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Permanent Tourist

A personal website by Mark Howells-Mead

The minimum viable product

There’s a great drive to work on a new version of a website. Development projects drag on and on, often with a huge amount of individual features. The development, testing, endless tweaking and then a release all take time, with the site owner naturally working towards the goal of the site being “finished”.

The truth is that a website is never finished. There is an initial version, which goes online, then a period during which the programmers and site owners attend to adjustments and corrections. Content is added and extended, and so the site “lives”. By making a site “live”, with new content coming online every now and again, the visitors are inclined to return and see what’s new. The number of site visits increases, the business succeeds, and the site owner is happy.

The trudge towards a “finished” site often hinders progress. The site you’re reading has been online for ten years and has been overdue for a new “look” for a very long time. It’s been a classic challenge to work on it, as I’ve always wanted to make the next version much more technically simple. Enough of the development dirge and more of an agile process. It’s easy to think, “just one more feature” or “just one more tweak”, then to find yourself another year down the line, still working on the same old site. Which never gets released, because it’s never “finished”.

This is where the “minimum viable product” comes in. A version of the site which can be public, to get past the hump of having a new version online. A version which provides all of the basic styling and functionality, which can then easily be extended when new stuff needs to be added. If there’s no time for the “new stuff”, then the simple version will do for now.

I came across a set of WordPress themes by Anders Norén earlier today and one of them–called Davis–was in precisely the stripped-back format I’ve been looking for. A very simple, easy set of PHP files to make the basis of the theme work, along with a simple set of raw CSS. No Sass files, no compilation, no Node.js. Just drop it in and turn it on. Simple, easy, quick. And good looking, too!

Anders writes that his free themes are intended as a simple basis to get going. So that’s what I’ve done: taken Davis and begun customizing it. I’ve spend the last hour-and-a-half making some of my own layout changes, re-writing some of the CSS and changing the header layout.

I’ve re-named the theme: instead of retaining the former moniker “permanenttourist”, which I’ve been using since 2006, I’ve decided to start using a proper name for the individual layout. This new theme is a departure from the endless iteration: a break and a fresh start, to clear the decks.

I’ve called the theme “Sherborne Road”: named for the road on which a set of old buildings stood on the grounds of my old school in Hampshire. The original library in those buildings was where I began reading old books, set in a lovely Baskerville-type serif: a typeface I’ve loved ever since. It lends itself perfectly to reading long-form texts, and complements the pictures well.

When I get around to it, the photos section will be restored to its former grid display. By using modular development principles, their additional, non-theme-specific layout will be developed as a WordPress plugin.