Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: UUA Wordpress Theme -- A Further Look, Part 3 (UUA Services Plugin, Ideas for the Future, Content)

The really neat thing about the new UUA Wordpress Theme is the UUA Services Plugin.  This solves the problem I didn't even really  know I had, and does it very elegantly.

Sunday Services Plugin

The problem: how to we advertise our Sunday service topics on the website?  And how do we do it such that we don't have to update weekly?  Previously, I had looked at three options.  One was what I ended up with: create posts monthly that list the month's services.  This only has to be updated once per month, and that's the advantage.  The disadvantage is that it doesn't list them individually.  There are other disadvantages, too.  Another option would be to put posts up weekly.  The big disadvantage there is the weekly nature of this for a church with no full-time staff except myself.  Another option would be to create them as "events" with the Events plugin.  This carries with it extraneous information like location as a mandatory part of the posts. 

The UUA Services plugin gives you a new post type of services.  And it has the fields that are relevant for you (title, description, date, speaker), and not the ones that aren't (like location, or price).  Then it gives you two pages to display this on -- Upcoming Services and Past Services -- as well as the box on the Home page, and ability to put this list in any of your widget areas (footer, sidebar, Home page).  It displays nicely, and you can update them monthly, yearly, weekly, whatever, and it will store your services in date order, with this week's at the top, and then move it over to the past services after it's done.  Then you can go back in and add the podcast or the full text of the sermon, or whatever.

The other solutions to the services problem were all like putting square pegs into round holes.  This is the round peg, and it's nicely crafted. 

Ideas for the Future

Now that this solved the problem I barely knew I had, it makes me want more!  Wouldn't it be nice to have a Religious Education plugin where we could add weekly information about what's going on in religious education that would function similarly?  Well, maybe for the next version...  For right now, you could add it in with the Sunday services. 

Another thing that came up in my messages with Christopher Wulff, designer of the UUA Theme is how to handle emergency notifications.  He noticed that my church website has a page for announcing emergency closures.  With a rural location in the snowy North, this is something that happens once a year or so.  He said he was thinking about creating a banner that could be turned on for the Home page that would be something we could use for things like this, and asked if we would use such a thing.  The answer for us is yes!  And if people don't want to use it, it's an extra they can ignore.

Content

The content suggestions are wonderful, and something I'm slowly working my way through.  I'd love to have the content information as a Word file, not just as something I have to be careful about uploading because it may erase my existing content.  However, I'm overjoyed at its existence.  The information provided with the theme gives not only best practices, but also sample copy, and tells you things like "Our tree tests show that a significant minority of users will look for information about the choir and about religious education programs under Connection.  Make sure your page includes links to the Choir and Learning pages."  This is extremely useful information that will help congregations a lot.  I'm incorporating all of this slowly into my page, but it's really good to know that the information is here to help me. 

This is where I think the UUA really went above and beyond with this theme.  I was looking for a theme like any other them, but geared toward congregational use.  This theme and its materials gave me SO much more that it's like Christmas for my webpage.  Thank you!!

Review: UUA Wordpress Theme -- A Further Look, Part 2 (Header and Footer)

Continuing my thoughts about the new UUA Wordpress Theme...

Header

I've already talked about my preferences with the logo, but there's more to the header than that.  The theme lets you have the logo and title, social media icons, your Sunday service time (or other text), and a small header menu.  The organization of the header area is aesthetically pleasing, and it's well-sized so that it doesn't take up too much of the screen.  Overall: bravo!

Footer

The footer has four areas.  In one area, the UUA logo will appear, and if you set it to, you can also have the Welcoming Congregation logo and the Green Sanctuary logo.  These balance nicely to form a block if you have all three.  We're not a certified Green Sanctuary church, so my footer has a bit of a hole there.  It'd be nice to include things like the AIM logo, but you have three other areas that can go in.
Some other choices that congregations might wish to include are a Standing on the Side of Love logo or a Black Lives Matters logo, particularly as more congregations have formal votes to support Black Lives Matters.  But, again, there are three other areas in the footer you could put these things in yourself, it's just that if you have a hole in the one block, it might be nice to fit them together.

So in the other three areas, I had some questions as to what to put.  Obviously one needed to be the address, as in the demo site, because it's not anywhere else prominent on the Home page.  The second, the demo site has a little description of the minister.  I didn't want that.  And the third has a little newsletter sign-up form.  I don't have a way to do that yet.  So I opted for links for the newsletter (this will change monthly, the way I have it set up) and some other information that wasn't elsewhere -- that we are wheelchair-accessible, have listening devices available, and support breastfeeding.

So, overall review of header and footer: lots of nice options, everything you need. 

