Speaking Engagements WordCamp

Thinking Inside the Box – My WordCamp San Francisco 2014 Lightning Talk

What started as a challenge ended up as a lightning talk at WordCamp San Francisco 2014: Explain the CSS Box Model in an understandable way to a crowd of mainly bloggers and designers. In 5 minutes. With no live code.

The video slides are unfortunately largely cut out of this video so you don’t get to see the fancy stuff the audience were privy to, but you get the general idea: On the web every tag is a box. And on the web magic happens when you think inside the box.

When you’re done, go check out the other great talks at WordCamp San Francisco 2014 over at

Tutorials WordPress

Adding Borders to WordPress Images the Right Way – a.k.a. Why Inline Styles Have No Place In Your Posts

As with most updates to popular software the 3.9 release of WordPress has brought with it some controversy. In this case the point of contention is the removal of a little known feature that allowed the user to add borders and margins (vertical and horizontal “space”) to individual images right from within the image editor. The feature was removed and not surprisingly those that used and depended on it are enraged. WP Tavern has a great rundown of the story complete with links to forum posts so I’m not going to rehash it here. Instead I’ll show you how to add borders to images the right way, explain why inline styles are to be avoided whenever possible, and finally provide a suggestion on how theme developers can prevent this type of issue from happening again.

How to Add Borders to Individual Images the Right Way in WordPress

So, when you have an image, you want that image to have a border, and your theme doesn’t apply a border automatically, what do you do? You add some CSS. And that CSS needs to be added separately from the content. In other words no inline styles.

Depending on your level of skill this may or may not seem like a big deal. I’m here to tell you it’s actually super easy. Let’s say you know nothing about HTML or CSS or anything else. Here’s all you have to do:

  1. Install and activate Jetpack (the plugin)
  2. Go to Jetpack, find Custom CSS, and click the Customize button
  3. Create some new style rules

Customize CSS with Jetpack
Let’s say you want to add a black border. Here is the code required:

.border-black {
    border: #000 solid 1px;

Want a gray border instead? Here’s the code for that as well:

.border-gray {
    border: #b9b9b9 solid 1px;

With your new CSS rules in place you are ready to apply them to your image. To do so go to your post, find your image, click the edit button by hovering over that image, and in the edit window click the Advanced Options tab to open the Advanced Options.

Adding new CSS classes to images using the Advanced Image Option

From here all you have to do is enter the class name for your CSS rule (“border-black” for black, “border-gray” for gray) in the Image CSS Class field and save your image.

If you want to add multiple classes you can. Just separate them with a space. Also, remember to not put the dot (punctuation mark) in front of the class names. This is not necessary.

If you look at the image above you’ll see it has a black border. This border was added using the exact method described in this tutorial.

Edit: In the comments Caspar Hübinger points out you can also use the Simple Custom CSS plugin to add CSS to your site without adding all the bulk of Jetpack.


So what have we done here? First we created two new CSS rules that define a 1px border around any element that is either black or gray. Then we use the WordPress editor to apply those styles to our image through a class. And voila! The image has a border.

The key difference between this approach and that of adding the border with an inline style is that we can now quickly change the border on all images at once by editing the custom CSS. And since we used the Custom CSS function in Jetpack the border will persist even if we switch to a different theme.

Jetpack? You must be off your rocker Morten

At this point if you’re a seasoned WordPress pro you’re probably blowing a gasket over my recommendation of Jetpack. “Jetpack is huge and cumbersome and slows the site down and there are a million other better more awesome solutions etc etc etc.” And this is true. I am no fan of Jetpack. However we have to consider the end-user here: If  you are using the add image border function you probably do so because you don’t want to tamper with your theme or child theme. If that’s the case, Jetpack provides an easy way around the problem. Of course if you have the skills and the time you can add the exact same code to your child theme or custom theme you built from scratch, but this is not a workable solution for the majority of WordPress users. Jetpack is.

Inline Styles are Bad, Mmmmmkay?

Some will interject here and say that you can achieve the same thing by using inline styles. After all that’s what the old solution did and what the new Advanced Image Styles plugin does. Here’s some sobering web standards news: Inline styles is a non-starter. To understand why you need to understand how HTML and CSS interact and why inline styles have no place in WordPress content.

There are two main types of code that go together to create a website:

  • HTML
  • CSS

The HTML marks up the content and tells the browser or other reader how different parts of the content relate to each other. The CSS adds a presentational layer to that markup telling the browser or other reader how to display that content. This provides a clear separation between style and content and it works exceptionally well, especially in applications like WordPress where we can switch themes (and with them the CSS) of the content and see a global change in the appearance of the content without having to change the content itself.

Inline styles are an old leftover from the time when CSS was just being introduced and they work counter to the separation I explained earlier. An inline style allows you to place CSS code inside the tag of any element meaning that style only applies to this singular element. That’s what a function like add borders and space does: It puts presentational code inside the markup.

Why is this bad? There are many reasons:

  • The inline style will apply everywhere regardless of where you display the content.
  • The inline style overrides any CSS supplied by a stylesheet and interferes with media queries and other responsive approaches.
  • The inline style applies to one element only and cannot be easily repeated (ie it has to be applied to every single element).
  • The inline style does not allow us to make a global change to the style that applies to all elements at once.
  • The inline style is presentational code placed in the markup. This goes against current web standards and should be avoided.

