot of WP themes out there – why did you create Thesis?

After selling Cutline in March of 2007, I began to realize that I really missed fostering and interacting with a community of users. Running a theme and being immersed in the development, use, and feedback cycle is a uniquely fulfilling experience, and I suppose I finally came to terms with the idea that maybe this is what I ought to be doing.

Also, I spent the latter half of 2007 learning how to create dynamic sites with PHP, and in doing so, I began to realize some of the untapped potential of the WordPress theme market. The platform is set up in such a way that you can literally build just about anything you want, and I’m convinced that idea has legs. Because of this, I decided it was time to build Thesis and get movin’!

2. What part of Thesis most excited you as you were designing it? What is exciting those who are using it most?

For me, the most exciting thing about Thesis (and developing themes in general) is the idea that I can give users more functionality and more control over their sites than they’ve ever had. When a user who has little or no knowledge of HTML and CSS can use an options panel to accomplish tasks that would normally require coding, that’s a big deal. The sky is really the limit here, so as a developer, I find that to be a huge source of motivation.

I think my users are keen on the idea that I want them to be able to control even the finest details of their site, and that’s probably the thing that excites them the most. They want to know what elements of control they’re going to have next, and I’m just as excited to produce those elements as they are to receive them.

3. How much development can we expect to see on Thesis as a theme? Or will you be spending more time developing other themes?

thesis-jennae-peterson.pngI’ve still got tons of ideas for Thesis, so I fully expect to be developing it for quite some time. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I’m not even 40% finished with the functionality that I eventually want to achieve. In spite of this, I’m going to begin introducing new frameworks in August, and eventually, DIYthemes will offer an outfit of code platforms that should be adequate for just about any type of Website.

4. Where do you see blog design going in the next 12 months?

Blog design as we know it is going to change entirely, and this is probably the most compelling (and controversial) aspect of the philosophy behind DIYthemes. At this point, everyone is familiar with the notion of a “custom blog design,” but with each passing day, paying for a fully customized design (which includes code) is becoming a far less intelligent choice for bloggers and Webmasters alike. Not only is custom design prohibitively expensive for all but the most successful bloggers, but also, the odds of any designer/developer nailing a functional, flexible, easy-to-modify codebase from scratch on the first iteration are a zillion to one. In other words, it’s not going to happen.

Essentially, this means that people who have fully customized designs end up with far less functionality than people whose designs are “skins” of a battled-tested framework like Thesis. Because of this, the future of blog design is a complete abstraction of design and code. In this type of environment, designers can stick to pure design, which is something they’re way more qualified to do. In addition, savvy designers can develop a working knowledge of a few quality WordPress frameworks, thereby allowing them to focus on the art of skinning them for clients.

When people are able to focus on the things they do best, you end up with more efficient, cost-effective solutions all around. My goal with DIYthemes is to help push Web design (and Webmastering, for that matter) in this direction.

5 . What 3 blogs using Thesis do you think are using it best?

thesis-eric-scouten.pngLisa Firke (pictured top right) is a really talented designer who quickly grasped the concept of abstracted customization, which is something I’ve tried to push to the forefront with Thesis. Her site is a perfect example of how you can leverage a working knowledge of CSS to produce a unique design that is simply a “skin” of a solid WordPress framework.

Jennae Petersen (picture middle right) runs an awesome site about green (eco-friendly) home decor, and she has really taken to the art of creating a unified design “brand” with Thesis. She makes liberal use of in-post styling elements and images to help shore up her brand, and as a result, her site looks to be far removed from the humble framework it rests upon.

Finally, I’d like to point out Eric Scouten (pictured right), a photographer and developer who works on Adobe’s Lightroom software. He’s used Thesis in a pretty unique way on his site, modifying it to power his portfolio, photoblog, and blog sections. On top of that, the site just looks fantastic, and I think it deserves a mention on that basis alone.

Check out the Thesis Theme Here

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. I am pleasantly surprised to see Green Your Decor featured in your interview with Chris! I love Thesis, and because of the functionality and ease of use, I have been able to create a look that is truly my own, despite being based on the same framework as every other site that uses Thesis. I am a graphic designer by trade, but focused mostly on print before my foray into blogging. Even with my limited knowledge of CSS, and before Chris introduced the new version of Thesis with the dashboard, I was able to make changes fairly easily. I’ll have to Tweet Chris a thanks for the mention :)

  2. “Not only is custom design prohibitively expensive for all but the most successful bloggers, but also, the odds of any designer/developer nailing a functional, flexible, easy-to-modify codebase from scratch on the first iteration are a zillion to one.”

    So, Chris hits this magical “one” every time with his themes?

    “now you have the chance to earn back those license fees you paid out when you signed up for Thesis”

    If I go to a website and I see that it looks almost exactly the same in design/layout as another site I’ve previously been to and I see ads on that site.. I’ve already moved on to another site. I am a firm believer in custom design. If you want to stand out amongst your competition/peers then you need originality, not a theme. Learning HTML, CSS, and some minor PHP is not difficult and I would encourage every blogger to do so (especially if you love trial and error). Why not empower yourself with more functionality, flexibility, and independence from “code monkeys”?

