CSS Grid, Front-end development, front-end development tips and tricks

Why CSS Grid Should Be In Your Front-End Development Toolbox

I recently had the privilege of taking Wes Bos’ free course on CSS Grid (thanks, Mozilla!). If you’re a front-end developer, this is a must take course. At first, I was a little skeptical about CSS Grid given how much I love Flexbox. Additionally, I wasn’t seeing support for Android’s default browser when I’d checked it before, but according to caniuse.com at the time of this post, Grid has 86.59% browser support and Android is now golden.

While CSS Grid is not as supported as Flexbox, it pretty much has similiar support for the vast majority of our target audience. Opera Mini is the main browser that has no support for Grid. According to Rad Devon, most Opera Mini users are in Africa for users with incredibly low data plans (think 10 MB per month). So it feels pretty safe to me, when it comes to the clients we’re working with, to view CSS Grid as a viable option.

I primarily work in the WordPress realm, so I’m constantly dealing with themes and child themes. I was especially encouraged by Wes’ full bleed episode which feels very applicable to doing some really neat layouts especially with dynamic content that a user is populating on their pages or posts. Full Bleed layouts in the past were either a nightmare to make with all sorts of wrappers, or very hacky with negative margin. With CSS Grid we can quickly and easily allow for full content while having the majority of the layout support the optimal text length.

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Zao WordPress web development, Zao WordPress team, WordPress web development, WordPress web developers,

Zao: A Look Back at 2017

Last year, we celebrated a huge 2016 with excitement and anticipation for what the future would bring.

We’re happy and humbled to report that 2017 didn’t disappoint. We added a Project Manager to our team, we posted some rad content, worked on some incredible projects, and learned a lot along the way.

Here are the highlights of what went down in Zao’s 2017:

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#WooConf 2017 Recap

I had the opportunity to attend WooConf 2017 in Seattle last week. Thankfully, Seattle is just a stone’s throw from my backyard (a three-hour-drive stone’s throw, but a stone’s throw nonetheless). After a brief road-trip up I-5, getting settled into an Airbnb with some random stranger, and getting a good night’s rest, we were ready to rock and roll.

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Quickbooks and WooCommerce: It Was Only a Matter of Time

At Zao, one of our passions is building modular tools that solve client problems, and (our favorite part) releasing them to the public.

We were tasked with integrating QuickBooks Online with WooCommerce for one of our super rad clients, Brooklyn Tweed. Specifically, Brooklyn Tweed needed to be able to create QuickBooks invoices every time a manual wholesale order is generated (sidenote: If you’re familiar with WooCommerce, you know there is no such thing as a manual wholesale order [yet], but stay tuned for a future blog post and plugin release).

Naturally, the first step was to look for a WooCommerce/QuickBooks plugin. It might surprise you, as it did me, to find that there is not much available. Sure, there are a few SAAS options available, but nothing looked quite plug and play for what our client needed and wanted.

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troubleshooting print stylesheets, troubleshooting in CSS, troubleshooting CSS, CSS tutorials, CSS print stylesheet tutorials, WordPress tutorials

How to Troubleshoot Print Style Sheets: Common Problems and Solutions

If any of you have played around with a print style style sheet on a complex theme or site you might already be familiar with the fact that print CSS does not always operate the way you would expect or desire. If you have not yet experienced the familiar urge to ram your head through your computer screen, I hope to save you from that experience with a few tips and tricks I picked up while learning to troubleshoot print style sheets.

Before we jump in, I want to ensure you’ve got some useful tools right off the bat to help set you up for success.

What you need

First, make sure you’re working on a browser that allows you to turn on a print emulator. This will make troubleshooting go a lot faster. However, be forewarned, while the print emulator shows the elements you will be printing and their style sheet rules, it does not necessarily visually represent perfectly what the printed page will actually look like. Frequently check your changes by either printing or viewing/downloading them as a PDF to confirm you’re getting the desired results. You will be sorely disappointed to get things pixel perfect in an emulator only to discover the printed result is vastly different.

Additionally, make sure your browser’s print scale is set to 100%. While you don’t have control over what your users will do with their browsers, there is a good chance many users won’t have changed their browser print settings. Therefore, you want to save yourself any headaches where you think you’ve developed correctly only to discover that you had been in the wrong scale.

how to troubleshoot print style sheets, printing style sheets in WordPress, printing style sheets from WordPress, working in CSS, CSS troubleshooting, CSS tutorials

I pretty much exclusively develop on Chrome and then check on other browsers to ensure things are working as desired. This Stack Overflow will show you how to turn on Chrome’s print emulator in various different chrome versions. Google “Print Emulator [browser name]” if you prefer to work in something besides Chrome.