There are very few cases where inline styles are appropriate. The only one I can think of is where you use PHP to inject a conditional background image into a specific element, but even there we have better ways of approaching the problem. Needless to say inline styles have no place in WordPress, and especially not in adding borders or margins to images.

But what about margins?

I’m sure you’re itching to point out that my proposed solution only addresses borders, not “space” or margins. And you’d be right. Of course you can use the same approach as before to add margins as well but I have serious reservations about this which I’ll explain in a few paragraphs. However, if you must tamper with the margins I’d make sure to add them as separate CSS rules. I’m willing to bet that if you are adding custom margins it is because the positioning of your images out of the box is not ideal. So essentially you are fixing a layout problem in the theme. Chances are you also add different margins depending on the image, but you tend to add the same set of margins over and over. In that case you create a new CSS rule for each of your margin scenarios and apply them as necessary the same way we applied the border.

As an example you could have this margin rule:

.margin-medium {
    margin: 0 1em 2em;

which adds a margin of 0px on top, 1em on left and right, and 2em on the bottom. Then to apply both the black border and the margin you simply enter “border-black margin-medium” in the Image CSS Class section for the image.

Now that you know how to do it I’m going to strongly recommend you don’t mess with the margins. This requires a bit more of an explanation:

The Problem

The problem at hand is not one of deprecated WordPress features nor of bad user behaviour. The cause of the outrage and frustration is that theme developers are not accounting for the user scenario where the user wants to add a border. When there is no option the user will find a new way of doing it outside of the theme and this is not ideal for anyone.

There are many reasons why you’d want to add a border. The most obvious one is if your image background color matches the color of your theme so there is no clear separation between the image and the main background. I’ve encountered this many times and this is why my themes ship with custom CSS to address this particular issue. More on that in a bit. Let’s first take a look at what happens when you add images to a post or page in WordPress:

When you add an image to a post or page in WordPress you also add some CSS classes to that image. The classes vary depending on the image size and alignment and other factors. A good theme has CSS rules that apply  to these classes and provide proper margin and padding for all images. And this is why messing with the margins is a bad idea:

In a good theme the designer and developer has made decisions about how an image is to be presented in relation to other content based on its size and alignment. That means margin has been added where required and removed where it shouldn’t be. If you go in and start adding or subtracting margins you are interfering with what the theme does out of the box and this can lead to crazy behaviour, especially when you switch to a new theme.

Here’s the thing: If your images jam up against text or other elements in your theme it is either the explicit decision of the theme developer that they do so or more likely the theme is not all it’s cracked up to be. Yep, I said it: If your images look wrong in context, your theme is likely not worth its salt and you should look for another one.

The Solution: A Unified Border Class Name Standard

There is an obvious solution to this issue that will allow users to do what they want (add borders to images) while ensuring cross-theme compatibility while avoiding the addition of plugin functionality like Jetpack Custom CSS or plugins that add inline styles: Create a unified border class name standard.

All theme developers should add a set of CSS rules targeting a pre-defined list of border classes the user can call when required. The list could look something like this:

.border-thin-black {
    border: #000 1px solid;

.border-medium-black {
    border: #000 3px solid;

.border-thick-black {
    border: #000 5px solid;

.border-thin-gray {
    border: #b9b9b9 1px solid;

.border-medium-gray {
    border: #b9b9b9 3px solid;

.border-thick-gray {
    border: #b9b9b9 5px solid;

In addition theme developers could make rules whose colors are set through the customizer with class names like .border-thin-custom. That way custom colors can be introduced as the user switches themes while the predefined colors stay intact.

Let your voice be heard

I know you have opinions on this. Don’t internalize your strife. Voice your thoughts, concerns, and opinions in the comments below and start a conversation.

Authored Content

Authored Content, Episode 11: Google+ Hangouts, noUI, IE11, April Fools and more

Join Ray Villalobos and Morten Rand-Hendriksen in a conversation about IE11 user agent strings, the noUI movement, the future of the border-corner-shape CSS rule, aprilFools.css, the Unreal engine on the web, and HTML5 development for WiiU. Links below.

James is out and there is no guest so this is just the two nerds in conversation.

IE11 user agent strings
No to noUI
The future of border-corner-style
The Unreal engine on the web
Nintendo WiiU goes HTML5

Watch the video and join the discussion!

You can watch all the episodes of Authored Content on YouTube (playlist), like Authored Content on Facebook, and join the Authored Content Community on Google+.

24 Days of WordPress Tutorials

Day 8: Styling Author Comments

Author comment highlighting in WordPressIf you run a WordPress site with comments you have most likely responded to a few comments yourself. But unless people pay attention they won’t necessarily know that you are the author of that post and they may take you for just another commenter. What you need is some styling that visually separates your author comments from the other reader comments. On this 8th Day of WordPress we’ll take a look at the surprisingly easy task of styling author comments for WordPress.

For simplicity I’m using a twentyten child theme as the example here, but the same principles will carry over to all other themes as long as they use the built in commenting function in WordPress.