Review: UUA Wordpress Theme -- A Further Look, Part 1 (Aesthetics and Home Page)

Well, it's been two days since the UUA's Wordpress Theme debuted, and in that time I've learned a LOT about it.  It took me one day of frustration, wherein I finally reached out to Christopher Wulff, who created the UUA Theme, about my problems downloading and installing, and he quickly figured out that my PHP version on my website was too old and that my upload size specified by my php.ini file was too small.  I was able to call my hosting provider who quickly fixed those things, and minutes later the UUA theme was installed and operational on my webpage.

It took me about half a day yesterday to get the theme to the point where it all looks nice and proper on my site and many of the new items are functioning nicely.  You can take a look at http://www.liberyuu.org.  What I have NOT done yet is taken all the content they offer and add and change my existing pages.  I've done this on a small handful of key pages, particularly in the "About" section, but overall I've left my existing content in place, intending to change it over time, but this will take time.  And it's wonderful that the UUA Theme has so much to offer than I can do this.  It's not a downside at all that I could take weeks looking at and understanding it all.  There's so much material here to go deep with, and what I've done is implement the showy face-value stuff at this point.

Look and Aesthetics:

If you'll remember from my last post, I had a few things I was looking for in a theme's look:
  1.  A theme that let me use my own custom logo along with a title to the site.  
  2. A theme that did not need a large picture in the header. 
  3. A theme that allows for some sort of slider on the first page. 
  4. A theme that includes links for social media like Facebook and Twitter in its header. 
  5. A theme with a top menu bar. 
  6. A top menu bar that was aesthetically pleasing to me -- a thin stripe with links on it, and not something that looked like tabs. 
  7. A theme with a presentation page for the home page that's different from other pages. 
  8. A theme that was accessible on multiple different platforms and responded nicely on mobile devices. 
  9. A theme that gave me some choice about color scheme.  
So how did the UUA Theme do on my checklist?  The only disappointment thus far is #1.  The site allows me to put in a custom logo, but when I do this my title for my church disappears.  This is something I've noticed on a lot of themes.  The answer Christopher Wulff gives to this question is, "We encourage congregations to use a logo/wordmark that includes their name."  That would not be my preference, but I can understand why they went with it, because for many churches that might be the preference, because their logo includes their name.  For example,  
Since my logo is just a little icon, I'd prefer to just put it in the box and let my header play out as usual, especially as I don't have Helvetica on my computer, nor on the webpage that I use to design images, and I'd like to use the same font as the rest of the site.  But you can't please everybody.  If that's my biggest gripe, I'd say that it's pretty good.  For now, I'm using the UUA logo.

#2, #3, #5, #7, #8 are all unequivocal yeses.  The UUA Theme does nicely on all of those.  For #4, there are a few social media links that are easy to add to the header:  Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, GooglePlus, and Instagram.  That pretty much covers the basics, so is an acceptable array of choices.  For #9, the Theme gives you three color schemes to choose from, but then also lets you choose a custom background color and/or background image, so you don't have to stick with the UUA Brand wallpaper.  Beyond that, you have to get it CSS stuff, which I don't do.  I'll add a note here about fonts, which is that the fonts on the UUA Theme are chosen for accessibility and for my church I had switched to the UUA's font choices already.

Overall, I'll say I'm not a big fan of the UUA branding color scheme, but on the "dark blue" option of the UUA Theme, I don't mind it.  I like the yellow contrasting color you get on the homepage with the dark blue, and the overall color scheme in this version of the webpage is relatively pleasant.  The Grey Red choice the theme offers is also pretty nice.  I'm not a fan of the Aqua Green choice, but maybe somebody else is. 

The overall look of the webpage, though, that is something I am a big fan of when it comes to this theme.  I really love it -- it feels modern and clean.

Home Page

The Home page with the UUA Theme works differently than I've encountered elsewhere.  You create an empty page called "Home" and place it at the top of your menu, and then the content on it is all driven by widgets that come with the plugins that come with the them and that the theme recommends.  Previously, I've seen the homepage created on a separate tab within the "appearances" section, so this took a little getting used to, and I had to play around with it a bit to get it working right.  At first, despite a Home page at the top of my menu, the page was still pointing to another page that I had previously set up, and I had to find this setting and change it.  That was particular to the way I had done things on my site in the past, so it took relearning what I had done before to undo it.  Once I did that, however, setting up the widgets to appear on my Home page was easy, except the Carousel.  I put a static picture into that spot while I worked out how to use the Carousel, which was very non-intuitive for me.  I just couldn't figure out where you put the images in the Carousel, actually.  It turns out that if I scroll down on the right, there's the "Feature Image" box, and that's where it goes.  I wasn't sure if that image was what generated the image, or the image link box further down, so it took a while to get that straightened out.  I also had problems in that the text the information page about the theme told me to put in a box in the widget wasn't working.  A quick message to Christopher Wulff got this straightened out -- the text he says to put in the box is "[image-carousel category=”Homepage”]" but this only works if you've put your Carousel images into categories (useful if you want carousels in more than one location).  I had not, so I needed to type "[image-carousel]" instead.  The rest of the Home page was very easy to set up.  I like the three picture and link boxes that appear on the second row.  They're easy to change and implement, too.  On the third row, I had a little more figuring out what to put.  I don't have enough users generating content for me to really keep a "News" section going yet, and our Newsletter provided for a pretty short column.  So I opted for two columns that will generate new content -- an Events list and a blurb about our monthly Forum -- and one that'll remain pretty static, into which I put the Common Read book.

