tools on a workbench

Posting in a New and Yet Familiar Place

A blog post. No apologies for time elapsed since the last one. No promises of when the next one will come.

However, this post ushers in an exciting (to me) new tool to refresh the look and feel of my site (and others), but also to explore some of the design possibilities for University of North Florida faculty. The UNF Faculty Domains initiative is well and truly off and running. Some folks, like Associate Professor of Jazz Studies Clarence Hines, are self-starters and are working with premium WordPress themes. Others, like Assistant Professor of Biology Quincy Gibson, have used attractive “freemium” themes to good effect. How can you not love a dolphin website. To say that I’m proud of what our faculty have accomplished so far, as well as the support that my CIRT colleagues have provided, would be an understatement.

Nothing allows you to learn a new tool better than to make it personal. So while UNF faculty are learning WordPress, I’m learning something that will enhance and extend WordPress capabilities. That tool is Elementor.

For those unfamiliar, Elementor is a so-called “page builder” for WordPress. You start with a WordPress theme and Elementor layers its effects on top of it. It takes some getting used to, and my biggest obstacle is figuring out where the WordPress theme ends, and where Elementor begins. Even as we began using it earlier this summer (a site license), the Elementor folks have been adding features. It has allowed me to understand, and tweak, the styling and functionality of a site. It has even pushed me to finally delve into custom post types, and custom fields. An envelope that I hadn’t really pushed very far before.

There’s not one way to think about Elementor. You need to at the very least have a basic theme installed, so it’s not a theme replacer. Some themes that are available are even tuned for use with Elementor (Ocean WP or Astra for instance) so they’ll add much more capability than your standard Twenty Seventeen theme (standard as of the latter part of 2018). However, Elementor will also change the look of your site in significant ways. You can change the site header & footer, post archive page, single posts, and single pages, to name just a few. Once you get the hang of it, you can change things like the search results page and even make a custom “404 error” page. The Elementor YouTube channel has copious amounts of tutorial videos, and they’re adding new ones on a regular basis. Where things really began to click for me was when they added a video to create a movie database site using Elementor and the Advanced Custom Fields (ACF) plugin. I could then finally conceptualize creating custom post types (i.e. portflios) which opens a whole new world in WordPress.

Whoa! What if I’m just starting out you might ask? They recently wrote a post about creating a website with Elementor and WordPress that starts you from the beginning. They cover hosting, WordPress installation, all the way up to custom templates that are available, and creating those dynamic templates. The Elementor blog is constantly updated and the documentation is very good.

So this sounds like a sponsored post. Are there any downsides? Well, what you might quickly discover is the stuff you can’t modify. It will seem like you can endlessly tweak settings, until you can’t. A creative roadblock. However, it seems like they take user feedback quite seriously so it wouldn’t surprise me if they keep pushing forward with endlessly modifiable settings. I’m amazed at what they have added just in the last several months.

I wish I had available to me the “creating a website” tutorial post sooner, but folks can take advantage of it from here on out. Lucky you.

There is a free version that allows you to try it out, but you will soon find it’s limitations. Virtually everything I talked about in this post is not possible with the free version of Elementor. UNF purchased a site license for $200 but there are single licenses for $50 (pricing is available here – act before the end of the day and take advantage of their Halloween sale!)

This is a tool that has allowed me to work in a creative space beyond what standard WordPress allows. My single dream is for a feature that allows the export of a complete theme based on what you designed in Elementor. I don’t know what that would take or if it is practicable, but I will dream. Elementor keeps exceeding my expectations, even if at first having a rough start getting the full concept.

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash


2 Responses

  1. Tim, I knew you had written about it and I also heard good things at a local WordCamp. Plus $200 to use for all of the Domains sites is a bargain. Hoping for good things to come of it.

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