Identifying the author with .bypostauthor

One of the many great things about WordPress is that as long as you use a well built theme it generates more code and more metadata than you’ll ever need. Comments are no exception. If you open a post with some comments on it and look at the source code you’ll quickly spot lots of seemingly superfluous data that actually offers up hooks for you to connect style code to. Below are two examples of this type of code, the first one from a comment left by a visitor, the second one from a comment left by the post author:

<li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="li-comment-1">

<li class="comment byuser comment-author-mor10 bypostauthor odd alt depth-2" id="li-comment-3">

As you can see the second comment carries with it far more information in the form of classes. From the beginning it tells me it’s a comment, it was left by a registered user, that user was me (mor10), and I am also the post author and so on. Styling these classes you can micromanage the appearance of different types of comments in pretty much any way you want. We’re going to focus on the .bypostauthor class but this same technique can be used to target any of the other classes as well.

Giving the author some style

Default twentyten commentsIn the twentyten theme all comments are styled the same by default. Even so the development team has prepared style tags for customization of things like odd and even comments as well as the post author. As a result styling comments from a post author as different from other commenters can be as easy as adding a new background colour to the .bypostauthor style like this:

.commentlist .bypostauthor {
	background-color: #CCCCCC;

The result would be what you see below:
Customized author comment
Sure, it’s customized, but it lacks that style that makes it attractive. To really make the author comments pop we need to do a bit more.

Bringing some real style to the author comments

This is where the lines between the designer and the developer start getting blurred. Creating a great looking style to identify an author comment is as much about coming up with a good look and colour combination as it is finding the correct code to style. For this tutorial I’ve made a bunch of simple changes that add some style to the author comment. Consider these stepping stones on your way to your own custom author style.

Step 1: Flip the gravatar from left to right

Looking at the twentyten stylesheet we see that the .avatar style places the image absolutely 4px from the top and 0px from the left. To move it to the right we need to create a new style to override the old one:

.commentlist .bypostauthor .avatar {
	top: 0px;
	position: relative;
	float: right;

Step 2: Shift the text to the left

The position of the text within the comment is defined by the .commentlist li.comment style so to move the text to the left we need to override the left padding. Everything else can be left the way it is:

.commentlist li.bypostauthor {
	padding: 0 0 0 0;

Step 3: Add a nice border with rounded corners

Now that the layout has changed we can add a border around the comment and give it some nice rounded CSS3 corners. The rounded corners will not work in Internet Explorer until IE9 comes out but even if it doesn’t these borders will still look nice:

.commentlist li.bypostauthor {
	border: 1px solid #DFDFDF;
	padding: 15px;
	margin-bottom: 10px;
	border-radius: 10px;
	-moz-border-radius: 10px;
	-webkit-border-radius: 10px;	

The Proverbial tip of the iceberg

With some simple styling using the .bypostauthor class you can create custom styling for your author comments just like you see in the image at the top of this article. And as you saw by the markup for the comments, you can get even more fancy with it creating custom styles for each individual author if your site has more than one. Now that you know how to do it it’s time to implement custom styling for your author comments on your own site.

This tutorial is part of the 24 Days of WordPress series. If you want to learn more about WordPress and Expression Web check out the Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web in 24 Hours series (version 2, 3 and 4),’s WordPress 3.0 Essential Training course and Microsoft Expression Web 4 LiveLessons.

Book Reviews CSS HTML

Book Review: Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design

Some context: People keep asking me what books they should read to learn about web design and everything else under the sun. Therefore I’ve decided I’m going to start reading books about web design and everything else under the sun and write reviews of them so you can see if it’s a book you should check out too.

The One Sentence Review

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design is a book by and for web designers and developers with a solid understanding of HTML and CSS who want to push things further with standards-based code and progressive enhancements through CSS3 and other bleeding edge technologies.

The author(s)

Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design has one of those weird author listings on the front cover: Dan Cederholm with Ethan Marcotte. If you’ve watched the movie Julie and Julia you know that “with” means that the majority of the book is written by Cederholm while a smaller portion is by Marcotte. For this book I’d say the book itself is by Cederholm and that it features an essay by Marcotte that brings in a slightly to the left but still highly relevant aspect that elevates its overall quality and usefulness.

Dan Cederholm is the man behind and author of the famous book Bulletproof Web Design of which the last edition was published in 2007. I have not read that book and by now I have a feeling it is too outdated to invest in. I might pick it up at the library but it’s doubtful. But people I know and trust say it’s a great book so I’ll make that assumption. Cederholm has created some truly impressive websites over time, many of which you have probably visited, and he’s one of those people who not only knows what he’s doing and does it better than most but also knows how to communicate that knowledge to others so they can step in his footprints rather than stake out their own way through the wilderness.

Ethan Marcotte is the man behind and he pops up as the co-author of several books including Designing with Web Standards which is one of the next books on my long list of things to read. Like Cederholm Marrcotte has worked on some pretty impressive projects over the years and his understanding of how the web works is hard to rival, even for Cederholm.

Both these gentlemen are at the very forefront of web design and development where standards and best-practices are concerned. As such this combo bodes well for the book they’ve collaborated on.

