WordPress is a pretty amazing content management system with seemingly limitless options, but those options can lead to confusion. Choosing the right theme for your website is often overwhelming, especially when you’re not a developer and don’t know what to look for. After helping many clients select the right them for their website, I thought I’d post some tips to help others figure out which theme fits their needs the best.
Choosing a theme
The hardest part of choosing a theme is looking at a theme purely for the layout of the content. People laugh at home buyers who pick a house because of it’s pretty decor, yet many choose a website theme with the same draw to pretty contents that won’t come with the purchase. A client may love sunny yellows and therefore be drawn to themes with these colors, while what they really need to look at is how the content is structured. The paint and furniture can change; the floor plan is difficult to alter.
Visualizing a theme
For this blog’s recent redesign, I started with a sketch of the site and created an outline of the content (a wireframe). I thought about coding my own personal theme, but then I ran across this Tidy theme. The layout of the theme matched what I was already planning to do, and while I could code my own theme it was worth paying the $50 to have the initial structure already set up for me.
When I say the “layout matched what I was planning to do”; this is how I visualize themes:
The Tidy theme looked like this on the Restored 316 Design site:
Customizing a theme
The look and feel of the Tidy site was nothing like how I wanted my Botanical Amy redesign to look, but I could see that the layout of the content was exactly what I was looking for. I looked at the theme in terms of a floor plan, and then started rearranging the furniture and busting out the paint samples.
For the visual design, I used my recent delft designs for the visual aspects of the site. I wanted to use delft for my branding because of my Dutch heritage, my love of blue, and my love of botanical art. I spent a lot of time mocking up the site in Illustrator and Photoshop, and then committed the design to code. I should note that this was not a simple customization. I added special functions like a dash-icon navigation for phones, paint stain rollovers on the navigation, custom headers for 3 different computer screens, and multiple background customizations throughout the site (like the delft design behind the connect icons and the comment form and the paint stained section headings). I could have just put in my logo and changed the blue tones; but I like a good challenge. Plus, I definitely use my blog to hone coding techniques.
Here is the newly redesigned site shown next to the original theme:
You can see how my Botanical Amy theme looks significantly different from the original Tidy theme. The images, logo, and color scheme change the look of a theme significantly.
My old theme
My original Botanical Amy theme was coded from scratch a few years ago. My novice coding skills at the time resulted in a theme that looked pretty decent but was hard to modify. With a lot more coding experience behind me, I knew I wanted to put my site on the Genesis framework, and I also wanted to increase the site’s functionality on mobile devices.
This is what the home page of the old Botanical Amy site looked like:
Here is the home page of the current site (for comparison):
I also made some changes to the Resources and About Me page. Here is the old resources page:
Here is the new Resources page:
Here is the old About page:
Here is the new About page:
Another thing that bugged me about my old site was my sidebar. I kind of outgrew my archives and wanted to make it a drop down, and also wanted a nicer way to display “ads”- whether they were my own YouTube and Etsy links or someone else’s. You can see how the old sidebar “ad” area looked on the left, with the new one on the right.
Before you pick out a site, look at other websites and take note of what you like. Pay particular attention to the layout of the content, and think about what content you will have on your site. What information is most important to the reader? Will your site be more blog heavy, or will it not have a blog at all? (and yes, WordPress sites don’t need to be blogs).
Be careful not to be distracted by pretty stock images, color schemes and logos. Look at the theme as blocks of content and go from there. If you hire a designer, they can also talk you through your goals for your site and help you pick a theme based on the needs of your website.