How I answer the “what’s your stack?” question

When two web guys or gals get together, the conversation will inevitably turn to “Hey, what’s your preferred stack for design and development?”. Just a decade or two ago it was almost a silly question, since the answers were pretty much universally the same: Photoshop, Fireworks, Dreamweaver, Illustrator and maybe a few other applications. But you can bet those four were in there somewhere.

Well, fast-forward to 2022, and the answer to this is most likely much longer, might contain one or two of those applications mentioned above. Now they’re likely to include Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Visual Studio, Github, Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD and a myriad of other one-off single purpose applications that may or may not be used – depending on the goals of the project or website. 

Since over 35% of websites currently out in the wild are based on WordPress (and keeps gaining market share consistently), it would only make sense to include this in the general response. Over the years I’ve definitely come to embrace certain tools, plugins and applications that seem to mesh well with the way I work and the overall needs of a project, without adding bloat and decreasing performance. Because this has been a bit of trial and error over the years, the end-result of my current stack definitely is proven and tested.

So, here’s what I use to start off at least 90% of my projects – along with any relevant links if you care to learn more:

  • WordPress (of course)
  • A reliable host (Siteground, WPEngine) for testing
  • If purely local development to begin, I use Local
  • For a good base theme that handles typography, color scheme and has really great performance I choose from Kadence, Astra or GeneratePress
  • If it’s mostly a basic one-off site with minimal content, I’ll choose the Hello theme by the Elementor folks for its blazing speed combined with a minimalist approach
  • Elementor Pro for creating the content and overall appearance of the site pages / templates
  • For handling SEO, I like to use Rank Math over Yoast (but comfortable using both) – it just seems to offer a more refined approach that results in less clicks and taps
  • To deal with speed optimizations, there are many tools to choose from – but being an avid supporter of SiteGround, I particularly enjoy their SG Optimizer (WP Rocket is good for non-Site Ground websites)
  • For security, besides hardening the login URLs to be unique, I like to deploy SG Security or a paid plugin like Word Fence
  • Most site hosts offer an automatic daily backup, or you can initiate a limited number of backup points – but if not, All-in-One Backup is my go-to for easy site backup and migration
  • I also employ Cloudflare for larger sites or others that can benefit from a customized configuration that helps handle large traffic that ebbs and flows more than a typical site – which adds additional security enhancements as well
  • For image creation and collaboration purposes, I prefer: Figma, Adobe XD, Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are all terrific tools to manage and optimize what goes into the site visually

From that base, I’m assured a good and predictable start to WordPress site development. I know what to expect, have already mitigated potential incompatibility issues by using a proven set of plugins and I can get to work doing what I do: designing and creating websites with minimal interference. From this base I can focus on the approach and stylistic implementation – while also being able to test and design for all the various devices that web designers find themselves testing things on. I remember when there was just one layout for everyone – but what fun is that? 

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