Morbid North and the road to learning web design

June 15, 2021

Where it all began

Most of the people who know me also know that I'm the guy behind morbidnorth.com. A passion project I started as a small side thing that accidentally evolved into something bigger. Originally I registered the company name for a creative agency because I thought I'd need to brand my little freelancing hustle better. After all my name alone isn't really "sexy" or marketable sounding for my dark occult and metal music covered target audience.

When I launched morbidnorth.com, it was just a small Squarespace store and I only had one band Sortaja who's vocalist is a friend of mine. They are a small group from Hyvinkää and I thought it would be cool to experiment with an artist I already knew and wasn't a big name that would be ruined if I fucked something up. After all, I was dwelling on completely new grounds with building my own little eCommerce store. My only experience was back from TREDU where I studied some graphic design just to gain the papers for it, but my studies didn't only scratch the surface of web design. All I knew was the basic understanding what is CSS and Html and nothing more.
A good thing was that I was already working at Verkkokauppa.com, so I wasn't a complete noob in eCommerce overall. Altough my experience was from branding and marketing, not much on the web design.

The first iteration seemed to work fine and somehow I started gaining a little band roster just by contacting bands directly and some joined because they had heard of my store from other artists. As the whole project was just a hobby it felt amazing to get few bands joining so fast, but the more I gained bands, the more they had wished for things I didn't know how to provide or even couldn't provide due to my chosen ecommerce platform.

Time to learn some web design

I spend a couple of months searching and comparing different eCommerce platforms and I was very close to choose Magento. Mostly just because it's an Adobe product and I thought I'd be more familiar with it, but I really didn't know where to begin with it.
Then I was considering Drupal because it was the platform we used back in the school and the only platform I had actually build something to, but I had the same problems with that, as I had with Magento and it didn't have any integrations that I really needed.
So then I thought about WordPress because back in the day when I first began my photography hobby, I build my portfolio there and when I created a staging site and logged in the first time, I knew right away where to begin and I immediately knew where to begin.

I used to WpBakery to build my old portfolio, so my instinct went on and of course, I began with the same arsenal as I used to use and actually threw a lot of money into plugins that I end up not even using because I didn't actually know what I was doing.
While searching for the right theme for Morbid North for ages like probably everyone does who's just beginning with WordPress. I finally found an eCommerce theme that I quite liked, Oxygen by Laborator.
I don't even remember how long I tried to build what I wanted and just couldn't make it. Probably some weeks at least and finally when I searched some tutorials for the Oxygen theme, I found the Oxygen Builder and that changed everything.

Easy or the hard way

As a creative I want the freedom to create what I really want. It really wasn't a problem until I started learning web design because if I need to draw what I want, I just drew it. If I want to animate something, I just animated it. Creating has been always more quite natural to me and making more has been more about getting things started than actual skill-based requirements, but with web design, it was completely different. It's way more complex than just visualizing what I wanted because after all everything also had to be responsive and user-friendly.

When I first found Oxygen Builder I watched few tutorials and it just looked so much better than anything I had tried before. It wasn't about the ease of use, but instead of the freedom to do what I wanted. If I wanted to go for the easy path I'd propably have chosen Elementor instead or Webflow if i had the money for it.

After I had practiced using Oxygen Builder for over two weeks I actually decided to get a refund and go for Elementor instead because it felt way too hard to use without any deeper understanding of web design. But I had managed to do some cool layouts with it and when I switched to Elementor and tried to create those same simple things, it wasn't any easier. Instead, it was way harder to actually do anything I really wanted because with Elementor I was again pretty much stuck with the Oxygen theme I had bought earlier.

So then I just thought fuck it and ditched the Elementor and bought the Oxygen Builder again. This time I actually spend even more paying for the agency license because if I was going to learn how to use it, I had to have a license for more than one site to practice, and seriously it was one of the best decisions I've done in years. If I was going to do this right I had to take it the hard way and actually learn something completely new to me. Not that it was anything new to me because for the last decade I've been learning at least one completely new thing each year. This year it was going to be web design.

Cheap hosting almost killed it

So I began learning how the Oxygen Builder works and like everyone else, first I used a lot of different extra plugins and 3rd party elements to build what I wanted. It didn't help that I had chosen probably the worst possible hosting possible for my new eCommerce site. GoDaddy.

Ok, I gotta admit that they did give a nice selection of Woocommerce plugin with their hosting subscription, but one of my main problems with the original Squarespace site was how slow it was for me in Finland as it is (or at least was back then) hosted in the US. GoDaddy wasn't any better at all. Instead, it was probably way slower, but I can't confirm that because I had no idea how to measure it back then. It was so slow that I almost completely gave up.

After some struggles, I got my new eCommerce site launched after all, but it was sooooooo slooooooow.... And it wasn't just the speed, but it was down at least once a day. Some days it had multiple 5-10 minute downtime periods and the company that praises their customer service didn't have any other way to contact them than by phone. As half deaf I do not handle phone call too well and on top of that it would have cost a fortune to call them.

So I decided to ditch them and switched to Bluehost. After the switch it felt "so fast" and I managed to get the loading times from the 30s (yes seriously 30s long seconds) down to 10s. Obviously, 10s loading times are still terrible, but it's also good to remember that I had no idea how to optimize anything or didn't know about caching at all. I was still a complete noob, but Bluehost was a good start and as it provided unlimited websites I could build practice sites and just try things out.

Oxygen Builder taught me everything

My hosting switching wasn't yet over because after switching to Bluehost I started making WordPress websites for others and I noticed that I could make much faster sites for my clients than I could for Morbid North with Bluehost hosting. This period really thought me a lot about optimizing the CSS and other building blocks I required. But all the manual coding and such could only take me so far and I also got the WP Asset Cleanup plugin to help me out getting rid of some scripts loading everywhere. Overall I think Woocommerce itself is the main villain making everything so slow, but I'm still learning and I'm sure I'll find soon new way to optimize the whole site.
Now I've also switched the hosting yet again, but what my skill can't solve, money can. And so I switched the hosting to Kinsta with a Finnish server. It's really expensive, but I still think it's worth it. At least I can fit multiple sites like this portfolio in same billing, so I'm not paying just for the Morbid North alone.

If it wasn't for Oxygen Builder that pushed me to learn web design and some coding, I would have never been able to get this far with my business. Now I'm working on my 20th WordPress website that will be samaelcreative.com.
Samael Creative will become what Morbid North was supposed to be originally. Art, graphic design, web design & motion graphics for big brands to garage bands. #LetTheMonsterLose
After launching Samael Creative, most of my scary stuff will move there and this portfolio will be also getting a fresh new and more neutral look. This also means all my future tutorials and blog posts will be moving there. See you at samaelcreative.com launching July 2021!

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