We here at ChurchWP.net think is it important to learn about some of the folks behind the themes and plugins we recommend. We introduce you to them via our Designer Interview series because we think it is a great way for you to get to know the designers and learn some great design tips from them too!  Today, we feature, Caleb Sylvest (follow him on Twitter @calebsylvest), the lead designer for the Uplifted theme by UpThemes.com!

How long have you been involved in web design and what go you started?

The first websites I made never saw the light of day. When I was a teenager, I made a few websites with Microsoft Word but never knew where to go from there or how to post them live on the internet. Maybe that was for the best. I have always been an artist, but I didn’t discover what Graphic Design was until college, but when I did I knew that’s where I belonged. I really didn’t get into web design and development until I entered the professional world. The college I went to didn’t focus much on web design, only one class, so I was really in a trial by fire situation at my first couple of jobs out of school. I had a little bit of experience and an okay portfolio, but I was blessed with some great bosses who hired me based on the potential they saw. Through those positions I was able to work with some huge clients like Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Garth Brooks, Third Day, and The Doors, really unheard of for someone straight out of school.

 

How did you get interested in church websites?

There is clearly a need for beautiful, easy to use church websites. I’ve seen a number of services offering custom designs or generic templates, but something always seems to be lacking. At UpThemes, we decided to step into the church website market and build WordPress themes that are user-friendly, cost-effective, and represent the Church beautifully. Personally, I have had past experience helping my church and communities with design projects or advising them. The first real website I designed and built on my own was for the Wesley Foundation at Louisiana Tech University, a local campus ministry that I was a part of.

 

How does your faith impact your design?

I love being an artist/designer. I really can say I was born with a God-given talent, and that was expressed to me throughout my childhood. Being an artist is unique because, as a creator, I have a closer connection to the Creator. One of my favorite things to think about is how God created this beautiful, complex world we live in, and all the crazy systems that govern it – physics, micro-organisms, color, etc.

 

Why do you think churches should use WordPress to create their website?

WordPress is a great platform for churches to use as a base for their online presence, it’s powerful and versatile as well as easy to use.

  1. Ease of use. WordPress is made for the everyday user to handle and manage content. You don’t have to have a Computer Science degree or know what Ruby on Rails means to manage content with WordPress. I’ll say this, I feel confident that I could hand a WordPress site to my mom, teach her a few things, and she could run the site with no problems (no offense mom, love you!).
  2. Cost. WordPress is open-source and free to use! You really can’t beat that. The overall cost for setting up a WordPress site and theme is often 50x less expensive than choosing to go through a website provider. Savings can then be used on things a ministry desperately needs.
  3. Easy to set up. Setup is super easy. Most hosting providers offer a one-click installer to spin up a WordPress site. For someone completely unfamiliar with WordPress setup can be confusing, but for someone with knowhow, a site could be up-and-running in 10 minutes (not including loading content).
  4. Simple content editing. Creating, updating, and publishing content with WordPress is super easy. If you’re brand new to WordPress, of course, there will be a learning curve, but I consider WordPress to be the easiest to use and learn open-source CMS.
  5. Vast, Helpful Community. WordPress powers around 20% of all websites on the internet. That’s a lot of websites! Support for WordPress is extensive whether you are trying to figure out something yourself or looking for a WordPress pro to help. You can find a WordPress developer anywhere, and that’s really useful for churches and business when they run into a problem they need help with.

 

What are the key things churches should consider when looking for a theme?

There are a lot of themes out there. My brain is overwhelmed when I try to sift through all the themes available. But there are a few key points to keep in mind when scouring the market.

  1. Responsive. Every website should be responsive, meaning the site layout responds to the screen real-estate provide by a users device, optimized for mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and desktops. Responsive design uses one codebase to handle all modifications to a sites layout, versus some methods that serve either a desktop or mobile version of the site depending on a users device.
  2. Features. All churches have similar goals and content that need to be communicated clearly on their website. When choosing a church theme the theme should offer support for most types of content that churches will be using like events, media, sermons, staff, and service times baked in.
  3. Ongoing Cost. Consider the initial cost of setup – purchasing a theme, domain name, hosting, support – and the long term cost – renewal of domain name, hosting, and support. When you compare the cost of setting up a WordPress church site versus other church solutions, going the WordPress method can save you a whole bunch of money.
  4. Longevity. Design trends change every year, but design is the least thing to worry about, development technologies are more important. To someone who doesn’t have much knowledge about development languages or new tech this can seem extremely overwhelming. Churches don’t usually have the funding or availability on staff to constantly upgrade and update a website, so a church site really needs to be built in a bullet-proof manner that will last for several years. This requires a lot of forethought on the side of developers (which may or may not happen). I like to offer myself to others (churches, businesses, and friends) as a resource to point them in the right direction. Whether they become a client of mine or not, I want to make sure they end up with a solid product that won’t fail them when things change one year down the line. An example of this is the church my mom works at. They purchased a site several years ago built with Flash, and within the same year it became deprecated with the rise of the iPhone and iPad.

 

Are there certain design trends you see happening recently that churches should be aware of?

Long shadows. Just kidding. Design trends are an interesting topic because it’s very here-and-now, but trends quickly change. I’m all about visual design and making things look good, but for churches I really want to emphasis good technology choices, and I think I covered that moderately well above. But, here are a few designery things:

  1. Less-is-More. Minimalism is in. Designs don’t have to have every color of the rainbow, or clipart, or twenty typefaces to be cool and tasteful. Go simple.
  2. Tasty Colors. This is less of a trend than a rule-of-thumb I like to throw around. Colors should be fun and bright and inviting. Too often at churches and businesses (banks!) I see what could have been a nice color, a red or blue, that has been mixed with what I call “gray poupon” that turns the beautiful color into a brownish sludge, reminiscent of baby food.
  3. Typography Magick. Typography has made a resurgence on the web with new technologies. Thanks to cool services like Google Web Fonts and Typekit you can add nice typography to your website. But remember, with great power comes great responsibility! I suggest only working with two font families max on the web!