    Learning to do these things on your own isn’t an easy task. There are many websites, forums, IRC channels, etc. out there that will help you for nothing. It will take time and patience but the reward is so much greater than just slapping someone else’s theme on your site.

    At the end of the day, someone is still paying someone else for something. If you’re going to pay anyways, why not pay for it to be original? Better yet, learn to do it yourself. That’s the real future of where blogging is going. The designer/coder is the middleman sitting between the author/creator and the user. Middlemen never last.

    Just some thoughts…

  3. Love Thesis! I used Cutline for the longest time on my music blog and loved it. Anything designed by Chris Pearson is definitely worth the money, especially for the support alone. Lord knows I’m no WP whiz…lol

  4. Darren, after your review I visited the Thesis website and in the meantime reconsidered my decision claiming that I don’t have plans on changing my blog design. Well, I probably will purchase the Thesis theme very soon. It looks great and comes with excellent support. I’m also thinking of integrating my website and blog into one website with the same Thesis design, a bit the same way Eric Scouten did.

  5. I LOVE Thesis. I tried three other themes, hemming and hawing the whole time. After five minutes with Thesis, I was in love. And though I still want to tweak it (I’m quite new to the process) I was confident enough to launch my blog two days after my purchase. Thank you Chris.

  6. As a new Thesis user, I am impressed by the flexibility of the design, the ability to mold it to my needs with hardly any programming at all, and the intelligent way it is set up.

    I have used Chris Pearson’s themes in the past, and it’s interesting to see his evolution as a designer. I am excited to think what he will be doing in the future!

  7. If only I used WP :o

    I’ll admit I’m a surprised how many people use WordPress, but I’m in my programming bubble when I think that. Since I created my own CMS system to run my blogs, it just feels easier to design / code myself instead of hacking up somebody else’s code.

  8. What’s most impressive about the three examples is that they don’t appear to be based on the same platform at all. And Chris, I like your notion about the DIY model. A blog isn’t static so why should its design be?

    Since starting to blog in late June I’ve tried two free themes with less than stellar results. Ultimately it boils down to whether I can add the functions I want without being some kind of expert in css. You make a really compelling case here for Thesis.

  9. This is awesome. It’s about time someone really started to embrace the potential in WordPress themes. I’ve been looking for a theme for my new blog and while I can certainly build my own, I really don’t want to. I’ve been hoping for a magazine style theme that would provide good flexibility and ease of use but still allow me to expand/customize it where necessary. Thesis looks like a great candidate and knowing Chris’s reputation it’ll only get better. Great job. I too am excited to see where this goes.

  10. I love thesis and was planning to purchase it. But, today Chris replied to one of my comments on his personal blog.. and he said he will be releasing his current theme on pearsonified.com, as a premium theme ….. I think I am going to purchase that one when he releases it… :)

  11. Eric Scouten’s blog looks more like he copied the design of Jim Whimpey (http://valhallaisland.com/) than the Thesis theme.

  12. Dinu — The Pearsonified theme will likely debut sometime before the end of 2008, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for it :D

    Rob — Thesis should really be thought of as a code framework and not a design. Eric’s code is completely based on Thesis, and his work is a great example of what you can accomplish with the platform. It is in no way a copy of Jim Whimpey’s site; the code used to generate the final result is completely different!

  13. Darren, if your done kissing up to Chris, how about you highlight some of the better alternatives presented in the original review posts comments.

  14. I really wasn’t that impressed with the blog design he recently did. It really looks too simple and there isn’t a lot you can do with it. I do want to say that there are many blogs that look alike someone say he copied anyone. It is hard to have a completely the original blog design.

  15. Hi Darren,

    Nice interview. As you know, I’ve been struggling whether or not to update my design for various reasons. The most crucial one, whether it appeals enough to visitors, hence make them stick around.

    If any of you Problogger readers want to have a look and share your opinion on the current design, lay-out and colour scheme, by all means be my guest.

    I’ve been on Chris Pearson’s site on multiple occasions, checked out most of the sites in the showcase. I’ll probably buy it soon anyway, even before he comes up with a glossy version.

    The only consideration I still have: if it becomes too popular because it’s so good, won’t it be too much of the same soon around the net? Or are the customisation options that big that people won’t even notice?

    For instance, a point of recognition I came across several times are those brackets around the blog title, among others.


  16. Thesis is quite a cool word press theme, which i do have it in my collection. hope he continues to give more beautiful blog designs.

  17. Absolute props to Chris on the Thesis theme. Since installing it on my site, Chris and the rest of the Thesis community have been super helpful in assisting someone like me with customization and other tips & tricks.

    I know just enough about HTML and CSS to be dangerous, and it’s been very rewarding to have a WP theme/framework that is easily customizable and user-friendly while still being SEO friendly.

    Thanks, Chris, for a great theme, and thanks, Darren, for posting this interview.