Below is a list of issues I have commonly faced and some solutions that rectified them. I hope they can save you time and hours of googling or shooting in the dark.

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WordPress, Gutenberg Project, WordPress editor, WordPress thought leaders, WordPress thoughts, WordPress professionals

My Thoughts on Gutenberg

We’re in an incredibly exciting time in the development of WordPress as a platform: the REST API is in core, we’re imagining a new JavaScript-driven future for WordPress, and we’re in the early stages of development of a new editor for WordPress, Gutenberg.

As one might expect, anytime major changes happen in open source software, hot takes abound! While my take isn’t necessarily as hot (I highly recommend each of those posts!), I’d like to share some of my observations on the community reaction to the process of introducing Gutenberg to WordPress.

This post is not a feature-by-feature review of Gutenberg. Any of the posts linked to above do a far better job of that than I could hope to. Rather, I’d like to explore the general sense of animus this project has seemed to introduce into our community – and if possible, I’d like to explore that without pointing any fingers.

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Using the WooCommerce API with wp-api.js

As of WordPress 4.7, we’ve had a really fantastic, fully featured REST API in WordPress. It is relatively well-known that the infrastructure for the API was introduced in WordPress 4.4, with the content endpoints being introduced in 4.7.

What is somewhat less well-known is that 4.7 also shipped with a Backbone.js client you can use to interface with the core API.  It’s super simple to enqueue:

wp_enqueue_script( 'wp-api' );

Using it for core objects is pretty straight-forward:

var post - new wp.api.models.Post( { id : 2 } );
post.fetch();
alert( post.attributes.title.rendered ); // Renders "rendered" title of post.

But what if you want to use it with non-core objects that are in custom namespaces, or maybe not even on your own site? Thinking that you’ll probably have to write some PHP, maybe your own library or framework for interfacing with these, and your own JS models? Ugh, amirite?

Good news! None of that is necessary.

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learning JavaScript, building a game with JavaScript, how to learn JavaScript, practice JavaScript

Learning JavaScript Through Game Building: Let’s Play Yahtzee!

Recently, I shared some of my thoughts about what I wish I had known when I first started developing. The time came to take some of my own advice and put it into practice. I’m trying to level up my front-end developer skills, and I needed to improve upon my JavaScript skills. I signed up for a free trial at Treehouse and jumped into learning JavaScript.

Right off the bat, I was super encouraged. Professionally, I haven’t done anything in JavaScript. We have experts on our team and they handle our JavaScript work. Yet when I stepped into the courses, I was surprised by how much I knew. I found myself pausing the tutorials, working ahead to execute what I knew they were about to show me, and then let them confirm that I did things correctly. This was a huge affirmation to me that even though I had not been actively learning this language, broadening my foundation paid off and I was a lot faster, more accurate, and more understanding of the material than I expected.

The course starts with the JavaScript basics. My abilities were beyond that, so I could have opted to skip ahead, but I didn’t (and I’m glad). There were a few holes in my understanding that were filled in while refreshing the basics. I was able to race through the introductory courses, but still glean some valuable context.

The learning was good, but I knew that without practice it wouldn’t stick like I wanted it to. I needed to marinate in it. Therefore, I decided to build something with JavaScript that would really put my skills to the test. Recently, I got back into the game of Yahztee. It’s nice to play when you’re waiting in line or for an appointment. Ironically, the Treehouse tutorials had us build a random number generator based off a die. The connection of the two inspired me to build my own Yahtzee game.

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Qpractice case study, Zao client spotlight, Zao WordPress web development, Zao WordPress eCommerce development, Zao WordPress plugin development, custom WordPress plugin,

Zao Client Spotlight: Our Collaboration with Qpractice

One of Zao’s goals includes taking on complex projects that require in-depth strategy. We don’t want to merely solve problems, but add value to the technology our clients are using. We take a boy scout approach to the work we do: Always leave the campground cleaner than we found it.

This means not only cleaning up what messes we may find when we arrive, but ensuring our clients have sustainable technology that benefits them in the future.

We recently had the pleasure of completing an initial phase with Qpractice, a website built to help interior designers prepare for the NCIDQ exam. So far it has been a complex, but extremely exciting collaboration with Lisa League, designer and founder of Qpractice. We’re here to share what we’ve done so far, and be sure to check out our interview with Lisa to hear her thoughts on working with Zao!

What Qpractice Does

The NCIDQ exam is an interior design licensing and certification test offered in the US and Canada. According to Lisa, it tends to be commercially oriented, with a focus on health, safety, and welfare. It tests designers on their understanding of necessary codes and regulations, making sure they can demonstrate their understanding of the non-structural part of the building (like plumbing, electrical, mechanical systems, etc.).

