Once regarded as just a blogging tool, WordPress has quickly become a fully fledged content management system (CMS) for professional web designers and agencies, used on millions of sites across the world.
Yet many still think of it as a tool for amateurs and hobbyists. To set the record straight, we've picked some of the best WordPress websites around to show you just what this incredible content management system is capable of...
01. The Ink Tank
Starting out in 1989 as a Collins Inkjet, a one-man operation supplying ink for Kodak continuous inkjet printer, today Kao Collins is one of the world's leading suppliers. And if you've never really thought about ink beyond cursing when your printer runs out, Kao Collins new site, The Ink Tank, is designed to inspire you.
Built by DBS Interactive, The Ink Tank is an eye-catching WordPress site that pulls out all the stops to bring you cutting-edge news from the ink industry and to showcase ome of the creative ways businesses and artists are currently using ink.
The highlight as far as we're concerned is its History of Printing, a gorgeous parallax single-pager packed with animation and effects, taking you all the way from clay tablets to today's high-speed single pass printing, and looking ahead at some of the future possibilities of printing.
Public service websites don't have a great record of being beautiful or easy to use. Luckily, that trend is beginning to fade away, and Greenwich Library's website is the latest to adopt a modern new look.
When creating the site, the visual design came secondary, however – as a public service, usability comes first and anything else is icing on the cake. The redesign is the result of two years' worth of research, user testing and design. In a statement, library director Barbara Ormerod-Glynn explained that the site update was vital because it meant the library could provide its services 24/7. It also addressed issues people were having when trying to find what they needed in a sea of content.
One of my best parts is the illusion of drawing elements while the user scrolls. This is a trick many developers create explicitly with SVG, but the simple combination of CSS transformations and layering elements here creates just as interesting an effect as a more complex SVG line drawing. The colour-coded navigational elements also add personality without having to splash colour over every element.
The stereotypical university website tends to be a pretty sterile and dated affair. However, with the Harvard Graduate School of Design site's redesign this summer, Upstatement has set the bar seriously high. "The GSD is a fantastic place where all kinds of amazing ideas are being generated, and we wanted to really bring out the stories and topics inside the school and surface them in a way that showcases the ideas and energy of the community," says Mike Swartz, partner at Upstatement.
GSD's design is striking, playful and aggressive, though it stands back and enables content to show through when it needs to. Thoughtful animations are intertwined at the right moments, without being overwhelming. Every hover state invokes an animation, helping users to interact with the content. The use of images is purposeful – none are used as a backdrop or a texture. All have a function and most are presented with a comment.
On top of all of the visual complexities, the development team behind the site took this project to another level. "Mike Burns, Upstatement's engineering lead on this project, worked with the school to collect and modernise their infrastructure, combining it all into an API powered by WordPress," says Swartz.
The Upstatement team knew this design was a success when leadership and faculty at Harvard summed up the redesign with: "It's weird, but I like it."
This is Your Kingdom is a site that brings together style and substance to help visitors find activities in their local area. Simple in its concept, the site is much more complex when we start to consider all of its inner workings and potential.
Designed by This is Your Kingdom and robustly developed by Kim Lawler, the site is built to handle growing levels of content. Lawler used WordPress to allow site editors and guest bloggers to update easily and regularly, giving visitors plenty of reasons to return regularly.
The delicate, playful design hints at a wide range of activities shared on the site, and does a great job of being appealing and eye-catching, without being stereotypically girly or niche. Illustration plays a big part in the appeal of the site, paving the way for imagination and exploration.
05. Travel Portland
Travel Portland aims to inspire people to visit Portland in Oregon, US, and to help them plan their trip with tools and content highlighting the unique opportunities in the city. Clean design is on every page of its site with images telling of the Portland experience, from waterfalls to food trucks.
The beautifully responsive site is built on WordPress and uses a customised responsive theme based on Zurb's Foundation framework. Third-party APIs are also utilised throughout the site, including: Storify, MapBox, Weather Underground and ChooseCulture.
The team also used MaxMind's geolocation API to give them the capability to customise content on the homepage based on the location of the visitor. This lets them serve different information for in-town visitors versus those in the planning phases.
06. Captain Creative
A true superhero of the web world has finally revealed himself. And he has a website! Brad James is a self-described "mild mannered designer and art director" based over in New South Wales, Australia. Although he works for agency, iQmultimedia, James has set up as his own online identity named Captain Creative.