The Book Itself

Excluding front and index matter and preface Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design is a fairly short book of 204 pages. It’s in an unusual square-ish shape and comes in full colour with a nice and easy-to-read page layout. Considering the length of other books on the same subject matter it’s easy to think this book to be a little too light on material and substance. That would be a big mistake. These pages are heavy on real-world examples and applications with very little filler text. Although it has the sub-title “More Bulletproof Web Design” the book does not work as an extension of the original book but rather as an appendix. In other words it stands on its own. As a designer/developer with a firm understanding of HTML, CSS and all that surrounds these two code languages I found the book to be an engrossing and immersive read with bucketloads of valuable input. But I can see that without such a solid platform to stand on I would have judged the matter as both superficial and overtly simplistic. Which is the surprising consequence of Cederholm and Marcotte’s clean-and-simple approach.

Having worked with web design and development for many years I’ve noticed that as my understanding and skill set improves, my code becomes more and more simplistic and clean while the end result of that same code becomes more advanced. Handcrafted CSS latches onto this by providing even more simplistic and cleaner code examples and solutions to create well functioning and æsthetically pleasing websites. This is a huge benefit if you’re well versed in web code and a devestating detrement if you’re just starting out: If you don’t have a firm grasp on the code and understand what Cederholm and Marcotte is trying to do this book will seem like a series of disjointed code examples that at the same time go in too much detail and skim over the important stuff.

Futureproofing, progressive enrichment and clearing floats

Cederholm’s portion of the book concerns itself with three major elements:

  • Futureproofing
  • Progressive enrichment through CSS3 (in particular rounded CSS corners, RGBA colours and drop-shadows)
  • A better model for handling floats and clears

These are all hugely important considerations as both the web and the devices we ingest it on evolve but they are easily overlooked because they seem peripheral or subordinate to the issue of getting the content out and working properly.

Cederholm’s approach (and the root of the name of the book) is that a craftman goes the extra mile to add often invisible but still vital elements to her creations to make them stand out. Those elements, or enrichments, can be anything from a properly wrapping list item to a custom ampersand symbol, a gracefully degrading rounded corner or just introducing a semantically sound solution to float and clear management.

FYI: If you’re considering buying this book and the sentence above made you shake your head or think “what the hell is he talking about” I would recommend getting something else instead.

To me Cederholms chapters were divided evenly between verification, a-ha moments and new information. His approaches to futureproofing – making sure that designed elements are able to handle content that goes beyond the original drafts (i.e. a button with text that spans more than one line or has long words in it) – are ones I have strived to live up to even before reading the book. Thus seeing him applying the same philosophies and techniques in his QA process was a verification that I am on the right track. When I started on the section on a semantic solution to floats and clears and saw his ingenious .group solution I was left thinking “What the hell have I been doing all this time? This makes way more sense!” Needless to say the lessons learned from these chapters are now being implemented in all my current and future projects. And as I worked my way through the CSS3 examples and Cederholm’s pragmatic “progressive enrichment” approach I gained confidence and found a desire to start incorporating drop shadows, RGBA colours and rounded corners in my designs now rather than wait for all the browsers to get with the program.

Actually, Cederholm’s attitude toward progressive enrichment deserves special mention here. Whereas a large majority of web professionals have made Internet Explorer bashing into a competitive sport Cederholm proposes a more pragmatic approach: Rather than designing for cutting edge browsers and being frustrated by older browsers not keeping up he creates designs that incorporate rewards for more forward-thinking browsers while incorporating clean and simple solutions for the older generation. This is the only reasonable approach and one I’ve been promoting myself for years so it’s good to see I’m not standing alone on this.

The Fuid Grid

Although Ethan Marcotte’s contribution to the book is only a singular chapter it is a hugely important one. As the title suggests it concerns, and solves, what has been a bit of a mystery for many: The Fluid Grid. Grid-based layouts have been a pillar of print design since the early 1920s and have started making their way onto the web. There are many reasons for this, none of which I will cover here. The challenge with grids on the web has always been that they are either entirely static or at the very least have static elements. This becomes a problem when visitors use devices with unusual or small screen sizes (think a phone, an iPad or a vertically oriented screen) because they are often forced to scroll left and right to access the information on the screen. Marcotte sets out to create a proper fluid grid layout and manages quite well through the use of relative sizes like em and % combined with a fair bit of math. The resulting fluid grid is quite ingenious and introduces flexibility to sites that previously were confined to rigid structures. And practicing what they preach both Marcotte and Cederholm use these types of fluid grid layouts on their own sites. Open them and resize your window to see for yourself.

The Bottom Line

The red line running through Handcrafted CSS: More Bulletproof Web Design is the attitude that a little extra refinement and forethought will bring rewards, in functionality, æsthetics and simplicity. And this attitude is one that can be applied to pretty much every aspect of life, not just web design. Cederholm and Marcotte are both living examples of how well this approach works and their sites stand as testaments to the techniques and parctices.

This book is for the seasoned designer / developer who already has a firm grasp on HTML and CSS but wants to take it further. It is also an excellent introduction to the world of CSS3 and fluid grid layouts for those that want to push their sites and designs into the future. The book is best read while sitting in front of your computer, preferably with a project on hand where the techniques can be implemented immediately. It is when you see the examples take shape and improve your own designs you realize where the value lies in this book. It’s not as much a list of good code examples as a guide to improving your own work. As such the seemingly disjointed code examples actually make a lot of sense: Rather than presenting pre-packaged functional content they are laid out in such a way that they can be slotted into pretty much any project for instant effect. This falls well in line with the theory that new knowledge is best retained when immediately applied to something that matters to the person learning it.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book wihtin the parameters I just set out and look forward to learning more from both Cederholm and Marcotte.

