One of the most delicate aspects of web design is striking a balance between aesthetics and usability. The two concepts overlap at the point of emotional feedback. How so?
When you encounter a new website for the first time, the way the site looks and the way you interact with its content elicits an emotional response. A successful design will create a positive emotional response. From excitement to intrigue, from wonder to satisfaction, the successful design will have brought you into meaningful contact with the site's content. And providing that the content is of equally high quality, then it is likely that you'll be back for more.
The poorly designed website on the other hand ends up driving the user away. There are any number of reasons why this might happen, but to give some quick examples, I'm thinking of the lack of visual coherence, the lack of clear navigation, slow-loading scripts, browser bugs and misaligned content and so on and so forth.
And then there's a third category.
The type of design that is willing to trade balance for a sucker-punch; the type of design that goes out on a limb in its use of visuals and interactivity; the type of design that creates two different audiences in the blink of an eye: passionate lovers and vehement haters. Why? Because it is the sort of design that asks the user to readjust his/her coordinates; to accept a different approach to design conventions.
This, for me, is the case of Ruben Bristian's WowWay WordPress Portfolio Theme.
Here's a 30 second video clip of me navigating the theme. This should give you a sense of what I'm getting at here.
WowWay is a creative portfolio WordPress theme that is full-on graphic intensive, but it deals with media content in a way that is fluid, intelligent and pleasurable like few other WordPress theme designs I've seen to date. And it's for these reasons that I'm calling it a potential game changer or at the very least a theme and a theme developer to keep your eye on.
The general theme architecture is based on a familiar grid layout. Each element of the grid on the front page and on the gallery pages is formed of an image. Each image has a jQuery rollover effect that initiates a different response according to the location and type of content you're viewing.
The front page consists of portfolio items. Clicking on one of the images takes you to an overlaid portfolio entry. Here you can see a range of visuals related to the project. Each slide can be either photo or video. From the overlay view you can also cycle through portfolio entries without having to return to the main grid.
But if you return to the main grid view on the front page, you can click one of the portfolio categories and see the grid realign itself with the category related content.
The same logic and interactivity applies to the gallery template. Here the emphasis is on photography; on showcasing images. Each thumbnail in the grid serves as a cover image for a series of photos. Captions and links can be included in a small text overlay. And once again you can cycle through image collections without having to move back to the main grid view.
The theme also comes with a blog template, a custom contact form template and a number of short codes.
Yes there are some things that still need improving. The jumpy sidebar could do with the option to keep it open for example. That would give the theme greater stability and it would make navigating a site that uses the theme more intuitive. I hear that that's something Ruben Bristian has in the pipeline for the next update. I also think that so much work has gone into designing the fluid and interactive layout of the portfolio and gallery templates that the blog has taken a secondary stance.
I'd like to see how a blog would operate using the same logic and design that went into the portfolio and gallery. I would also like to see a top layer of navigation; pushing the social media icons and search box to the right and bringing in a simple menu up top to help visitors get their bearings.
All in all though, this is a superb WordPress portfolio theme. I do think it will divide its audience. Many will not like the level of movement at play in this theme, others will embrace it with open arms. At the time of writing, Ruben has sold 51 copies and it's created a lot of buzz. So I repeat, at the very least, this is a theme developer to keep an eye on.
What do you think about the WowWay WordPress Portfolio theme? Why not go and take a tour of the theme and then come back here and let me know. Is this your sort of theme or do you think there's too much bling and it's not sustainable in the long term? Either way, I'd love to know.