The exam tests knowledge interior designers should have accumulated both during their education and from their work experience. The NCIDQ exam can be a crucial element in an interior designer’s career trajectory; designers often seek out the exam to move up to a senior design position or land higher profile, higher paying projects.

Qpractice aims to help interior designers prepare for the NCIDQ exam by providing extensive opportunities for trial, error, and education. The Qpractice site provides practice tests that in many ways mirror the real NCIDQ exam, allowing designers to become familiar with the format and feel confident when facing the exam live.

Zao’s work on Qpractice

Like any ongoing project on a live, thriving site, as we worked through the initial phase, the scope was extended to cover new and emerging (and sometimes urgent) issues and inconveniences. Zao updated much of Qpractice’s existing system, as well as revamped the entire theme, added functionality, and created several plugins to better serve Qpractice’s needs. The NCIDQ exam also recently added a new quiz format, and Qpractice needed to have that created for test takers continued comfort and familiarity with the exam.

The discovery process

As we do with most of our clients, we did a significant code and performance audit before diving in. JT talked about how vital the discovery process is before, and it’s a staple in the way we approach projects. For Qpractice, we made recommendations for custom features that can be added, as well as data migrations from one plugin to another, and more.

During discovery, we don’t always recommend changes. Sometimes we recommend staying with the current solution if it’s best serving our client’s needs. We believe this is just as important as adding the new and shiny features.

Qpractice was set up using Sensei and WooCommerce Memberships, and we suggested that they continue to do so. From our initial discovery document:

  • Sensei – Given the high level of integration with custom functionality plugins and the purpose Sensei provides on your site, we’d recommend keeping it as your quiz management solution. Developing a custom quiz management solution would offer minimal long-term benefit and incur a high short-term cost.
  • WooCommerce Memberships – Based on our discussions with you, the most recent changes to WooCommerce that have resolved outstanding issues, and the cost of switching membership platforms, we recommend sticking with WooCommerce Memberships.

We aren’t kidding when we say Zao is working on behalf of our clients at every turn.

Once the discovery document was sent and we got the approval from Lisa, we went straight to work.

Order up: adjusting Genesis and making the menu

Lisa wanted to make some adjustments and add new elements to the Qpractice theme, but wanted to stay on Genesis.

One of the big pieces that took a lot of time and effort was the way the menu functions. We overhauled the entire menu system in terms of functionality and mobile responsiveness. It’s a specific implementation that works responsibly, as well as opens and closes according to different user actions. When logged in, Qpractice users have access to an additional menu with custom functionality as well.

The entire site is now device agnostic, which is particularly important for appealing to new users and making it possible for existing users to access information like the study guide, grades, and more, with ease.

Creating seamless integrations

On Qpractice, these three tools are integrated to offer the most to users, as well as make the business easy to run. Sensei powers the Qpractice learning and quiz systems, WooCommerce Memberships controls access to those systems, and WooCommerce powers the eCommerce component of the site.

Between these three tools, there were lots of bits and pieces that needed cleaning up. When one would update, it would often introduce a bug to one of the others, and it would impact the entire setup negatively. Zao’s first step in improving the Qpractice site was obvious: we triaged a bunch of bugs popping up in the integrations between Sensei, WooCommerce, and WooCommerce Memberships, as well as submitting several pull requests against their respective repos.

Side note: This is where retainers become necessary. Plugin teams have their technical goals in mind when they’re building their product, but they do not have your specific ecosystem in mind when they release. That’s why paying to have a technical partner to bridge the gap between the technology and your specific needs is so valuable.

Simple, but lovely features

WooCommerce Product Bundles price shortcodes

Qpractice uses WooCommerce’s Product Bundles, but there wasn’t a good way to output the price for the each product in the bundles and show the user what each item cost and just how much they were saving. The shortcode is super easy to use (of course), and makes solving this problem extremely simple.

WooCommerce Product Bundles, WooCommerce WordPress websites, WooCommerce development, WordPress web development

Custom message bar

Zao added a way for Qpractice to flash a message bar at the top of the site. We wanted it to integrate nicely with the Qpractice menu and show up in certain scenarios set by the admin. Although there are plugins that offer this kind of functionality, most of them only create a message bar that shows universally across the site, and we wanted to give Qpractice more control over this component of the site. The message can be shown across the site entirely, or the site admin can toggle it to show exclusively to logged out users, which is particularly useful as a promotional tool.

All the WordPress plugins

As mentioned, the Qpractice site is using Sensei, WooCommerce Memberships, and WooCommerce.