Tutorials WordPress

Highlight Current Page or Category in WordPress 3.0 Menus

Almost two years ago I published an article on how to create custom WordPress menus that highlighted the current page. It’s still one of the most popular posts on this site, and for good reason: Current page highlighting is vital to ensure a good user experience for your visitors. Without current page highlighting it’s hard for the visitor to know if she is on the correct page or not. Now it’s time to upgrade that tutorial to incorporate the new custom menu functionality in WordPress 3.0 and also add some new functionality.

WordPress 3.0 menus simplify everything… once you understand them

One of the major improvements shipped in WordPress 3.0 was the custom menu functionality. In the past menus were restricted to either simple page or category lists, hard-coded menus stored in the theme files or cumbersome 3rd party plug-ins. No such trouble any more. Custom menus are now available from right within the WordPress admin panel, found under the Appearance tab. And even if you have an older theme that doesn’t support the new menus you can still use them in your sidebar as widgets.

I’m not going to cover how to use the menus from within the admin panel. For that I recommend you read this WordPress Codex article that explains it quite well. Instead I’m going to talk about what you can do with these menus styling wise.

Dissecting the stock menu output

To see what’s possible with these new menus let’s first take a look at the code output from the stock menus. In this example I’ve created one menu with the name “My First Menu” and added it to the site using a sidebar widget. The menu has three buttons; Home pointing to the home page, About pointing to the About page and Contact pointing to the Contact page. (To make the code easier to read I’ve removed the sidebar <ul> and <li> tags so you only see the actual menu output.)

<div class="menu-My-First-Menu-container">
	<ul id="menu-My-First-Menu" class="menu">
		<li id="menu-item-37" class="menu-item menu-item-type-custom current-menu-item current_page_item menu-item-home menu-item-37">
			<a title="Home" href="">Home</a>
		<li id="menu-item-38" class="menu-item menu-item-type-post_type menu-item-38">
			<a title="About" href="">About</a>
		<li id="menu-item-39" class="menu-item menu-item-type-post_type menu-item-39">
			<a title="Contact" href="">Contact</a>

The key information for this tutorial can be found on line 4:

The first list item has an ID attached to it and then a huge array of classes. They are: “menu-item”, “menu-item-type-custom”, “current-menu-item”, “current_page_item”, “menu-item-home” and “menu-item-37”. Of these the three that matter to us are “current-menu-item”, “current_page_item” and “menu-item-home”. Using these custom classes you can create custom styles that highlight or otherwise affect only certain elements:

.current-menu-item { } targets only the menu item the visitor pressed to get to the menu. This goes for categories as well as pages.

.current-page-item { } targets only the current menu item if that menu item is pointing to a page and the visitor is on that page.

.menu-item-home { } targets only the menu item that points to the root or home page of the site.

So, to answer the question from the original artice: How do I highlight the current page in my menu? The answer is create a custom class style with the name .current-menu-item. As a bonus this style will not only target your pages but also your category index pages and your home page. In the past you had to create separate styles for these.

Going deeper with child pages

But this is just the beginning. With the new WordPress menus you can create custom styles that target more than just pages and category indexes. It turns out the code output for these custom menus is highly dynamic and it interacts with all the content on your page whether you actually use the menus or not. The code output above was generated after clicking on the home page and thus resulted in the three classes listed above (notice those three classes are not present in the two other list items). But what if you went to a page that was a child of one of the menu pages? In the past that would mean the parent page would not be highlighted in the menu. But now it can.

The code below was grabbed from the same site as before after I opened a page for which the About page is the parent:

<li id="menu-item-38" class="menu-item menu-item-type-post_type current-page-ancestor menu-item-38">
	<a title="About" href="">About</a>

Look closely at the class array and you’ll find this new class: “current-page-ancestor”. This class is activated every time the visitor opens a page that has a parent page that is featured on the menu. That means you can use this class to highlight the parent in the menu. The easiest way to do this is by simply adding the new class to the style of the original .current-menu-item class:

.current-menu-item, current-page-ancestor { } targets either the menu item for the current page or the menu item for the parent page if a child page is visited.

Category highlighting for single posts

It gets even more interesting when we look at category menu items. Like in the past you can create menus that point to category archives. And you can use the .current-menu-item class to highlight the current category in the menu if you’re on the category index page. But what if you want to highlight the category (or categories) of a particular post when that post is open? Again there are custom classes for this:

<li id="menu-item-40" class="menu-item menu-item-type-taxonomy current-post-ancestor current-menu-parent current-post-parent menu-item-40">
	<a title="Commercials" href="">Commercial</a>

Here the three classes “current-post-ancestor”, “current-menu-parent” and “current-post-parent” are what matters. Either of the three will allow you to highlight the category (or categories) the current post belongs to, but they each work in different ways:

.current-post-ancestor { } targets the menu item as long as the category the menu item points at is an ancestor of the post (so regardless of whether the post is in the category or in a sub-category under the category)

.current-menu-parent { } targets the menu item if it is the parent of the menu to which the post belongs (yes, it’s confusing).

