Interviewing Ben Gillbanks of Pro Theme Design on WordPress

by Saud Razzak  June 21, 2016

Ben Gillbanks is the Owner, Developer, and general Dogs Body at Pro Theme Design. Previously, he had lead the web development team and worked on a series of projects helping to shape the future direction of the company itself. He is well known for WordPress, Photoshop, Graphic Design, Game Development, Basic PHP, MYSQL, and Videos Games. During his free time, Ben involves himself with projects related to WordPress and WordPress theme development. He has his own premium themes websites running over the internet.

interview with ben gillbanks

Cloudways: Hey Ben Gillbanks, I was amazed while going through your LinkedIn profile. Observing that you have credible amount of experience in the field of development, will you care to enlighten our readers as how you initiated your career. Tell us a bit about yourself? and why do you choose WordPress as your favorite CMS?

Ben: Hi – thanks for asking if I’d do this! I got into computers at quite a young age. So, I spent a lot of time drawing in Microsoft paint – and so decided to study digital art at university. I wanted to work in video games and got a job at Miniclip.com as a game artist – where they found out I did web design as a hobby. I ended up becoming the Director of Web Development.

Whilst at Miniclip I wanted to start a blog. I tried loads of CMS’s – and WordPress was the best by far. Everything about it was so easy to use. I released a free theme (Regulus) which became quite popular – then I partnered with Darren Hoyt and in 2007 we released Mimbo Pro, one of the first premium themes.

Cloudways: I learned that you are a part-time game developer. Can you tell our readers which game genre do you prefer? and which games do you play during your free time? Can you tell us about any game that you have developed recently?

Ben: I’ve always been a console gamer – mostly Nintendo. I’m a big fan of most of their first party games, Zelda in particular. I love the exploration aspects and how they build a complete world. In fact I mostly enjoy adventure and exploration games.

The most recent game which I designed is a small adventure speed running game. It’s a game about my life at the moment – The Legend of Dad Quest for Milk – as a new Dad I am spending a lot of time running around doing things for my son! 🙂

Cloudways: You build WordPress themes and projects, can you tell us which tools do you prefer to create and manage your projects on WordPress? Can you share your development workflow with our readers?

Ben: I mostly design themes. In order to do it, I keep a maintained theme builder that is loosely based on current software technologies. It contains a lot of standard functionality that I use in all my projects. I’m currently considering how I can make it open source as I think it might be useful to others.

In terms of tools – I have been a long time fan of Netbeans, but I’ve recently been trying Atom, and Brackets and am thinking about switching to one of them. I work locally with MAMP, and use a combination of Codekit and Gulp for the various tasks needed.

Version control is managed by Bitbucket for closed source things, and Github for open source.

I have a page on Pro Theme Design that lists all the tools and services I use to manage the website.

Cloudways: Ben, you have a very unique and simple website. How did that idea clicked your mind?

Ben: It’s funny you should say that as I’ve been thinking about redesigning both my personal site and my business site. I’ve always tried to do things that are a little bit different. I do have some more generic themes, but they are probably the ones that sell least well. The ones where I do something a bit unusual or quirky tend to sell best (and are most fun to build). In the last couple of years I have been focusing on creating more minimal designs as well. It’s an interesting challenge to make something that is equal parts minimal, interesting, and unique.

Cloudways: You are presently working at “Pro Theme Design”. What are your responsibilities there and how do you cater them?

Ben: Pro Theme Design is a premium WordPress themes site that I started in 2007. At the time I partnered with Darren Hoyt and we built Mimbo Pro and a bunch of other themes. These days I run everything alone – occasionally partnering with Darren, and others for design. However I build the themes, run the website, do support, take care of the accounts – everything to do with running the business is done by me. It keeps me busy!

Cloudways: What are your views about the future of WordPress? Will its market share continue to grow? What is that one feature you would love to see in WordPress?

Ben: I definitely think the future for WordPress is strong. The REST API has a lot of potential for strengthening the appeal. It will mean that developers who don’t like developing with WordPress can use their language of choice to integrate with the admin. I also like the recent focus on accessibility and usability. These improvements are not always immediately obvious to those who are english speaking with good vision & mobility – but they will help to open up WordPress to an even wider audience.

I’d like to see more of the site editing move to the customizer, in particular it would be great to see frontend editing for content which would make WordPress behave more like Medium. Anything that eases content development, and reduces the need for learning complex interfaces has to be good.

Cloudways: WordPress core is lesser known for its speed & security, what are your steps to optimize and make it more secure? Which plugins are your favorite and most recommended?

Ben: I know this reputation exists but I think it’s unfair. A lot of the insecurity and slowness of WordPress is from third party plugins. A bare WordPress install with a well coded theme is as quick as any other dynamic cms powered website.

As I mentioned above, I use a starter theme for all of my theme projects. I don’t use frameworks or ‘kitchen sink’ themes. Themes that try to do everything have lots of functionality that many will never use – and this bloat slows things down.

So keeping the theme light, and not having loads of options takes care of the speed. Of course caching helps massively – but I can’t control what services or server setups my customers use.

In terms of security – it’s not that hard to make a secure WordPress theme. You just have to be sure to sanitize EVERYTHING. Anything that could be changed by a user, either through the admin, or through a plugin, should be cleaned. WordPress has a suite of sanitization functions – and you should learn and use them.

Finally – all of my themes are code reviewed by the WordPress.com theme team. I’m fortunate that I can sell my themes on WordPress.com – and part of this includes a theme review. They are very strict about both speed and security and won’t publish anything that might be slow or insecure. This second set of eyes can help to catch things I have missed, and means my themes will always be as good as they can be.

To be honest I don’t have many plugins I recommend. I know it’s controversial but the one I always suggest is Jetpack. It’s full of functionality that is actually useful, and means I can leverage their code instead of packing my themes with extra code. For example many of my themes support the Jetpack portfolio functionality – this reduces the work I have to do, and helps to keep the base theme light.

Cloudways: Within the WordPress Community, who do you consider among your best friends?

Ben: Darren is the person I have collaborated with the most so he’s probably the closest to a real friend in the community. I’ve met quite a few different people at WordCamps, and am a member of a couple of forums and communities, and there’s a few people I talk to fairly regularly online but mostly, especially since I am an introvert, I am quite happy working on my own.

Cloudways: Cloudways is a managed hosting platform for everyone, offering 1-click installation for WordPress with great caching solutions and optimized servers. What’s your opinion about managed cloud hosting services like Cloudways?

Ben: I must admit I don’t have any experience with services like Cloudways however I am a fan of anything that takes something complex and makes it simple enough for anyone to use.

Reading the features on your site I am tempted to give it a go. I have used DigitalOcean on one project before, and it’s doing well, but I am a designer first – I don’t know anything about managing servers. So a service like Cloudways would take away that headache and enable me to focus on creating – which is what I enjoy the most.

Just for our readers, can you please send us an image of how your workspace looks like? 🙂

Ben Gillbanks WorkStation

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About Saud Razzak

Saud is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed WooCommerce Hosting Platform. Saud is responsible for creating buzz, spread knowledge, and educate the people about WordPress in the Community around the globe. In his free time, he likes to play cricket and learn new things on the Internet. You can email him at m.saud@cloudways.com

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