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The Graphene WordPress Theme

A Google search for the word “Graphene” will inevitably lead you to websites referring to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov who won The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics“for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene.”

Syahir Hakin Graphene Theme for WordPress DesignerAdd the words “WordPress” or “Theme” to your Graphene search and you will find reference to an amazing piece of coding that is anything but two-dimensional. The Graphene WordPress Theme is the brainchild of Syahir Hakim (pictured right) a Malaysian student currently doing undergraduate studies at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. If you are a WordPress user and want a very powerful yet flexible theme that works equally as well for a blog as it does a fully fledged website I can highly recommend taking a look at Graphene.  It has all the qualities of a premium theme but Syahir decided to go with the honor/donation payment model and that has led to lots of downloads (half a million at the time of writing), lots of questions (and answers) and lots of development to make the theme what it is today.

Having been a coder myself for almost 30 years I know the dedication and skill that it takes to produce a piece of work that is easy to use for beginners yet well documented and powerful enough for the hacks to make it special in their own way. Recognizing Syahir as a like minded soul, I asked him if he would share his story; thankfully for fans of the theme he said yes.  My own personal thanks to Syahir for his great product, first class support and for providing me with the following interview, without which this blog would be a lot shorter!

Family Life

I was born and raised in Malaysia to a middle-income family. My dad works in a government department, and we really didn’t have much back then, just enough to get by. I remember being envious of other kids whose parents bought them expensive toys. I was playing with sticks, marbles and all the other traditional games we played. But I enjoyed it thoroughly. My parents aren’t restrictive in terms of when I can go out and what I can do and being the naughty kid that I was I did a few things I never dared tell them. But that was my childhood – just another kid in the neighborhood, occasionally getting into trouble but usually getting out of it without having my parents involved – thank God for that!

Technology Breakthrough

My dad bought the first computer for our family as a present for my sister who did well for her national examination. This was in the late 90s, and computers were big, expensive white boxes with slots for 3.5″ floppy disks. That’s how I got acquainted with using a computer at an early age. It was initially through pixelated games, the likes of Wolfenstein 3D, Cycles, and Prehistorik 2. We became the envy of the kids in the neighborhood. I was 13 or 14 years old and my sister was doing an IT course in a university; she gave me a quick 2-hour tutorial on the basics of HTML and CSS. That was the only computer “class” I have ever taken and the rest has simply been a lot of tinkering and experimenting (and wasting a lot of time!) until I got to where I am today in terms of coding ability. Coding started out as a hobby, and it still is today, though in a more serious manner. I’m a full time engineering undergraduate student finishing my studies this year (2012) so depending on how much free time I have I spend anything from an hour or two a day up to 40 hours a week developing and supporting the theme.

Downtime

Of course there is more to life than coding & giving support; I like to play games (FPS and RTS being my favorites) and on longer free time I go hiking with friends, sometimes for a few days. I love adventure and I try to seek it whenever possible, but living on a student budget doesn’t really give you many choices. The picture of me (right) is taken on a very eventful hiking trip in the Kauaeranga Valley.

WordPress Development

Graphene was actually the first ever WordPress theme that I’ve designed and coded myself; I started it about 3 or 4 years ago for use on my own blog. My blog entry from July 2010 gives some of the background on the Version 1 development and the great feedback that I got encouraged me to take it to the next level. Back then it was a tailor-made, developed-as-needed theme. It has continually evolved and today it is one of the most customizable WordPress themes around. The current theme that I’m using on my website/blog is also self-developed, and designed by my sister who now runs a full-fledged web design and development company called Stampede Design. There’s another theme that I developed that was intended to be published on the WordPress themes repository  called Antiaris but between my workload, study and providing support for Graphene, I never actually managed to polish it up to the WordPress production standard. Maybe when I have some more free time available, I’ll get around to finishing it. Other than that, I mostly do freelance work and I’ve created quite a lot of custom themes for clients. In addition to the themes I have one plugin published on the WordPress.org plugin directory – Restore jQuery.  This was developed mainly out of my frustration at some themes and plugins that replace the default jQuery that comes bundled with WordPress, causing all sorts of conflicts.