.current-post-parent { } targets the menu item only if the category is the direct parent of the post (menu item will not be highlighted if the post only belongs to a category that is a child of the category the menu item points to).

Bottom line: The style that highlights pages, categories and parents

Because of how this new menu system is set up, and because it works so well you only really need to create one custom style if you want to highlight the current page, current category, page parent and category parent in your menu:

.current-post-ancestor { }

To get more advanced you can also create separate highlighting styles depending on what type of menu item it is or what relationship it has to the page, post or index. And if you have multiple menus you can create entirely separate style sets for each of these, complete with current page, post and category highlighting. The possibilities are if not endless then at least quite extensive.

Upon first inspection the code output of the new WordPress 3.0 menu system may look quite messy but now that you see what it’s all for I think you’ll agree with me that this heralds in a whole new age of menu customization for theme developers.

If you want to see this stuff in practice head on over to the website for the 12×12 Vancovuer Photo Marathon where I’ve implemented tons of custom menu highlighting.

Tutorials WordPress

Build a fancy WordPress author box

If you have a WordPress site or blog with multiple authors it might be useful to create a custom author box for each of them so the readers can get more information about the author and see their other posts etc. This tutorial is an extension of my Fancy Profile or Author Box tutorial from a couple of weeks back that customizes the author box to work with WordPress.

The final result

The goal of this tutorial is to create an author box like the one you see at the top of this article. The box above is the actual output of the working code and as you can see it works quite well. The box is conditional and activated by a custom field so it will only appear when you want it to. The bio is the standard profile bio entered in the WordPress user profile area. The name is the chosen display name of the user and links to the author index for the author. The website link opens the user defined website in a new window. The Twitter link goes to the user Twitter profile. And finally the image is the user Gravatar. The Twitter link is a bit wonky – I’ll get back to that later.

If you don’t want to go through the entire tutorial and learn how this all fits together just jump to the bottom of the article and get the source code.

Building the code

We already have the baseline for the code, both HTML and CSS, from the Fancy Profile or Author Box tutorial but this is going to be a dynamic box so we need to replace the static content with WordPress functions.

Let’s start with the baseline code:

Retrieving the dynamic author elements

To generate the dynamic content we are going to use a set of standard WordPress functions. These have changed over the last year or so and as a result the ones featured in many older tutorials are now deprecated.

To get the author bio we use the_author_meta():

To get the author Gravatar we use a custom code block that gets the user email address and retrieves the correct Gravatar based on that address:

To display the author name as a link to the author index page we use the the_author_post_link(). It’s an all-in-one solution that outputs the name with the correct link attached:

For the links to the author website and Twitter account we use the_author_meta() again interspersed with some plain text. Note that you have to combine several functions to get the name displayed as well as the link created:

's website
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A caveat: The Twitter handle is a bit of a cheat!

If you look at the last line of the last code example you’ll see that for the Twitter name I’m actually calling the AIM value (AIM being America Online Messenger). This is because the standard WordPress profile page only asks for your e-mail, website, AIM, Yahoo IM and Jabber / Google Talk information. I wasn’t aware anyone was using AIM any more and I have a feeling this is a leftover from way back so I chose to use this field to output the Twitter handle because it has the least chance of anyone actually using it. There is a way to add Twitter and other handles properly but this requires the use of plugins – something I’m not a big fan of. If you’re interested there is some information on it in the WordPress Codex.

Putting it all together

Now that we have the source code and all the correct dynamic tags it’s time to put it all together. The end result (barring any changes you decided to make on your own) should look like this:

's website
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Making it conditional

If you cut and paste the code above into your page or post template it will appear in every page or post. Which I’m pretty sure is now what you want. To make it elective you need to make a conditional statement in the code. I do this by using Custom Fields, in this case a field with the name “author” and the value “true” or “false”:

ID, 'author', true))) { ?>

This small function asks “if this current post has a custom field with the name “author” that is set to “true”, do what I say”. That way your box will only appear if the custom field has been defined.

The final HTML/PHP markup

With the conditional statement in place the complete markup to be pasted into your theme file looks like this:

ID, 'author', true))) { ?>
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Where to put the code

Like I said, this code has to be inserted into your theme files for the box to work. The easiest way to do this is actually to place it in a separate PHP file called something like “profile.php” and then call in from the theme files in question. That way you don’t have to edit the core theme files if you want to make a change to the box and adding it to new files means adding just one line of code.

If you placed this code (and only this code) in a file inside your theme called “profile.php” calling it from one of your core theme files is as easy as adding this one line of code:

/profile.php'); ?>

Where you insert it depends on where you want the box to appear in relation to your post content. If you want it to appear directly above you insert it before the the_content() function call. If you want it to appear after you insert it after and so on. Since you’re only inserting one line of code it’s easy to experiment and move it around for the best placement. And since the CSS is flexible width it will work properly pretty much regardless of the width of your post area.

The only thing to keep in mind is that the author box must be called from within the loop, otherwise it will not work.

The final CSS markup

The CSS markup for the author box is pretty much identical to the CSS in the original tutorial. I’ve just added some specifications to avoid conflicts. All you need to do is paste this into your styles.css file, get the blue background image file and place it in your theme image folder and make sure the call to the file has the correct image folder name.


