Aha People: Thord Daniel Hedengren, Designer, Developer, WordPress Guru, Author and Writer

Our very own TDH, (The designed human aka Thord Daniel Hedengren) has gained many crowns to his web identity. He is a published author by choice, a designer at core, a blogger by interest, a born wordpress lover, freelance writer and editor and claims he is good at many things if not great. Thord has an addiction for words and it becomes explicable via his writings at WPMU, BlogHerald, SmashingMagazine (contract ended there on 21 november 2012).

Thord is also a freelance editor for Devlounge. His book on Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog is a clear example of his love affair with design world. Sweden knows him as a gaming guy until he shut down everything to go International. And today Thord runs a web agency called OddAlice that is involved in creating wordpress websites.

1.    Thord, Kindly share your routine day with us and tell us about your web identity and your experience in having worked with various online outfits until today.

I’m a lousy morning person, so I usually get up, have breakfast, and pop online between 10 and 11 am. The first two hours of every day is dedicated to writing, which could mean anything from articles to fiction, as well as editing and the occasional correspondence that I’d label as “writing”. After that I’ll try to get some air, possibly go for a walk with the doggie, before I walk to the Odd Alice office. It’s nearby, on the next island, which usually baffles non-Swedes. I live in Stockholm and the city is basically a bunch of interconnected islands. I try to be at the office at 1 pm, and usually stay there until 5 pm or so. A brisk walk home, dinner, family time, possibly some TV or reading, and then I’ll clear out some email, write some more, or just sit around drinking whisky, depending on my mood.

thord daniel

Now, this sounds very organized, and in a way it is. It’s also utter chaos as my line of work can mean crazy deadlines, meetings and the occasional lecture. I’m always in touch with the Odd Alice team through Skype during the day, and Twitter the rest of the time. If they need me, I’m there, and that can certainly mess up what I think is a pretty solid daily schedule. That’s all right, I’ll get back at ’em.

There used to be a time when my days were littered with news reporting, team managing, and other duties involved when being an editor for various online outlets, but I try to keep that to a minimum these days. That said, I sometimes miss running the show at the Blog Herald, Devlounge, BloggerTalks and the likes. It was a different time though, with an entirely different industry, so I’m pretty happy with my days now.

2.    What’s your connection with WordPress? To you, what’s the best part about WordPress?

I stumbled onto WordPress when I was fed up with spending time and money on custom-built CMS’s. I did write a little bit about that on WordPress’s 10th birthday. Blogging wasn’t on my mind when I set out to launch one of Sweden’s largest videogame sites on WordPress – I saw something different. To me it was always about publishing content, what you called it mattered little.

WordPress 1.5 and the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin, along with some creative theming, proved to be one hell of a CMS. Of course I needed a powerful server to keep the site up when the traffic surged, but cache plugins came along, and WordPress got better. I grew with it, so did the implementations and solutions.

I usually learn things out of necessity, and WordPress is no exception. Over the years I’ve gotten good at it, and thus written several books, where the Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog ones are the most well known.

smashing wordpress

The thing I like most about open source in general, and WordPress in particular, is that these platforms are so extremely bendable. Not only do they involve as the community pushes them onwards, but the users put them to new uses all the time. I used to joke that I can build anything using WordPress, but that’s just not even a joke anymore. What’s not to like?

3.    What part of design process excites you? When it all started? How successful you have been in your past endeavors?

I used to be all about solving traditional problems that usually cost a ton of money using open source software, but that’s pretty standard now. These days, I like to work with the concepts and the flows on a design project. At Odd Alice, I’m usually the one setting the ground rules, and then we’ll bounce it around a bit, before our very talented in-house designer Alexander Danling gets to draw a bit. We’ll bounce that back and forth, and then I’ll leave it to him to create the actual design, and move on to the next project. The conceptual work interests me more nowadays, but every now and then I’ll take on a project and run it from start to finish, perhaps to make sure I still got it…

I’ve done alright over the years. Among my clients are huge blog networks, national newspapers, and things like the Arabic version of Sweden’s official site. The work I did when I entered the international blogosphere back in ’05, and the books of course, have lead to a lot of interesting gigs. So many in fact that I went on and started the Odd Alice web agency, which is doing great. I’m not complaining.

4.    Is video still the next step for blogging amidst social media sites that have gone viral amongst masses?

I don’t view video as the next step. Viral one-shots are great for marketing purposes, but that’s rarely long-term content and unless you’re selling something it’ll be hard to truly monetize on the success. Video done right is done to broadcast in the now (conferences for example), and then to further drive home a point in addition to text content. An article that is just text might be a great read, but it’ll be boring to look at. Add some images to lighten it up and it’ll somehow magically be better, which of course is not true since the content is the same, but that’s the way the reader will see it. If you add video to it as well, tight little things preferably, you’ll further strengthen your thesis and thus get your point across.

Text is still the first and foremost tool for bloggers. It’s often a good idea to embrace video too, but I just need to look at the amount of blogs I’m following, and how many of those are video blogs, or even using video heavily, to validate that point.