The Growth of the Graphene WordPress Theme

I was wondering what to do with the theme which I didn’t really use anymore and I decided to release it publicly for anybody to use.  It was surprisingly popular from the start making it to the top 15 most popular themes in the WordPress repository shortly after it was published, and it still there to date. I was initially aiming for blog authors who just want to write instead of dealing with the nitty-gritty details of choosing a theme and setting up a blog. I started out this way too – having to spend days just trying out multiple themes before settling on one and getting frustrated with a lot of themes that look nice just above the fold but as you scroll down the design becomes white on black, or black on white. Graphene, at least, provides consistent design as you scroll down. I’m not going say it’s the best design possible – I’ll be the first to admit it’s not. But hey, I am more a programmer than I am a designer. A number of feature requests started to came in and today Graphene is suitable for both a blog and a normal website as there are features that fit both purposes. Most of the features really came from user suggestions which is what makes it so popular. The number of downloads recently passed half a million and if just 10% of those people thought “nice theme, I’m going to use it…” that means there are over 50,000 sites powered by the theme.

Premium Features; Free Price Tag

I can assure you it wasn’t a premium theme when I first released it 🙂 Over the years, with feedback and support from the community, it has evolved into one. Had I released it with a price tag to begin with, it wouldn’t have become what it is today. Over the years, I came to know that many premium themes look especially nice on the preview/demo, but when you purchase it, it often falls short on a lot of fronts – features, ease of use, readability, extensibility, customizability, etc. I like giving users freedom to try out the theme as much they want, before deciding to “pay” for it at a price which they think is worth it. Of course, a lot of people don’t pay for it at all, which is totally fine as I didn’t initially set out to make a profit but it got a lot of exposure and, by extension, so do I and my website. I was then able to advertise for paid services to do customization or develop an entirely new theme. Between the donations and the paid services I would say that the honor/donation system of payment has really worked out well for me.

Not All My Own Work

Not many Graphene theme users know this but there’s another co-developer – Jeffrey Tummers – who helped developed some of the features and fixing bugs. Then there was Ken, Josh, and Prasanna, the heroes of the Support Forum. I couldn’t be more appreciative of them. They really are the saviours for many of the theme’s users looking for support, especially when I’m absolutely drowned in my own workload. Kim and Ricardo also used to give a lot of help during the early days of the Support Forum, before Ken, Josh, and Prasanna joined in.

Coming Soon…

Currently in the pipeline is expanding the theme’s color options to include the navigation menu and the footer, which a lot of people have asked for. Also, we’ll be adding compatibility support for e-commerce plug-ins. I don’t know why the developers of e-commerce plug-ins for WordPress typically implement their own sub-theme within the plug-in which results in all sorts of layout conflicts in themes other than the default TwentyTen and TwentyEleven themes. In the longer term, my vision is to turn the Graphene theme into a theme framework so we can use it to develop other themes without having to re-code all the functionalities that make Graphene awesome. When we’ve done that, we’ll switch primary development from Graphene theme to the theme framework, and then updating the Graphene theme to “enable” the new functionalities in the framework, so to speak. To the end users, they probably won’t notice a difference from the typical Graphene theme release cycle, but it will allow us to expand into different themes with relatively much smaller amounts of work. Perhaps we can even contract a web designer to design the new themes, so you’ll get premium designs to match the premium features of Graphene. In the end, the users will have even more awesome themes to choose from. [notice]Follow Graphene on Twitter for news and updates.[/notice]

And Finally

In keeping with the Death of the Coder article I’d like to agree and add that it’s not easy to develop a proper website! Due to the myriad of “automatic” tools available nowadays, I sometimes run into people who seem to think that building websites is easy, and it shouldn’t cost a lot. They’re wrong. Sure, tools like SiteBuilder can give you a functional website in a few minutes or hours, but they’re generic websites that’ll do your company or brand more harm than good. Good websites are built carefully based on the specific requirements of the client. The process of developing a website typically includes the full development cycle characteristics of any project – understanding customer requirements, producing conceptual layout sketches, initial design, design review and revision, and that’s before coding even starts. Then to turn those pretty Photoshop layers into a fully-functional website a developer will need to be proficient in at least 3 programming languages and constructs: HTML, CSS, and PHP. Typically you’ll also need to know JavaScript. Being proficient in one of them is difficult enough. Being proficient in all four is what you pay for but a lot of people don’t see that due to the automation scripts other people have built.

 

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Thanks for the insight into your life and your work Syahir, it is appreciated.   01001001.01010111   P.S. Blink Colony is proud to use the Graphene WordPress Theme; if you would like your website professionally designed and built please contact BL!NK today.

About the author

Ian Walters

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

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