Your Biggest Fan, Grace is the blog run by one of my phenomenally talented sisters, Grace. Grace calls herself “a writer, an artist, and an extreme crafter,” and this blog is her way of sharing her home decorating exploits, elaborate mail art, newly-found recipes, and folk-art animals. It's not just for herself, though – Grace also uses it as a platform to cheer on the great people she encounters in daily life.
On the technical front, this project was my first major foray into customizing a WordPress-based website. To achieve a structure and experience that would be right for Grace and her audience, I built a child theme (with great thanks to help from Treehouse and time spent cruising around lots of WordPress tutorials, forums, and entries on Stack Overflow).
What help did Grace need?
Grace is smart and driven, but she specializes in writing and crafting, not in visual identity and web design. Luckily, those are two fields in which I have deeply invested my time. It was a natural fit, then, for a collaboration: Grace could focus on producing her vision and her work, and I could be there to support in the creation of an identity and website to best broadcast her spirit and let her creative content shine.
How did we do it?
During the holiday break of my senior year of college, Grace and I were both at home in South Dakota with our family.
Grace and I had already started creating her blog at that point with a basic WordPress and a few posts, but it really took off when we got together that Christmas and had some quality brand-thinking sessions. We brainstormed to come up with possible names and ended up choosing one that encapsulated one of Grace’s key hopes for the blog: to provide a voice cheering on her readers in their own lives. There may have also been some family history involved in our name selection because, as I remember it, we know the phrase “I’m your biggest fan” from an especially beloved aunt who uses this to cheer us on in our creative pursuits. We were initially uncertain about whether it was too weird or too long a name, but when we were thinking about ideas for logos and Grace sketched out a literal, electric fan in her unique, hilarious style (smiling face included), I knew we had something special.
However, Grace didn’t just want a sterile blog with one piece of soul, represented solely in a quirky logo. There was more work left to make something that would properly let her personality shine on the web. In the words of Charles Eames so often quoted by designers, “The details are not the details – they make the design.”
To that end, we worked on making a few customizations to help bring out Grace’s voice. Because Grace would be featuring some of her beautiful, unique mail art on her site, we decided to create drop caps themed as postage stamps. These drop caps could then be used to start off blog posts with the very first letter carrying extra personality. Instead of making these in CSS or as digital illustrations, Grace went the folk-art route: she drew a stamp alphabet by hand, and enlivened each letter with colored pencils. The color palette for this was inspired by Mardi Gras and her several-year hometown of New Orleans. This same set of colors helped inform the overall color palette for her blog, as we customized things further.
Anyone who has created a blog and written for it for an extended period of time knows that starting is no small task — but it’s ultimately the easy part. As of the writing of this portfolio post, Grace has published 144 blog entries. This has brought on the occasional new technical challenge for me. For instance: how can you enable readers to browse 100+ posts without scrolling and paging back through 45 pages of lengthy posts? As it turns out, WordPress has an “archives” feature; I used this to build gridded pages as directories for posts, after working with Grace to refine her content taxonomy.
What I learned
- WordPress Child Theme development
- Sharpening my CSS selection knowledge
- Some PHP basics
- More about chasing down answers on the internet for technical challenges
- How to enable someone else to craft their own visual identity, then extend their work