In our series of interviews, we talk to André Jutras from Rough Pixels.
Rough Pixels is a WordPress theme shop based in British Columbia, Canada. They design and build attractive WordPress themes with the focus their themes should be easy-to-use, no plugin or page builder dependency, and the themes should work right out of the box.
Rough Pixels has a dozen attractive WordPress themes in their portfolio. Furthermore, all their themes are Gutenberg block and Classic editor ready. I must say I am a big fan of their themes, especially their latest theme – Prologe.
André Jutras is an experienced web designer with over 14 years of website design and has worked with content management systems such as Movable Type, Joomla, and WordPress.
He later started Rough Pixels, a successful WordPress theme shop with elegantly designed themes suitable for all kinds of blogs and websites.
To find out more, I reached out to André and asked some questions about Rough Pixels. Let’s find out more about Rough Pixels and André. Shall we?
10 Questions to André Jutras from Rough Pixels
Q1. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is André, and I’m the owner (and jack-of-all-trades) for the WordPress theme site called Rough Pixels. Being the only individual running the show, I’m the designer, developer, manager, accountant, support team, and everything else in between!
On average, I work 7-days per week and up to 10 hours each day, so I really don’t get official days off, but I try to give myself enough breaks throughout the day.
I work from my home office, which is a great way to work – especially living out in the country because I’m surrounded by trees, mountains, ranches, and yes, even wildlife! One of the best things about being out here is being able to sit out on the back deck with an iced caramel coffee, overlooking the scenery as far as the eye can see. What could be better?
Q2. How did you first get involved with WordPress?
A long, long, time ago, before I even knew about WordPress, I was designing Joomla templates as I was transitioning away from being an independent website designer. I did this for about three years at which point I soon become aware of other content management systems.
Movable Type was one, but it was also around this time that I was discovering an up-and-coming blogging platform called WordPress.
Back then, I was fascinated with Movable Type for its professional attributes and extensive capabilities. However, I believe it was around 2005 when I can attribute the discovery of WordPress from a website client I had at the time. He needed some work done to his blog, and if I remember correctly, he was using the Kubrick theme. I guess you can say the rest is history!
Q3. Rough Pixels build themes for WordPress; tell us why you chose that niche?
When I saw how popular WordPress was becoming, I realized there was a lot of potentials if I were to expand my business endeavors with it. For obvious reasons, it didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that this was the direction to go. I mean, look at where WordPress is now!
I’ve been lucky to have experienced the many facets of WordPress. Of course, when learning anything new, there were many failures over the years, but I was determined to learn from my mistakes.
Designing for WordPress will always involve something new to learn and the more I dug deeper, the choice of pursuing themes became both evident and a reality.
I could have stayed with Joomla templates, but with the insane growth of WordPress and the opportunities it brought; it made sense that WordPress was the solution.
Q4. What challenges did you face in building Rough Pixels?
Rough Pixels wasn’t the first and only theme site that I’ve owned. In fact, over the last 14 years, I’ve had a couple of other sites, each having their own set of challenges. The most common problem is the intense competition within the growing market saturation of themes.
For Rough Pixels, it’s been especially difficult because when I started to build it, the competition from other theme sites, authors, and theme marketplaces had already reached the pinnacle of saturation.
For anyone wanting to get started in this market now is going to find it almost futile. However, I consider myself luckier than most because I’ve done this for so many years, I am familiar with the industry and can apply the experience that I’ve gained. Unfortunately, there is still a challenge compared to what it used to be just 6 years ago.
Another challenge is trying to dedicate enough attention to the blog that I have on the site. Being the only person running the show, most of my time is taken up with theme development, so the blog suffers.
When I first built Rough Pixels, I wasn’t sure if I would have a blog, although I think having one is necessary for these types of sites. I still need to organize myself to get in the habit of writing blog posts. I’ve even considered having sponsored guest bloggers…but we will see.
Q5. What makes Rough Pixels stand out from other shops? Why should people use a Rough Pixels theme?
That is a really good question because I think most theme shops stand out from others in one way or another.
For Rough Pixels, I can easily claim the simplicity of how I build my themes. For example:
1. My themes are made without bloated code as I have seen so many others do. This is a huge benefit when we talk about load times, stability, compatibility, and even security. The more you put in, the more chances something will break.
2. Common sense theme options that make using the theme and customizing your website easier.
3. No plugin or page builder dependency; my themes work right out of the box! One of my biggest frustrations is how many themes require and lock you into using a page builder. Don’t get me wrong, their demos are impressive. Unfortunately, you need a page builder to make them look like they do. I can probably write an article just on that topic alone!
4. WordPress standards are an absolute necessity. My history of building themes involves submitting them to the WordPress theme directory where they get reviewed and MUST pass 100% before they go live. This also means that my premium themes are based on WordPress coding standards to ensure stability, compatibility, scalability, and having no worries when WordPress releases an update; your theme still works.
5. Support is just as important as the theme itself. My philosophy for providing quality support is paramount when it comes to my themes. Customers are often shocked when they get a fast response compared to other sites. I also believe that if you cannot provide good support, even for free themes, you should not be in this business because a big part of doing this involves helping those who need it. A customer should not have to worry about waiting days for support, or worse, being totally ignored.
