As we covered in our previous post, choosing the right WordPress theme for your project can be quite the undertaking.
One of the most important considerations has less to do with the theme’s visual appearance (as captured in, say, the theme demo), and more to do with its ease of use and customization. In other words, you’ll want to look at the following questions:
- How quickly and easily can you get the site up and running?
- How quickly and easily can you customize the site in the desired ways?
- What technical skills do working with and customizing the theme require?
Customization Options Vary Widely By Theme
Themes vary widely in their ease of use and customization, and in the customization options they make available.
Because there is no standard set of a features for a WordPress theme, themes vary widely in the customization options they make available to users.
Themes commonly include the following options in a (more or less user-friendly) customization area:
- Fonts, which could mean different font options for the nav menu, main text, headers, etc., and could include size and color or just font family
- Theme color scheme
- Option to upload a site logo or have a text-only site header
- Theme background color and/or image
- Layout and contents of footer (often using widget areas)
However, none of these options is included in every theme, and some themes include none of them.
WP Business Tips, for example, is running a customized version of a theme called “MasterBlog” that actually has very few customization options. Not even the fonts are customizable, meaning—as crazy as this sounds!—that if you use this theme and don’t understand CSS or other ways of customizing fonts (such as through plugins), then you’re stuck with whatever fonts the theme designers thought looked good.
Of course, for people who know how to change fonts, it’s actually easier to make changes through technical tools like CSS stylesheets than to try to make a theme customizer do what you want—so a theme with few options to worry about/disable/override is actually perfect for us.
So a particular theme may either be a great or a bad fit for you depending on your personal web design and development skills.
So you’ll want to take the time to assess your skills.
Matching Your Theme to Your Web Design and Development Skills
Are you brand new to WordPress and web design? Do you have some understanding of basic design (in particular CSS)? Are you a web developer with in-depth knowledge of code and WordPress? By figuring out where your design skills stand, you can narrow down your theme choices.
If you’re new to the world of WordPress and web development, then you will likely want to choose a theme that has a lot of easy theme design options. You’ll likely want to choose a theme that:
- Easily allows you to change the typography (font, size, and color) on your site
- Lets you easily upload a logo
- Lets you change the main colors of your theme
- Easily integrates with the plugins you plan to use (i.e., WooCommerece, Easy Digital Downloads)
- Comes with the ability to customize homepage elements and footer contents
This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. If you realize that you need a theme with more design options, then at least you can narrow down your search.
Most themes don’t allow you to test the full admin interface before buying. However, many theme authors either set up a partial demo of the admin area or create a tour (perhaps a video) of the theme’s options. Even if a given theme doesn’t have these features, most times the theme’s specification will give you enough good information to start to make an informed decision.
More Experienced Folks
The more experienced you are, the more predesigned interfaces become a liability.
The more experienced you are, the more you can tell your theme exactly how to behave without going through a predesigned user interface. And those interfaces become a liability, because they’ll never be as fast, reliable, and precise as well-written code directly at the theme level.
So as you start to learn more about WordPress, see what you can strip away from the customization options list above. You can start by ignoring customization options that do exist on a given theme: use CSS rules to color the header rather than the theme coloring options, for example.
As time goes on, I find myself prioritizing well-built, relatively simple themes with few customization options. If you’re really confident in your chops—or your developer’s—then you might find yourself gravitating away from “options-for-everything” themes and in this direction as well.
So far we’ve covered what a WordPress theme is, the pros and cons of free and premium themes, and considering the customization options available in the admin area of a theme.
Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll take a specific look at drag-and-drop themes. And as always, if we can help with anything, leave a comment below or get in touch!