To manage James's online identity and leave enough time to save the world (wide web) he chose WordPress, "mainly because I knew I wanted a portfolio and blog combined into the one site," says James. He adds, "I don't write code so it also helps that it's widely used in case I run into any technical problems. I'd also used it previously as a CMS for other website clients, so I was familiar with the interface."
However, James warns, "It does have its downsides. I had a security issue recently where someone was able to modify the appearance of the site and even change my WP login credentials. Fortunately, I was able to sort it out without too much trouble. Lesson learnt: make sure you keep your version of WP updated!"
Brisbane-based wedding photographers, Jess Marks and Steve Bliesne's online home is a fun, whimsical website bristling with personality. When it came to revamping the site, Bliesner says that they, "actually moved from ExpressionEngine to WordPress. We searched for a long time to find the right design house to do this project. We settled on Simple as Milk, and WordPress is what they worked with, so we transitioned.
"Since we outsource most web and marketing related things these days, more people and companies are proficient in WordPress over ExpressionEngine, so it became little clear that moving to WP was a smart idea."
"Coming from ExpressionEngine, some things are much the same - the way you create posts, enter data and so on," recalls Bliesner of the transition between CMSes. "But WordPress is miles ahead when it comes to the availability of plug-ins - and overall ease of use."
08. Work by Simon
Work by Simon is the design studio site of Simon Carr and Elijah Wasserman. The website serves as their online portfolio and blog.
The studio focuses on design and development for HTML5, CSS3, mobile websites and WordPress - which has been their preferred CMS over the last four years.
"We love WordPress because it has the ability to easily translate designs to custom templates," explains Simon. "Another reason it was our top choice is flexibility for blogs and portfolio content. The portfolio section is easily controlled by using custom WordPress post types. Each thumbnail is uploaded with the featured image field, and tags are also applied to indicate the services provided."
The guys have taken full advantage of modern CSS3 techniques. "Creation of CSS3 animations for the Labs, Chemical Reactions and Observatory pushed my limits of animation using CSS only," Simon jokes. But as you can see their efforts have been worth it.
09. Iron to Iron
Iron to Iron is a two-person company founded by designer Kevin Richardson and developer Jonathan Christopher. Of their own site Kevin says: "We needed to effectively display our brand as well as our philosophy."
They use WordPress for all of their client work, he adds. "It makes building any website easier, ours included. Automating things, from the portfolio content population to collecting contact form submissions, is one of the many benefits."
They're also using the Pods CMS plug-in to give them additional functionality and control of their content. Christopher is also a member of the development team for the plug-in: "We devote a consistent amount of time to that project in order to better utilise it," he says.
Yoke is a studio based in Bristol. The design and build of the site was a team effort by co-founders Jay Bigford and Alister Wynn. "The key to the success of our website as a marketing tool for our business is to have valuable expertise-based content on there," explains Bigford. "We're constantly adding blog posts researching into topics that relate to our target clients."
The guys selected WordPress as their CMS. "We can add posts seamlessly and easily, then set up good interrelated articles between these posts, offering the user a less linear journey through our content," says Bigford, who goes on to discuss workflow.
"Using WordPress enables us to speed up the build by narrowing the number of templates we use. We know we're designing for a CMS, so we're strict with our output and always stick to a maximum of three templates. This allows us to make sure we get fewer, tighter and more polished templates, rather than many, loose pages."
11. Guy Gungell
Our next site is a showcase for Guy Gyngell, a music producer/songwriter. It was designed and built by Adam Allaway at Flint & Tinder. Adam also selected WordPress as the CMS to power Guy's site.
"After a fair amount of research and experimentation with Joomla, Drupal and WordPress, I settled on the latter for my own company blog, The Tinderbox. The progression to using WordPress as a CMS after that was a natural move," Adam explains. "In my opinion where WordPress really excels is the fact that my clients find it so easy to use.
"This means that with very little effort on my behalf, they can be up and blogging and tinkering with their SEO meta data the very same day the site launches. Custom post types are one of my favourite features as they make creating a CMS for a client so much easier."
Girl With a Camera is the photo blog of Ashley Baxter where she shares photography of her life and her commissioned work. The site was designed by Matt Brett, who migrated Baxter from Tumblr to WordPress.