The best feature of the Home Page, however, is the second widget in the top row, generated by the Services Plugin.  This takes your Sunday service for the week and automatically puts it up front each week.  The Services Plugin is the really outstanding part of the theme, and I'll talk about it more in my next post. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: UUA Wordpress Theme -- A First Look

Today the UUA launches its new Wordpress theme.  The official title seems to be "UUA Wordpress Theme for Congregations," but I'm referring to it here as "UUA Theme."  This is something I've been waiting for, and vocally advocating for and blogging about , for some time, so I was anxiously awaiting the debut.  So here are some first impressions based on the demo site and what I've read in the materials, as I wait for the launch to happen.  Overall, I think it's really a fantastic job, and just exactly what I was hoping for.  

Look and Aesthetics:

When I was looking for a Wordpress theme for my site when I converted to Wordpress a year or two ago, I was looking for several things in my theme:
  •  A theme that let me use my own custom logo along with a title to the site.  This is surprisingly rare -- lots of pages allow only for one or the other, or you have to hack the code, which I don't do.  The UUA theme clearly lets you use the UUA logo along with a church title, and I'm betting allows churches to put their own chalice logo in.  
  • A theme that did not need a large picture in the header.  The UUA Theme does not.
  • A theme that allows for some sort of slider on the first page.  The UUA Theme does.
  • A theme that includes links for social media like Facebook and Twitter in its header.  The UUA Theme does.
  • A theme with a top menu bar.  The UUA Theme has top navigation. 
  • A top menu bar that was aesthetically pleasing to me -- a thin stripe with links on it, and not something that looked like tabs.  The UUA Theme has this as well.
  • A theme with a presentation page for the home page that's different from other pages.  The UUA Theme has this.
  • A theme that was accessible on multiple different platforms and responded nicely on mobile devices.  The UUA Theme is.  
  • A theme that gave me some choice about color scheme.  The UUA Theme does.  From the materials and demo site, I can't tell how much flexibility is here, but I can tell that there is some.
In other words, the UUA theme hit every single point that I was looking for.  When I created my church's website, I demoed dozens of different themes, trying to find one that did all this, and couldn't.  I eventually settled for one that met most of theses points but not all. 

UUA Services Plugin:

One thing I've never adequately solved to my satisfaction was how to manage Sunday services on a webpage.  Ideally, you want every Sunday's service information to be posted separately, to be the top one people see, but to be able to see other upcoming services easily as well.  And you want to do this without having to update your webpage every single week, because volunteers aren't always available every single week to do the update.  If you create posts, they'll post in the order you create them, unless you use some sort of plugin application to withhold publication, but I didn't really know how to easily do this, amateur as I am.  Well, the UUA Services Plugin solved my problem entirely.  The good folks who created the Theme recognized that this is the one area pretty essential to congregations that no other plugin did very nicely, and so was one that was important for them to create themselves.  And it works very nicely, even taking each service from "Upcoming Services" to "Past Services" automatically each week.  Bravo!  A great recognition on the UUA's part that this is exactly the plugin we needed, where nothing else did the job easily.

Other Bonuses:

In configuring my menus to match the UUA Theme's suggestions, I learned how to make a null link at the top level of menu items.  That was something I didn't know before, and had really wondered about when I converted to Wordpress.  It was obvious to me that there was some confusion within myself about whether the top of the menu should be a page itself, or just pull down the menu, but I didn't know how to do that.  The UUA Theme materials explained the best practice, and how to accomplish it.  Problem solved.

Content: 

Something I wasn't expected, and am overjoyed about, is the demo content.  I haven't gotten a chance to look at it yet, but it's so wonderful to have sample content provided -- not all of us are great writers, and even if we are may not understand the best way to write for webpages.  The demo content, as well as the list of suggested images, are exactly what our congregations need.

Well, my ancient computer may have downloaded the theme by now, so that's all for my "First Look."  I'll be back with more after I've tried it out.