.profile {
	border: 1px solid #CCCCCC;
	position: relative;

.profileText {
	font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
	font-size: 0.8em;
	padding: 10px;
	line-height: 1.4em;
	text-align: justify;

.profileStats {
	font-family: Georgia, "Times New Roman", Times, serif;
	font-style: italic;
	text-align: right;

.profileStats img {
	position: absolute;
	right: 0px;
	bottom: 0px;

.profileName {
	padding-bottom: 5px;
	padding-right: 92px;
	font-size: 1.2em;
	font-weight: bold;
	color: #2e4672;

.profileName a {
	color: #2e4672;

.profileName a:hover {
	text-decoration: none;

.profileJob {
	font-size: 0.8em;
	padding-right: 92px;
	padding-top: 5px;
	background-image: url('{image folder}/testimonialBlue.gif'); /* Remember to set the correct image folder here */
	background-repeat: repeat-x;
	height: 45px;
	color: #FFFFFF;
	line-height: 18px;

.profileJob a {
	color: #FFFFFF;
	font-weight: bold;
	text-decoration: none;


That’s all there is to it. Have fun adding this box to your website or blog and customizing it to fit with your theme. And if you like, drop a comment below to show it off to the world.

Expression Web My Book

In rewrite mode: New version of my book on the way!

Since was kind enough to list my book months before it’s done and I’ve been Tweeting about it for weeks there really is no reason to pretend it’s a secret any more: I am currently in the process of revising my book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web in 24 Hours 3 for the upcoming release of Expression Web 3 which is slated for some time later this summer.

Needless to say writing a book about software that not only is not out yet but is not even finished yet is a bit of a challenge. And like last year (when I wrote the first version of the book) I will probably spend the next couple of months in constant revision mode making new screen grabs, changing tutorials to fit a not-yet-completed user interface and so on. But hey, I’m not complaining: Writing these books means I have to learn and understand every minute detail about the software. And knowing your tools inside out makes for a faster and more productive work routine.

The new book is more than just an update to fit the new user interface: Over the past year I’ve received countless emails from readers with questions and comments about everything from how to save files in Expression Web to how I got a book deal and I’ve taken all these comments, suggestions and criticisms along with my own experiences and thoughts to rewrite many of the chapters and add new and exciting content. And yes, my sentences are just as long in the book!

New features in the book

The new version of the book will, amongst other things, include:

  • a completely new project that the reader will build from the ground up. The new project has a better design, more flexibility and new choices for the designer to make the site her own. The idea behind the new project is that once the site is completed by the end of Hour 24, the reader can simply replace the content from the book with her own content and launch the site.
  • New menu tutorials showcasing vertical and horizontal CSS based menus as well as a CSS based drop-down menu.
  • A CSS layout tutorial explaining how you can use CSS to create multiple different layouts within one site without having to make separate style sheets.
  • An entire chapter on cross-browser testing using SuperPreview and the other accessibility and reporting tools built into Expression Web 3.

I am currently rewriting Hour 18 and, having skipped some chapters, still have about 10 to go (plus a couple of apendixes and a bonus chapter) so if you have comments, questions, concerns or anything else you want to say before I wrap this baby up, please feel free to put it in the comments below or send me an email. The book is written to help you so if you need help, speak up!

That said, go to and buy the book now. That way you know you’ll have it the minute it comes out!

Tutorials Video Tutorials WordPress as CMS WordPress Themes

Using WordPress in Alternate Configurations – My WordCamp Whistler 09 Presentation

Finally, after a full week of catching up, here is the video tutorial version of my presentation at WordCamp Whistler 09 for those who were there and those who couldn’t come. The video is also available on if you’d rather watch it there. I recorded the video over the weekend and it contains the entire presentation including all my fancy slides as well as the code examples and demos. The only thing you won’t see is me waving my hands around and messing up the code like I did at the actual event ;o)

Code Snippets

The last half of the presentation centers around creating Custom Page Templates and Custom Fields for layout purposes. To help you along in your own WordPress site development, here are those code snippets ready to be cut and pasted into your templates:

Custom Page Templates in 5 lines of code

This block of code is inserted at the very top of the Custom Page Template file. To get started, simply open the page.php file, save it under a different name, paste these 5 lines of code at the top of the document, save and upload to your server. To activate the new Custom Page Template just select it from the Template menu under Attributes in the Page Editor within WordPress.


Custom Fields in one line of code

This code can be used in any template file including but not limited to page.php, any Custom Page Templates, index.php, archives.php, single.php etc etc. The code returns a string of text that matches the text inserted in the custom field. Remember to replace $key with the actual name of the custom field. You can read more about Custom Fields and how to use them in the WordPress Codex.

 ID, '$key', true); ?> 

Custom Field that parses PHP code

This code is used to parse (interpret) PHP code inserted into custom fields. It is a bit wonky – for instance it terminates any other custom field code placed directly after it in a page – so use it with caution. Otherwise it works exactly as the code above.