"I was using Tumblr for a good while, but became fed up with the constant downtime," she explained. "I knew WordPress was hugely customisable and would give me a lot of flexibility over how I could display my photos."
Meanwhile, Brett says the feature he's most proud of is the way that each post's layout and background colour can be changed to best suit the content. "One of my absolute favourite things about WordPress is how fast I can go from an HTML template to a working theme."
13. Tinkering Monkey
Tinkering Monkey is an online shop that sells simple wooden goods for everyday living. Everything is made in the garage-turned-woodworking-studio of Mike Cheung, product designer and creator, and Paula Chang, who manages the business and developed the site.
"We used two CMSes," explains Chang, "The store is run through an open-source shopping cart system called OpenCart, and the other pages are managed through WordPress."
There are many e-commerce tools to choose from, but Chang wanted to avoid the fees and functionality limitations of other solutions. "It had all the features that we wanted built-in already," she says, "and a back-end that was easy for us to jump in and make changes. It basically gave us full control while keeping our costs to a minimum."
14. Jenny Bristow
Love food? Love HTML5? Then look no further than the home of Ireland's Good Food Ambassador, Jenny Bristow. Created in WordPress by the team at Web Design Northern Ireland, it's refreshing to see HTML5 being used for client work.
Developer Derek Johnson explains the decision to go with HTML5: "The nature of WordPress makes it easier to distinguish between <article>, <section> and <div> content," he says.
"When I was planning this project, it just seemed more logical and straightforward to use new HTML5 elements than to have a lot of nested divs. The site uses a host of new elements, a couple of new input types ('search' and 'email'), ARIA roles and block level links. I also love the way sectioning content works to create a document outline and give semantic structure to web pages," adds Johnson.
15. Derren Brown
"Derren Brown is a witch!" According to some, this is all we need to know about England's foremost head fudger. But millions of people want to learn more about this leading illusionist, mentalist, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic, and with his site often pushing past two million monthly page views, it's clearly the web that people turn to to find more info.
Pixel Dandy's Marc Hagan-Guirey, the man behind the recent redesign says, "The project took about six months. The team comprised of Duncan Godwin who built the site, Abeo the project manager and myself with the design and concept.
The independently-owned design and digital marketing agency Entyce, based in Chester has shown its worth in salt even on its own portfolio site. Creative director Jane Entwistle reveals that, for the site, they used the world's most popular CMS, WordPress.
"WordPress is an established system, and we like the concept of open source - it's very versatile and can easily be modified and styled as required," she adds. "As with any software there are a few flaws, but in our opinion these are outweighed by the pros".
In advocacy of WordPress, Entwistle adds: "It's a great software to work with and it's free! It's easy to use, well documented and has a great community with lots of articles if you get stuck or need help".
Ghosthorses is the portfolio site of Stephen Fairbanks. This lovingly crafted site, laden with visual treats appealing to both the casual observer and the web-savvy, serves to delight as well as showcasing his works.
When choosing the CMS to drive his major redesign, Fairbanks knew it had to be WordPress. "I've been using WordPress for as long as I've been building sites because I like how malleable it is, and the fact that it's so popular means there's a really good community of support behind it. Also the Featured Image function does all the legwork of cropping, resizing and embedding my images."
He's also felt the blight of WP's limited media handling capabilities, but has found a suitable solution. "I've moved the Multiple Post Thumbnails plug-in into my functions.php file by default now for all my sites to easily add scrollable galleries."
Marketing agency Design the Planet is a group of self-described 'planetary engineers'. Based in New Orleans, they claim to be able to break your brand free from 'generic mediocrity'. Looking at the DtP portfolio site, they're definitely the folks to do just that. To make it, Design the Planet chose WordPress, the world's most popular content management system (CMS).
"WordPress is our go-to CMS," vice president and COO Perryn Olson explains. "We find it easier to work with and much easier for our clients to quickly pick up on without having a steep learning curve like Joomla or Drupal."
Olson is a big fan of established CMSes, it turns out. "We've seen a backlash against proprietary CMSes from prospective clients, because of poor experiences with previous companies," she says. "Some companies feel trapped if they use a proprietary CMS – because they can never leave and their website becomes a hostage – while WordPress is universal and fairly portable from one company to another."
Contributions: Creative Bloq staff