Flat statt Platt – An Interview with our theme developers

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There is a new shop theme in the WordPress ecosystem, and it carries an auspicious name: Hamburg. We spoke with the two theme authors Nick Jantschke and Caspar Hübinger about WordPress, themes, and the future of responsive web design. About “Flat statt Platt”: Plattdeutsch is a language, spoken in northern Germany and also Hamburg. This shows that we have choosen flat design instead of northern German design.

Hey, Nick and Caspar! To begin with: How did you come to actually WordPress?

Nick: Puhh … about 5-6 years ago I was looking for a content management system. I tried a few that were just starting at that time. Used Joomla to built a community site, but I always found it quite error prone. So I looked for something easier to use and came across WordPress, around version 2.1. It was completely new territory, but it was fun, relatively easy to understand and also easy to handle for my clients. at WordPress Germany there was a lot of help and support. So I stuck with it.

Caspar: I’m just trying to google when I registered the first domain that then ran on WordPress … Must have been just before version 2.0. I was a complete newcomer, no about programming whatsoever. Then my brother finished his studies and traveled around the world, and I set up a blog for him. So I ended up with WordPress and quickly realized what an awesome piece of software it is. Whatever I know about WordPress code, I have mostly learned in Frank Bültge’s blog and from Toscho on WPSE.

Before Hamburg, how many themes have you built?

Nick: Must have been sixty to seventy.

Caspar: Same for me probably. Nick and I have worked together for the first time, and it’s great fun. We seem to complement one another really well—especially since at Inpsyde we can rely on invaluable support from the dev corner.

Nick: Yes, it’s just that Caspar and I have build themes for years, but always for clients, never for the public. It’s a great experience for us to take our work outside now! 😉

What’s up with the name – Hamburg?

Caspar: Many themes are named after their functions, according to what they are good at. Like “Shop Theme XY”. We wanted a naming scheme from the beginning, sort of an “Edition”–may well be there is more to come from that direction. 😉

In regards to a scheme we quickly ended up with cities. And Hamburg was simply the first, also because being an old Hanseatic city it has a clear reference to the shop feature. Trading was a main topic for us right from the start, since the them should be WooCommerce-ready. It is now.

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What is so special about this theme?

Nick: Hamburg is fluffy and light-weight, looking rather simple, and actually is. It’s modern, designed and coded according to current standards—keyword: responsive web design—and it’s fun to be worked with!

Hamburg is a straight-forward blog theme, and additionally it also can be used “out of the box” for setting up an online shop with WooCommerce and WooCommerce German Market.

Caspar: Hamburg for me is, just like the city itself, a beauty. No frills, no fidgeting, straight lines, clear edges, plenty of space. A solid, elegant stand-alone theme, not a framework! It actually looks pretty simple when you just look at it. But take a peek under it’s skirt, you come across many little extras you didn’t notice before, particularly not as a user. For example, a very clear set of theme options which you as an admin have to take relatively little notice of.

There are those “un-themes” with huuuuuuge options interfaces where you can spend literally the whole day trying to configure your theme. Hamburg is the exact opposite: it simply decides a lot on its own. It knows, for example, whether a post image has portrait or landscape format and whether its width is sufficient to allow for it to flow over the entire content width.

Caspar: Hamburg for me is, just like the city itself, a beauty.

Regarding to customization Hamburg focusses completely on solidity—namely Child Themes: If something in your themes really bothers you, you always have the “option” to set up a Child Theme. Much like WooCommerce, Hamburg provides a practical template structure for that purpose.

What should users actually look at when they purchase a theme?

Caspar: O well, the eternal dilemma … 😉 In principle, that question doesn’t only go to theme buyers, but to consumers in general. Whether you buy a coffee machine, or a car, or a theme: your decisions can only be as good as your own understanding of the matter.

There are a few clear indications of when a theme can cause trouble, and overloaded option pages are one. If a theme brings a lot of functionality that has little to do with the presentation of content, be careful. For example: a theme provides custom SEO functionality. How future proof can an approach like that be possibly? To what degree to does it make a website’s success dependent on the theme? Once you disable the theme, the functions are gone, too, and talking SEO features you’ll need to replace theme quickly or it can really hurt.

So one important question you should ask yourself before buying a theme would be: what belongs in a theme and what belongs in a plugin? Basically, a theme is responsible for the presentation of content. Period. Everything else belongs into plugins. Those “jack of all trades” themes are obviously tempting, because as a user you think: “Ha, everything is in it, how darn practical!”. Unfortunately, you’re likely to pay a price for all the convenient UI galore when it’s time to change the theme.

Nick: To me, there’s nothing worse than overloaded setting pages for themes that you’re bound to ruin your design with, because you don’t know where to customize anything. Commercial themes usually do have a demo site, but no demo login for the backend for you to see how the theme settings really look like.

I’ve had many clients who had bought a theme and would hire me to customize it for them. Customizing a complex piece of code obviously can cost quite a lot, both, time and money. It’s just not done paying $30 for the theme, but you’re likely to end up at $300.

Nick: So we wanted Hamburg to present as few settings as possible for the user.

So we wanted Hamburg to present as few settings as possible for the user. Larger customization should be done via templates and Child Themes, which leaves you with less settings in the backend. You might actually buy a theme just because it looks the way you want it—yet often times, when you’ve installed the theme nothing seems look good in any way at all! So you spend hours configuring a commercial theme to make it look god instead of doing what you should be doing. That’s one kind of experience we’re trying to change to the better.

From your point of view: do you see a current trend in web design and theme development?

Nick: Flat design has become very popular again, obviously. However, I think for someone doing classy 3D work or using shadows in their designs very accurately, it might be a wrong decision to move over to flat style. Shadows shouldn’t disappear completely, either, since they are important for the eye to represent dimensions.

Basically, I believe design should simplify things. Flat design is an art to me—we just need to use it wisely.

Caspar: “Decisions, not options”

Caspar: Regarding theme development, there is a very clear trend towards keeping it simple. Top theme developers such as Ian Steward have long recognized how options should be used as sparingly as possible. There is that kind of new mantra for theme authors and WordPress developers in general that has been around for a while now: “Decisions, not options”. It’s an appeal to responsible theme authors to create their themes so they “think along”, and remove the need for a user decision where it is reasonable and appropriate. Has a lot to do with loving your theme’s users when you think of it.

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What comes to your mind when you think od responsive web design?

Caspar: This theme is completely responsive and accessible, too. Our colleague Thomas Scholz (@Toscho) who has also contributed significantly to the PHP programming of the theme, has been a huge help with accessibility issues. The man has just knows ​​WordPress a lot! Take a peek into the inc directory, you’ll probably still see his smoking footprints. 😉

Nick: I’ve seen responsive themes, also WooCommerce-ready themes, that were rather complicated. What we’ve done with Hamburg should be easier by far. Caspar has recently shared this infographic on the negative impact of mobile shopping experiences. With Hamburg, I believe, we’re contributing to the fun side of mobile shopping.


Interviewer: Manuel Schmutte. Read this post in German.

Theme Hamburg is visually and functionally compatible with WooCommerce and runs also with our plugin WooCommerce German MarketWooCommerce Role Based Prices Multilingual Press.

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WordPress-Evangelist, Communicator & Marketing-Dude at Inpsyde, MarketPress and WordPress Deutschland

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