6. Rough Pixels makes it easier to adapt to the ever-changing aspects of WordPress. A good example is the Gutenberg block editor. I make my themes compatible for both the block and classic editors, so if you are one who still wants to use the classic editor, I’ve got you covered!
6. You recently redesigned Rough Pixels – Can you tell us why, how the process went and what difficulties you experienced?
It’s funny to say this, but I can design themes for others, but when it comes to my own site(s), I’m never happy with them. Throughout 2019, I kept staring at my site and thinking, I need to change this; I don’t like the layout; my theme tutorials are not as organized as they should be, and so on.
There were even a couple moments in time when I considered changing the site from WordPress to run on Joomla because of the direction WordPress was going. For a complex website such as Rough Pixels, Joomla makes sense. However, the problem with switching to a new CMS when I’ve already been running the site on WordPress for over a year made me scrap the idea.
Even more so when you consider how many customers and members would be grossly affected by the change. Not to mention the fact that I honestly cannot fathom doing that to them because they are more important than what I want for myself.
I still had to make major changes. So throughout the summer of 2019, I made copious notes on what needed to change. What things were needed but not required, and what were wishful changes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the ball rolling until mid-December because of other projects I had going.
Another problem that I encountered was to figure out what to do about my free themes. Should I keep them on the WordPress.org theme directory or make them available right from the Rough Pixels website? For the most part, I wanted to keep them at WordPress. But they have a serious problem with their theme review queue (a waitlist) that was getting as long as 7 months.
On top of that, theme authors are only allowed to submit 1 theme to the queue and must wait until that one gets reviewed and goes live before submitting another. This meant that it would limit how many free themes I can give back to the community. In this case, it would be 1 theme per year. That’s insane!
Needless to say, I decided to make my free themes downloadable from Rough Pixels. So, I had to integrate that concept into the redesign of my site. Even to this day, I am still making adjustments. In the meantime, I’ve created a special membership to access all my free themes.
But there was still at least one more challenge I had to face…I was going to rebuild the entire site using the Gutenberg block editor. It’s funny because I design themes for Gutenberg, but I was never really a fan of it, so I figured, hey, let’s try this out and see just how well it performs for a site like this. It turned out to be OK. I’m also planning to write an article about my personal experience tackling this; things I liked, things I didn’t, and how I succeeded with it.
Q7. What is your typical working day at Rough Pixels?
Working from home is an amazing experience, especially because I live in a log house on 7 acres of forested land. So, I make it a habit of getting out in nature as often as I can. I’ve mentioned that I work 7 days per week and up to 10 hours each day, so it’s nice to get outside.
My days can be long, but I generally get up in the morning, have breakfast, make tea or coffee, check emails. Then if the weather is nice, I will sit out on the deck and prepare myself for the day. Eventually, I head downstairs and metaphorically plug myself into the computer and begin work.
There are very few if any support requests. Which I think is a good sign. So I will usually spend the rest of the day and evening designing, coding, jumping on Twitter. Continuously thinking “how can I improve the next new theme?” I often check out WordPress articles on blogs to keep up to the changing times and to find out what is trending for themes.
There are still home duties to attend to, whether it’s cleaning, splitting firewood, landscaping. Shoveling snow (in winter), or heading into town for food and supplies. Overall, I keep busy.
Q8. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working with WordPress & Rough Pixels?
I have a habit of sitting at the computer all day and night. So it feels like I don’t have too much free time. However, being where I am, I try to get out and about. Even relaxing on the back deck in the summer for a half-hour is nice!
One of the biggest problems when you work on the computer, you are sitting long hours in front of a monitor which is not overly healthy. I have a few inches in the middle to prove that. Doing some form of exercise is critical for this work-style!
Q9. What are your future plans for Rough Pixels (or any other upcoming/ongoing projects?)
My original plans were to release a new theme every month to build a massive portfolio and offer tons of themes. The problem with this ideology of “more is better” is the wrong way of thinking because the quality is often sacrificed.
When rebuilding Rough Pixels, I had to give serious thought on the direction I wanted to take the site as we approached 2020. I decided that quality and ease-of-use were the two most important factors for the mission statement of Rough Pixels.
My goal now is to refocus on improving existing themes to make them even better while designing new ones over the course of this year.
One additional project to work on is the Rough Pixels affiliate program. I’m not sure how many people know about, so the plan is to put some effort to market the program to anyone that loves writing about WordPress. Even more so if they focus on themes.
Q10. Whom should we interview next & why?
WOW, hard question to answer because there are so many to consider. Not sure I can name just one. But I can mention a couple, Ben from LinkWP.com. Jeffrey with his EditorsKit plugin (which is in my top 5 list of plugins) and another growing project called ShareAblock.
I thank André Jutras from Rough Pixels for taking the time to attend and answer all the questions for this interview. Much appreciated. I wish André Jutra’s best of luck with Rough Pixels. Your WordPress themes are awesome.
Read more interviews – Interview with Katie Keith from Barn2 Plugins.