Client Dash 1.6 – Zehngut

Software development is a funny thing. If you had told me as we were going live with version 1.5 in August and before we started version 1.6 of Client Dash that it would take us over a month and a half to complete, I probably would have been disappointed as our previous release cycles have been much faster. Yet today as I look at what we were able to create in that time period, I am ecstatic and know that I would feel the same way even if it had taken another month. It was absolutely worth the extra time.

Without a doubt, this has been our biggest release yet. And it probably will be for quite a while. We have some very, very exciting plans for the next few versions but it is unlikely that they will be nearly as involved as 1.6. More effort went into this version than into all of the previous versions combined. More testing, brainstorming, coding, debugging, refactoring and tweaking than probably any other plugin I’ve worked on to date.

Download Client Dash

New features

Admin Menu Editor

By far the most notable and important addition to Client Dash so far has been our newly introduced admin menu editor. This is something we had talked about and brainstormed on for a long time now and I’m happy to say that the final product is better than I had even imagined.

The Client Dash menu editor

The idea of customizing the WordPress admin menu is not a new one. It is something that thousands of WP webmasters have wanted to do for years. It has always been possible too. However, before today, it was not simple or easy by any means. I’ve had numerous conversations with webmasters who were disappointed with the few plugins available that did this and I have firsthand experience with the challenging development task of manipulating the admin menu manually.

Early on when we began discussing the introduction of an admin menu customization feature, we were enthusiastic about its functionality but not about the UI options. But at some point in our discussions about how this feature could be implemented in a logical, intuitive fashion, it dawned on us that WordPress already has a UI for this! We then began aggressively pursuing the implementation of an admin menu management system which utilized WordPress’ native menu management UI.

Along the way we discovered that the WordPress menu manager is very sophisticated and complex and also that the admin menu itself is not so simple, especially when taking into account the fact that each role sees something different. Numerous mockups and modifications took place before we finally settled on the experience that exists in the plugin today which I believe is beyond cool. Without question, Joel Worsham demonstrated that he already belongs in an elite class of developers. I’m truly grateful to be collaborating on this project with someone so talented.

Other improvements

Extensibility was the second biggest focus for us in this release. While this had little impact on the visual experience, under the hood things are now far more flexible and easy to extend. An extensive API has been developed which allows developers to integrate with Client Dash more easily than I previously thought possible in a WordPress plugin. Documentation is being put together now as well and will soon be available on this site. For now, we have an extension boilerplate which takes you 90% of the way there and holds your hand the whole way. But that’s only the beginning. We’ve got some even better news for developers that I’ll be writing about here in a matter of days.

The rest of the additions have included various bug fixes, minor UI adjustments and some improvements in the performance and security departments. You can read the release notes here and the changelog here.

The Zehngut Release

Steve Zehngut is the founder of Zeek Interactive, a design and development agency based in Huntington Beach, CA. Steve is a regular panelist on one of the greatest WordPress podcasts around, WP Water Cooler. He is also the presenter in one of the most popular videos ever (true).

Steve also probably doesn’t know who I am.

Now I do not mean to imply anything negative about Mr. Zehngut. By my accounts he is an incredible person, or I wouldn’t be naming a release after him. I only mean that I’ve given him little reason yet to know who I am or remember me. I’m still a relatively new participant in the WordPress community.

But back to Steve. I’ve known who Steve was for a long time. He’s pretty active in the community with his podcast, WordCamp talks and appearances on other WP shows. I’d say he’s a busy guy.

My first interaction with him was on Twitter. I thought it was cool of him to shoot me a personal response like that. And I also greatly appreciated his instructions in his video which was how I originally got started using Underscores and Foundation. Now I’m a huge proponent of both (this site is built using Foundation).

But my next encounter with @Zengy was at WordCamp Chicago 2014. I had just finished up my presentation and was hanging out in the “unconferenced” 401 track on Foundation Friday. If you haven’t been, it’s basically a room where more advanced/experienced users chat all day about topics of the group’s choosing. It was my first time in 401 and I was learning a ton. There were lots of awesome people there, sharing all kinds of awesome tips and tricks. So half way through the day, Steve comes in and starts hanging out with us. I knew who he was of course and thought it was really cool of him to fly in and hang out there on a Foundation Friday. Then again, WCCHI is a freaking legit event so I shouldn’t have been surprised…

But anyway, at some point during the day, some folks started to talk about admin UX and customizing the backend of WordPress for clients. Everybody had ideas to share and it was a cool discussion. I got to hear first hand the frustrations, ideas, tricks, trials and opinions of people I highly respect on a topic I’m more than a little interested in. People talked about plugins they used that they hated or plugins they made of their own which they admitted were less than ideal.

Now at this time, Client Dash was in its early stages and, compared to today, was little more than a concept. I had published it on the plugin repository a couple months prior and we had released a couple updates since but our user base was still very small. I was excited about the plugin but really didn’t know where it would go. So at some point during the conversation, which I had only been intently listening to, I mentioned that we’d created a plugin that does some admin UX stuff. So someone kindly let me borrow their computer and I demoed what we had so far. I didn’t really know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised that most everyone seemed interested. But I was genuinely floored when Steve asked:

So are you monetizing this?

I was completely shocked. Of course I’d had aspirations of doing bigger things with this plugin but to have someone who’m I highly respected imply that the plugin in its current state was worth money was beyond my expectations. Needless to say, I was pretty excited by the feedback and resolved to keep iterating on Client Dash.

But it didn’t end there. Several hours later I found myself at the speaker/sponsor dinner, having some great beers with some new and old friends. At some point during the night I found myself standing by Steve’s table when he started a conversation about Client Dash with me. He told me that he really liked what he had seen and that there was absolutely money to be made with it. He urged me to begin monetizing it and swore that it was completely viable. All this time I listened incredulously, probably looking to observers like a dumbstruck private who’d just been promoted to general. Other people at the table even chimed in to concur and also reprimand me for giving the plugin away for free. Before long I was walking away with a completely new outlook.

On the following day, I was privileged to attend Steve’s excellent presentation about pricing with some other guy who blogs a lot or something. I learned so much from their advice and would definitely rank it among the top three WordCamp sessions that I’ve attended.

And that was it. We went home and began working aggressively on Client Dash and subsequently released three major versions. over the next three months. Our user base has steadily grown and the plugin has drastically improved.

So today I’m announcing the official release of version 1.6 and dedicating it to Steve Zehngut who introduced me to Foundation, validated our efforts, encouraged me and advised. It made a difference to us. I can’t say whether we would have invested so much time and effort into this project if it hadn’t been for the kind, insightful encouragement of people like Steve Zehngut.

Thanks Steve! We owe ya one.

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