If you’re a designer with limited technical knowledge working in WordPress, that phrase should sound familiar. It travels along with a queasy feeling, and hits at times like the following:
- Something’s broken, and all the possible solutions you can find were written by and for aliens.
- Something was supposed to work out of the box (“Simple Page Builder!”), but it’s missing key features or it’s buggy and you have no idea how to work with it beyond the limited interface it provides.
- You or your client need something complex, and you don’t even know how to ask the questions that would lead you to a solution.
Don’t worry: You’ve got options. Let’s look at what not to do when you’re in over your head in WordPress.
What Not to Do
Let’s start by examining two of the unhelpful impulses that come up when a WordPress problem just isn’t going away.
Every technical problem in WordPress has a solution—absolutely every one. Your problem may feel monumental right now (especially if you’re feeling a lot of pressure from an impatient client) but there’s someone out there who knows how to fix it, and most of the time the solution’s quite a bit easier than you’d think.
So don’t punt on the project, and don’t spend too much time agonizing (or discussing with your client) what you’ll do if you simply can’t figure out how to get unstuck. What you or your client needs is one of two things:
- A fix.
- A report, from someone knowledgeable, on your options going forward, as well as the approximate cost and complexity of those options.
Concentrate on delivering one or another of those things. It is possible.
Resort to Hacks
To discuss the impulse to hack and its drawbacks, let’s use an analogy.
Something’s wrong with your gas oven at home: it won’t light, and it’s also leaking gas. You don’t know how to fix ovens, so you develop a workaround: you run a fan 24/7 to blow the gas out the window, and you buy a microwave big enough to fit a turkey. Problem solved, right?
No! That’s a hack: an expedient workaround for a still-unsolved problem. Hacks are dangerous because they don’t solve root problems, and because they introduce clunky and ill-suited machinery that can break other things.
So when you hit a technical snag in WordPress, do not attempt to craft workarounds by stitching together technologies you do understand. Here are a couple of examples:
- If your homepage is taking 20 seconds to load, don’t just install a couple of caching plugins and hope for the best. Instead, find someone who can diagnose the problem. (Perhaps the theme is erroneously pulling full-sized versions of all the featured images? If so, that’s easy to fix.)
- If you can’t figure out how to give a post category a special layout, don’t just manually create a page with all the posts in that category laid out as you’d like. Instead, find someone who understands how to create archive page templates. (You’ll be saving yourself a permanent maintenance headache.)
And so on. Stay clear of hacks, and you won’t pile on technical cruft that you or someone else will have to fix later. What’s more, you’ll actually solve your problems at their root! In WordPress, as in home appliances, the principle is the same: When you hit a technical problem you don’t understand, you need clarity. Clarity has no substitute, so don’t look for one.
So far, we’ve worked to keep you out of “unforced errors” territory: the impulse to panic and/or muss things up when you hit a technical wall in WordPress. Instead, set your sights on clarity. In our follow-up article, we’ll be showing you some of the many routes to finding that clarity.