How long have you been part of UpThemes? How did you get involved?

I joined the Lift/UpThemes team in July 2013, so it’s been a year now. My wife and I are both from Louisiana, and after school we moved to Blacksburg, Virginia for a while and then Nashville, Tennessee – both for my career. Being that far from home can be difficult, and while we enjoyed both places very much we decided we wanted to move closer to home to find a more permanent place to settle and raise kids. We chose the Dallas area because of it’s proximity to our families and the abundant economy. My role on the team has been different than my teammates. Most of my co-workers are contracted for long periods of time with clients. So when we have new, short term projects come in I’m usually working on those as well as our WordPress theme business.

 

It sounds like UpThemes is going through some transformations. What lead up to them? (You can read the article here.)

Yes, things are changing. We want to create products we are proud of that delight our customers. Up until late last year, we couldn’t say that’s what we were doing. We followed the path of many other theme shops by building products for the masses and competing on price. Learning from those lessons, we are now focusing on building the best themes for specific types of customers like bands, churches, food bloggers, etc. We go the extra mile to fine tune the small details because those are what end up making the biggest impact for a small business, church, or blog owner. Anyone can learn how to build a theme, but building a theme perfect for a business or organization is not easy.

What makes UpThemes unique? Why would one of your themes be a good investment for churches?

When you buy theme from UpThemes, you can be sure of these things:

  1. It will save you time and money. Our themes are built to be easy to use out of the box and come with instructions for making the theme look exactly like the theme demo. In addition, using one of our themes means taking advantage of thousands of hours of work for just a fraction of that cost. You receive all our WordPress and design expertise baked right in to your website.
  2. It will look great and work well. At UpThemes, we are designers first. When we’re building themes, we constantly think about the broad impact of adding a new theme option or utilizing a feature plugin. By purchasing a theme from us, you can be confident in the user experience of our themes and presenting your content beautifully.
  3. Your content will be portable. We never add custom post types within a theme that force you to use our theme or make it tough to switch to another one. Utilizing free plugins like Church Theme Content, we make it easy for people to switch themes without worrying their content will disappear.
  4. Help is just an email away. Whether you have a question or need a plugin recommendation, the same people that build our themes are the ones who will answer your questions. We treat our customers as if they were a friend or family member looking for solid guidance with their website.

As a follower of Christ, in the end, I am more interested in helping further the Kingdom of God than making money or having fun building themes. I’m excited to use my skills and expertise to help grow the various ministries around the world, help people I’ve never met, and do more than just design basic website templates.

What information do you think every church website should include? Why is it important?

The web presence of a ministry is important, but making a human connection is essential. It’s great when ministry sites have sermon documents, videos, podcast, biographies, and more but the number one goal of a website should be to enable virtual visitors to connect with someone, whether that’s through an email contact form, phone number, or directing them to services and events. Make sure your church website gives new visitors a glimpse into your church and the people who make it up. Everyone searches for a new church home and its important to show people your congregation’s beliefs and values through the content you publish on your website.

What is the critical info that should be on every home church’s homepage? Why is it important?

I don’t think all of these items need to be on the homepage, but within 5 seconds of visiting a site I should either be able to find the content I’m looking for, or a link to it. A few important things your church website should make obvious are:

  1. Location/directions.
  2. Services and service times.
  3. Contact information.
  4. Event information.

In addition, when considering users on mobile devices, adding directions and links to Google Maps are extremely helpful in order to make life easy on potential visitors looking for your church!

Are there any mistakes you see churches make with their websites? Anything churches should try to avoid?

I could probably talk about what not to do for hours, but here are a few pointers that may help.

  1. Trying to jam content “above the fold” is not worth your time.  According to usability expert Luke Wroblewski, users interact most with content just above the bottom of their viewport, but users who scroll down the page spend more time there than at the top. Spend your time building great content and people will stay longer and be more interested in what’s on your site.
  2. Put the most commonly accessed pages in your main menu. A lot can be said about the information architecture of a site, but for navigation menus I suggest 4 to 7 links. Anything more can be overwhelming for people to understand and causes confusion. 4 to 7 is alway a good, solid number of items to shoot for as humans can easily remember and parse the information (ex. phone numbers).
  3. Flash is dead, back away quickly. Do not use a Flash-based site. Flash does not work on iPhones or iPads, can be difficult to edit and is not responsive, which means your site will not be accessible to a number of potential visitors. You wouldn’t put a roadblock at the entrance to your church would you? So why do that on your website?
  4. Less Is always more. Limit the amount of information provided in each page and section. The 4 to 7 rule I mention above is a good rule-of-thumb to follow for all content.

What do you like to do when you are not developing WordPress themes?

I spend my time with my family and friends. My wife and I enjoy wandering around our small town of McKinney, Texas and checking out local events in Dallas. We are involved at our church,Watermark, and our community group. I’m a huge entertainment fan – books, movies, tv shows, graphic novels, board games, music – and an avid tinkerer. I just bought an Arduino set and have been messing around with it. My wife and I are bookbinders and sell at art and craft fairs. I also teach anIntro to Bookbinding class on Skillshare, and try to keep it up-to-date and interact with my students. Basically your normal ol’ everyday dude!