5.    What are your views on guest blogging? Is this something you would advise fellow bloggers/designers to practice?

Sure, if you need the exposure. I’m reluctant to advice doing free work for anyone because it eschews the business, but it’s definitely worth considering. The best guest blogging is done to help friends out, when they’re on vacation. That’s the type of guest blogging I personally enjoy.

6.    What are your views on the current state of design industry? Where do you see it in two-years from now?

The line between mobiles and tablets will further blur out, and the good designers will truly embrace mobile first. Desktops will be the minority, and designs will adhere to that. I hope we’ll get less of poor stapled on design decisions like the dreadful hamburger menu, but maybe that’s just me.

Oh, and everything will continue to be responsive. This invokes a lot of additional hurdles, like image sizes and such, especially combined with retina screens, since especially photos need to be in large resolutions and mobile broadbands in particular aren’t really there yet globally.

7.    Share 5 online marketing/blogging tips with us that you think will work in the changing world of google algorithms.

This one’s easy: 1-5. Write great content. Everything else is fickle.

8.    Name 5 designers from your list that you follow and respect for their work.

First of all, Alexander Danling, @baobame, from Odd Alice. He’s just plain awesome.

Mike Rundle, @flyosity, still does great stuff. Know him from way back, you know, when 9rules was the shit and all.

Jord Riekwel, @larkef, does cool stuff. Discovered him recently actually.

Shaun Inman, @shauninman, is ridiculously talented. Been following him for ages too.

Finally, Max Rudberg, @maxrudberg, does some nice stuff, Wrapp being one of them.

9.    Which 5 design blogs and design galleries you will suggest to an aspiring designer to follow?

I’d suggest not being so focused on what other people are doing and go find your own inspiration. It’s been a long time since I last checked in on any CSS galleries and whatnot, instead I look at what’s out there, both online and in print, and mull over how it could be better. You should do the same, focus on finding your own style and taste, and take it from there.

10.    Suggest 5 wordpress themes (and framework) you think are feature oriented and will surely perform.

It’s my opinion that most themes need additional work, premium or not. As such, you should at least learn CSS well enough to style one of the barebones themes instead, and take it from there. I recommend these themes to get you started, in no particular order:


Twenty Twelve




11.    List out any 5 random blogs from which you gain web inspiration.

In no particular order:

Daring Fireball, for all the great links and snappy commentary, which at times will lead to thoughts about how the web could be better.

Boing Boing, for all the wacky links and stories that get me thinking.

iA, for insight and beautiful implementations.

One Thing Well, because great things that do one thing well is always an inspiration.

This isn’t happiness, for, well, inspiration.

12.    What remains your biggest fear and biggest success as a multi skilled person?

The biggest fear is just being good at something, never being great. It’s probably something everyone faces, but if you’re like me and like to do a million things at ones, you’re probably thinking about it a lot.
On the flip side, it also means I can step into any part of the design process with ease. I understand everyone involved and can get a unique overview which leads to a better end result.

13.    If your creative work were edible, what would it taste like?

Old single malt islay whisky. Lots of peat, lots of alcohol. Obviously.

14.    If you could become one of your characters/works of art, which one would you choose? Why?

Most of my characters have grave issues. Can I be a blink tag from a design I did in 1996? It’s totally annoying to everybody else!

15.    If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? Please explain your choice.

I’d like to move around. Winters in the French Alps snowboarding, summers at my summer home in the woods by a lake, and I’d like to enjoy big cities during the spring and autumn. I’m sort of doing this already, and it’s possible thanks to the ad-hoc nature of my work.


16.    What is your favorite accomplishment?

You know, I’m always bored with whatever I accomplish. My favorite accomplishment would be my next one, I guess.

17.    Share one thing about yourself that not many people know.

I’m anti-social. Nobody ever believes that, I’m great with people and so on, but most of the time I just want to be left alone.

I’ve got a light phone phobia too. That one’s a real problem.

You got two since the previous answer was pretty weak…

18.    What advise could you give me when it comes to making ahadaily a better place?

Design-wise I’d cut some clutter. That’s almost always my initial advice actually, clutter is evil. The sidebar should probably go too, and a more visual way of showing which section content belongs might be a good idea.
Also, more pictures of people drinking whisky.

19.    Lastly, whom do you want us to interview next and why do you think he deserves to be amongst “Aha People”?

Since poor Matt Gemmell is everywhere these days, why not here? He’s got some great thoughts on what good design is, go get him. Yoi can follow him at twitter.

20.    Finally, what’s in store for you? What are your goals for 2013?

This year, I’m writing a lot. I already published The Writer’s iPad ebook, and there’ll be a few more ebooks before this year is over. I have a few projects in the pipeline too, like these summer projects for example. That’s a bit vague perhaps, but I do in fact have a list of goals for 2013 which I won’t share since I’m subscribing to the idea that you shouldn’t announce something before it’s done.

Thord have been interviewed by our fellow bloggers in the past, here you can know more about him:

Interview – Web Designer Thord Daniel Hedengren

Thord Daniel Hedengren : Serious social dislike

Thord, you are an inspiration for us and we want to thank you for taking out time to share more of you. You can reach him at twitter.