Additionally, we migrated Qpractice from another affiliate plugin to AffiliateWP, built by Pippin’s Plugins. They create great products and support AffiliateWP incredibly well; we felt confident that AffiliateWP would put Qpractice’s site (and affiliate program) in good hands.

Once again, we make sure our clients are gaining the most value from their technology, which means setting them up with what we believe to be the best products, and there’s no doubt that AffiliateWP falls into that category.

Custom WordPress plugin development

Qpractice had some specific needs and problems to resolve that existing plugins couldn’t address, so we did one of the things we do best: we built them.

We encourage all of our clients to open source the plugins we create for them, and Lisa was especially enthusiastic about creating products that are open sourced and available to the public. Not all of them are open sourced just yet, but many of them are.

Bulk Boot for Sensei

The way that Sensei is built means that users are signed up indefinitely unless they remove themselves, but this presented a problem for Qpractice, which operates on a seasonal schedule. At the end of every season, they needed to be able to remove access to the courses and encourage users to sign up for the next season, should they want to do so.

We discussed the fact that booting learners from a course is actually a pretty intense operation performance-wise and that it needed to be an asynchronous operation. As a result, we decided the best course of action was to add an optional turtle to help the user’s anxiety levels.

Bulk Boot for Sensei, Qpractice, Bulk Boot WordPress plugin, WordPress plugin development, custom WordPress plugin development

We wrote Bulk Boot for Sensei to give Qpractice the ability to bulk remove all learners from a specific course at the end of the season. Now, tidying up user access in Sensei is super easy.

Sensei Advanced Quizzes

The Qpractice site already had a plugin that extends Sensei, adding additional functionality, and we built upon that to add more useful tools in the admin area.

One of the most frustrating things about Sensei is that it dumps all questions/question-types in one big listing in the admin without faceted filters for drilling down to certain types of questions. Qpractice has a variety of question types that act a certain way, and Lisa had no way to search by the group. We created a tool that adds columns and filters to allow advanced sorting so she has a much easier time of filtering.

WordPress plugins, WordPress WooCommerce Sensei, using WooCommerce Sensei, WordPress eCommerce development, WordPress educational development,

WooCommerce Custom Product Redirects

Zao created a custom plugin called WooCommerce Custom Product Redirects. This plugin is not only a great sales and customer support tool, but it allows the Qpractice site to direct their users to information they may find crucial for using the products they’re purchasing.

With WooCommerce Custom Product Redirects, if a user has a product in their cart and makes a purchase, they will be redirected to relevant content set by the site admin. If the site admin has a relevant tutorial to the product being purchased, they may decide to custom redirect to that tutorial for the customer’s benefit. If there are two products that have URLs, the site admin can define priority, ensuring that their customers get any and all pertinent information automatically delivered to them post-purchase.

WooCommerce VitalSource Redemption Codes

Qpractice offers an e-book that is delivered by a third party, but purchased through the Qpractice site. Qpractice needed a way to keep an inventory of codes and her stock in WooCommerce without spending a lot of time keeping track of it manually.

With WooCommerce VitalSource Redemption Codes, every time a user purchases a product stored on a third party site, it associates one of the codes (in Qpractice’s case, a free code for the e-book) with that user so they can find the code on their receipt, and so inventory is neatly kept in WooCommerce.

This plugin was written specific to VitalSource, a Qpractice partner. We will likely adjust it and make it open source soon–stay tuned!

Zao Sensei Media Attachments

We created an alternative to a WooCommerce plugin that allows the site admin to associate media items with a lesson and ensures the media shows up in the resources list for associated courses. Zao Sensei Media Attachments now serves the same function, but uses CMB2 to create a better user interface. CMB2 simplifies the admin fields and provides more filters for modification.

WordPress plugins, Zao WordPress plugins, WordPress plugin development, Qpractice, working with Qpractice, e-commerce website development, eCommerce website development, hire a developer, looking for an eCommerce developer, WordPress eCommerce,

CMB2 Snippet Library: Associate WordPress Menu Field

We also contributed one of the features back to the CMB2 code snippet library. With this feature, Qpractice can select or create a curated WordPress custom menu to associate with a quiz or lesson and that menu will be displayed by placing the “Associated Post Menu” in the corresponding sidebar widget area.


Working with Qpractice has been an absolute delight. Lisa is a creative powerhouse, suggesting all kinds of ideas that we had the opportunity to create into a tangible, functional reality. We’re on the next phase of the project, and we’re all too excited to see what comes next. We’ll keep you posted!

Check back later this week for an interview with Lisa sharing her perspective of the project.