  18. I’m totally new to WordPress. I’ve never looked into it but it sounds user friendly and flexible enough.

    I know very little about html but I do get a kick out of building my own site. I doubt that more than a handful of surfers will ever say that I got a nice looking site though.

    But there is an enormous amount of satisfaction in having tried and failed over and over again and finally got it all looking ok and running – is a wonderful high!

    Design is probably much more important to online success that I will ever accept. I want my site to have soul and that means designing and reworking it myself.

    After all, I suppose WordPress has its place…

  19. To put it simply, that’s a damn fine WordPress theme. I might just even go ahead and get one right now. Looks great. It’s very tastefully designed, and I also like the options thingy – because I don’t like the coding.


  20. Just to throw my 2¢ worth in … the theme really is as malleable as advertised. It gave me the roots of what I wanted to do, took care of a lot of the gnarly typographical details in a way that made me happy. And – for the most part – it got out of the way when I wanted to change the page layout.

  21. @Adam: “If I go to a website and I see that it looks almost exactly the same in design/layout as another site I’ve previously been to and I see ads on that site.. I’ve already moved on to another site. I am a firm believer in custom design. If you want to stand out amongst your competition/peers then you need originality, not a theme.”

    I’d say you’re in the minority. People come to blogs for content, not layout. Even though I’ve hacked the hell out of Cutline, I would’ve been quite happy to use it as-is if the default layout suited my purposes. I’ve never thought about whether or not it looked like other blogs; I just wanted something less cluttered but still aesthetic, even if it sits on a recognizable scaffolding.

    Thank you, Chris, for Cutline. It may not be under your ownership anymore, but it’s still your masterpiece.

  22. Nice looking theme. There’s a few good ones out there.

  23. The way Chris answering comment thread is awesome. That will reduce the needs of installing comment plugins.

  24. I’ve been looking for a new theme – I love this one, thanks for posting this, I came across it at the perfect time!

  25. Ah, so here’s where all that new traffic in my referral logs has been coming from! I’m flattered to be included among Chris’ three highlights….

    And, great news that more DIYthemes are in the pipeline. Thesis has already proved helpful to me with my clients and a variety of frameworks can only help me expand on that.

  26. I have always been a big fan of Chris’s themes and his blog. He makes theme building look easy. Thank you for the interview.

  27. Thesis is one of the best flowing themes out there. I do like how people are starting to adapt it more and more.

  28. Chris Pearsons blog has one of the best design I’ve ever seen, and his Thesis theme is no exception. However I do prefer designing and coding my own themes since that gives me much more control over what I’d like to do with them.

  29. I actually use Thesis on my blog and its the best. It user friendly and people say it looks way better than my previous design. I agree!! Thanks Chris

  30. I might be missing something, but shouldn’t a modern website ensure total separation between structure (html layout), style (css), functionality (wordpress/plugins) and content (the blogger)? It sounds like (and I might be wrong) the developer is advocating incorporation of functionality?

    I’ve noticed a strange trend whereby WP theme producers are building in functionality into their themes. Surely this should be abstracted out and designed as a generic WP plugin?

    By tying the functionality to the theme doesn’t that then limit your flexibility to switch theme massively? By adding that functionality to a plugin all users of WordPress can make use of your work and this has obvious advantages!

    This is how other CMS systems successfully operate, for example my CMS of choice (e107.org) ensures total separation of all these factors, themes control the layout and the functionality plugs seamlessly and generically into any and all themes. Any one of these can be altered instantly through back end admin controls. You can change the theme without losing any of the additional coding benefits that this WP theme might have.

  31. wow nice interview, thanks for your article. keep going…..

  32. A few weeks ago I decided to create a new blog. I knew I wanted to be part of the crowd that was using WordPress, figuring if everyone else was using it at least I wouldn’t be alone. Then I tried out all the themes available on a free hosted account on wordpress.com. I wasn’t really happy with any of them.

    So I went looking for an alternative theme and this article was one of the pages I read. In hindsight, this interview was probably the thing that influenced me the most to purchase the Thesis theme. In fact, I bought the developer version and have used it on a couple of sites.

    Since this original interview, Chris Pearson released version 1.1 of Thesis, which introduced even more options accessible from the WordPress Admin interface. Now it is incredibly easy to choose the number of columns you want in your layout (1, 2, or 3 columns), the size of those columns, the font and font sizes for various elements, etc. I think we will start to see blog sites with even more variety, all based on the framework provided by Thesis.

    So thank you for this interview, Darren. It definitely swung me in the direction of purchasing Thesis, and I’m very happy that I did so. I think Chris has the right idea in providing more of a framework than a fixed design, providing more power to the user without having to fiddle with PHP code, and providing as much functionality and flexibility as possible within one WP theme, rather than making bloggers choose from among a confusing variety of themes.

    Will Thesis become the one theme that rules them all? I don’t know. But I don’t think that’s a bad goal to have.

  33. Love Thesis! Don’t use them, but can appreciate the quality.

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