ID, 'centerBox', true); ?> 
'.$boxContent); ?> 

Applications Used in the Presentation

After the presentation several people came up to me and asked what applications I used, so here is a short list:

BitNami WordPress Stack

The demo site I used in the presentation was actually installed and running locally within Windows 7. To achieve this I used an ingenious application named BitNami WordPress Stack. Once installed this application will run a fully functional version of WordPress with database entry, plug-ins, custom themes and everything else you want to throw at it right inside Windows (XP, Vista and Windows 7 supported) so you don’t have to keep uploading your files to a server or hassle through complicated XAMP installs to play around with WordPress while offline. You can even install several different WordPress and other open source CMS stacks on your computer simultaneously to further increase your productivity. I have no idea exactly how it works but BitNami works incredibly well. Just remember to set the IP address to “localhost” when you install it.
You can download the BitNami WordPress Stack here. For Mac users there is a similar application called MAMP but I know nothing about it.

Web Developer Add-On for FireFox

FireFox is my absolute favourite browser and I use it for browsing as well as in the design process. One of the main advantages of FireFox is the myriad of add-ons you can install that make web site development a lot easier. The one I use the most is the Web Developer Add-On. This small application within an application lets you see and mess with CSS, turn styles and JavaScript on and off and do tons of other stuff that makes it easier to dissect and troubleshoot buggy web pages. Combine it with the HTML Validator add-on and you have a true powerhouse in a small browser window.

Microsoft Expression Web 2

My web development platform of choice is Microsoft Expression Web 2. This new offering from Microsoft is what enables me to build custom WordPress themes and web sites like from scratch in less than 24 hours. There are many great things you can talk about with Expression Web 2 but for WordPress theme development the two main features is full PHP support, unrivaled CSS integration and Standards Based CSS generation right out of the box. If you want to know more about Expression Web 2 or want to learn how to use it you can read more on this blog or pick up a copy of my book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 2 in 24 Hours. It’s a good read, I promise.


Design is Philosophy featured at Webdesigner Depot


A big thanks to the people at Webdesigner Depot for featuring Design is Philosophy in their list of 100 Websites With Outstanding Artistic Design. The props are much appreciated.Take a trip over to the site and check out the other great and unusual designs featured.

The one site missing on the list by the way is Webdesigner Depot itself!

CSS Expression Web News

Pure CSS Drop-Down Menu tutorial – a slight omission

I just got a comment from a reader of my recent Expression Newsletter article The No-Code Way to a Pure CSS Horizontal Drop-Down Menu with Expression Web. He was having trouble getting the grey boxes to “fill out” properly which left the menu looking weird.

A quick review of his CSS told me the problem was he didn’t have the display property set to block. A slight omission for sure but I was more focused on where it originated. A quick read of the paragraph in the article showed me that somewhere in the editing (probably during my rigorous clean-up) this small but important piece of code was ommitted. Which means if people follow the tutorial step by step they’ll run into the same problem.

I’ve already informed the newsletter team of the issue and hopefully they’ll fix it presently. In the meantime, if you’ve run into this problem and you found your way to this blog, here is the full paragraph and the resulting code:

5th paragraph under the heading “Style the links”:

To set the height of the link go to the Block category and set the line-height attribute to 30px to match the height of the ul li style you defined earlier. The reason you are using the line-height attribute instead of the height attribute is that line-height automatically places the text at vertical center. If you were to use height you would have to set the vertical placement manually using padding. To set the width, go to the Position category and set width to 150px to match. Finally, to “fill out” the area with the background colour, go to the Layout category and set display to block.

The resulting code should look like this:

ul li a {
	background-color: #808080;
	color: #FFFFFF;
	width: 142px;
	display: block;
	text-decoration: none;
	line-height: 30px;
	padding-left: 8px;

You can find a full working version of the menu here and it’s CSS here for reference.

CSS Expression Web News Tutorials

Read my article in the Microsoft Expression November Newsletter

A month or so ago Microsoft contacted me and asked if I would write an article on Expression Web for their Expression Newsletter. How could I say no to such an opportunity? After some back and forth about the topic I landed on an article on how to create a Pure CSS Drop-Down menu. Over time I’ve encountered numerous solutions, most of which were clunky and didn’t work properly. So the tutorial demonstrates how to create a fully functional CSS-only drop-down menu utilizing the excellent CSS features in Expression Web.

That’s not to say you have to use Expression Web to get something out of the article though. You can follow the tutorial and get the same results even if you’re using Notepad to build your sites. It’s just that Expression Web makes it a hell of a lot easier to manage.

This article comes hot on the heels of my book Sams Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 2 in 24 Hours which contains an expanded tutorial on the same topic that also covers a layers-based drop-down menu. If you are an Expression Web 2 user of if you are considering buying or switching over to this excellent web authoring and publishing platform I humbly suggest you pick up a copy for yourself. It’s a quick read and it gives you hour-by-hour instructions on how to create a web site from scratch with the application. And once you’re done, you’ll have a fully working and standards based web site at your disposal. I wrote it as the book I wish someone had written when I started out and from the response I’ve gotten so far people are learning a lot from it. Which is what I set out to do.

If you’re interested in a preview of the kind of content you’ll find in the book or you just want to know how to make a Pure CSS Drop-Down menu, you can read the full article, The No-Code Way to a Pure CSS Horizontal Drop-Down Menu with Expression Web, here or subscribe to the Expression Web Newsletter.