Remembering what it’s like to be a beginner

This morning, I received a question similar to the following via email.

Owari doesn’t appear when I search for it in the WordPress theme admin page (WP 4.5).

How is it installed?

Owari, is of course, a premium WordPress theme. Whereas WordPress.org (and by extension, the theme admin page) only includes free WordPress themes.

Instead of ranting, be understanding

Rhyme totally not intended, but anyway…

For some, it’s tempting to go on a public Twitter rant to ridicule the person who dared to ask such a “dumb” question. But it’s not tempting to me, because I remember what it’s like to be a beginner.

In this particular case, it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder why the official WordPress theme repository, which includes a seemingly endless supply of themes, doesn’t include the one in question…even if it is paid.

I would calmly respond with the following:

It’s a premium theme, so you’d have to buy it from this page: https://themetry.com/themes/owari/ and upload it manually to your server.

Only free themes are allowed on WordPress.org, so unfortunately it won’t be available from the admin.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Instead of going on a Twitter tirade, I took advantage of an opportunity to educate.

If it happens repeatedly, you’re the problem

Out of all the sales we’ve made in our short life as a premium theme shop, this is the only time we’ve ever received a question like this.

If it became a pattern, however, it would be indicative of a lack of clarity on our end. It would be a mistake to dismiss it as just a string of “dumb users.”

Instead, explore ways to make things more clear. For example, use a “start here” page to communicate high-level takeaways for your business. Or place a specialized set of frequently asked questions on individual product pages.

These are just a few ideas. The point is to let beginner empathy drive UX decisions. It will save you time in answering repetitive support questions, and ultimately lead to happier users.

That’s a win-win. 🙂

What’s your beginner story?

I’ve been making websites for a long time. I got my start with old school, free website builders like Geocities, Angelfire, and Hometown AOL.

While using those did give me a basic understanding of web publishing (AOL gave users a free 2 MB FTP account, lol), custom domains weren’t an option. Everyone’s site was on a URL like hometown.aol.com/screenname/.

My “domain” options were limited to free subdomain redirect services. They’d essentially host a single page that contained nothing but an iframe of a Hometown AOL site, effectively masking those verbose URLs to something like mywebsite.123.com.

Because everything “lived” inside the iframe, navigating to different pages within it did not change the URL in the browser’s address bar.

When it came time to move on to actual domain names, I could not wrap my head around how a domain could “point” to a web host, without redirecting to a Geocities-like URL, or stuffing it all into an iframe.

While DNS is second nature to me now, I’ll never forget how I struggled with such a seemingly “basic” concept, and the kind domain registrar and web host support people who helped me understand.

No matter how expert-level someone purports to be, I guarantee they have a story just like mine, because everyone starts somewhere. When a user asks a “dumb” question, what story are you going to look back on?

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