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This week I had the opportunity to talk with Joan Donogh of Divi Diva, where she creates child themes for Divi, and In Formation Design where she creates websites for clients.

I sent Joan a list of questions about WordPress and developing for Divi and she responded with detailed answers about her design process and some development tips. So here for your enjoyment is the Joan Donogh interview!

1. How long have you been developing for WordPress and how did you get started?

I have been developing for WordPress for 10 years. I am usually bad with time spans, but I know this because when I logged in to wordpress.org a while ago, I noticed that the “member since” date was 10 years ago!

A lot has changed in the past 10 years. Back then it was mainly a blogging platform. I think I just started playing around with it on the side, while creating static HTML websites for customers. Gradually they started adding more features, like pages and menus, and it became possible to build a complete website with WordPress. Obviously this had an advantage as clients were starting to want to edit their own websites, rather than having to depend on the designer to make small changes.

2. What is your favorite part of the design and development process?

I like figuring out and learning new things. I get an idea for something I want to do, or see a feature somewhere else that I want to see if I can make work with Divi – getting it to work, I think that is my favorite part.

My least favorite – sometimes I think if I have to make one more “contact us” form, I am going to scream!

3. How would you describe your design style?

I would describe it as clean and simple. I have always been about presenting information in a clear and concise manner.

4. How do you approach an idea for a new product?

Many of my themes are based around work I have done in the past for clients, so I know what those clients were looking for. In addition, I do lots of research into existing websites in that genre: what do they have in common, what pages, what type of content? So I can try and produce a website framework that will be useful to people in that field, and they can get up and running by filling in their content.

5. Do you find that you lean toward certain genres?

I guess I am more of a generalist than some developers who have specialized in one particular area. My child themes seem to cover a fairly broad range of topics.

6. Do you get a lot of requests for certain designs and features?

No, not really. So far I have just done what I have been inspired to do (which is one of my favorite things about developing child themes). When I first started developing child themes, I had three themes in mind, which were the first three themes I did: for vacation properties, real estate agents and food bloggers. After I completed those three I wasn’t sure what I would do next, but I look around at different things and an idea for a new child theme will come to me.

7. What are you working on now?

I am just in the planning stages of a new child theme right now.

8. What are some of your design and development favorite tools and why do you like them?

I started designing websites in the “olden days”. Back then we used to do the complete page design to scale (there was no such thing as “responsive design”) and “slice” the design into separate GIF or JPEG files and fit the pieces into table cells to build the website. Now with Divi I don’t do a layout beforehand – I just make a rough sketch of the sections I want and jump right into Divi to start working.

I have just started using Trello boards to keep track of ideas. I have a general board with ideas for different child theme topics that I am thinking of creating, and different design ideas that I see elsewhere (like I might see something on a website and think – hey that would make a good Divi blurb). Also different ideas for features I see that could be adapted to Divi (e.g. Tympanus is a good source of ideas for animations and hover effects).

When I start researching a new child theme I create a new board to keep track of what pages I want to include, content, colors, features and functionality, design and layout ideas. I was doing all of this in Google docs, but that wasn’t very elegant, and so far Trello seems to be working quite well to try and keep me organized.

And of course Chrome Developer Tools is my best friend when it comes to coding and debugging site CSS.

9. You have a lot of products on Elegant Marketplace. What are your most popular products and what makes them popular?

My most popular is the Maisons theme. I think that is because – well, there are a lot of real estate agents out there, and they all need websites. Also, working with real estate plugins can be a bit difficult. They don’t necessarily work with Divi out of the box, and I have done the customization to make it work and allow people to get up and running quickly.

My next most popular theme is Inspirez, which is designed for yoga instructors. I don’t really have a good answer for its popularity, but I guess people like the look and functionality, and can see it working for their site.

10. Which is your favorite?

My favorite is the Boulanger theme. I have been a food “blogger” since 1998 (before there even was such a thing as blogging I think!) The first website I ever made – which was just for fun at that point – was for family recipes. Divi is of course very popular for websites, but is not used as much by bloggers. I thought that Divi could work well for food bloggers, and I wanted to make that happen. So Boulanger is near and dear to my heart.

11. Your products on Elegant Marketplace are Divi child themes. What makes Divi your platform of choice?

I was a member of Elegant Themes, and one day an email came from them introducing their new theme – Divi. It really caught my attention. One of the limitations of WordPress was that you could not do much in the way of formatting your content. Within the WordPress text editor you were pretty much limited to simple text formatting – headings, bold, italics, bullets. And there were some themes that had some extra features – but you were limited to the features the theme had set up, and where they had set them up. Divi was a real game changer in my mind. With Divi, you can completely design any page to be just the way you want it to be.

12. What features would you like to see added to Divi?

I am anxiously awaiting the Divi 3.1 developer’s release. Unfortunately with the advent of the Visual Builder in Divi 3.0 we lost some of the ability to customize or add new modules. You can still do it, but only the core Divi modules are compatible with the Divi Visual Builder. When developing child themes, I thought that would be confusing for users, and so I have had to scale back some things and stick with the core Divi modules to retain compatibility with the Visual Builder. The developer’s release is going to give us more ability to customize Divi.

13. Do you have any tips for someone getting started in WordPress development?

I kind of grew up with WordPress – and before that I learned and worked with HTML and CSS. So for me it was kind of a gradual progression of learning, and I imagine it must be quite overwhelming to someone starting from scratch.

From my observation, if you are going to be working with clients – invariably they are going to want something that cannot be accomplished strictly by manipulating Divi settings. It is important to have some knowledge of CSS – and learn to use your browser developer tools to understand what style declarations are being applied where.

WordPress is the platform that Divi works on top of, and it is also important to understand some of the workings of WordPress, such as the template hierarchy, to understand how Divi fits within that.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to say a special thank you to Joan for putting up with my questions and for what she’s done for the WordPress and Divi communities. She’s a fun person to talk to, has a vast knowledge about WordPress, and doesn’t mind sharing her knowledge.

Joan has provided us with insights on her design process, choosing a project based on the needs of clients, choosing tools, her most popular and favorite projects, and detailed advice on getting started in WordPress development. She has a lot of child themes available and there’s a lot more in the works. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her designs for Divi.

You can see more of Joan’s work on the Elegant Marketplace.

Randy A Brown on Twitter
Randy A Brown
Randy is a freelance WordPress and eCommerce writer from east TN. If he's not reading or writing, then he's probably picking out tunes on his Strat.
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