Today, things begin to get a bit more real. It’s time to choose a theme. Or at least to kick off the process. This stage is always problematic for me – partly because there’s so much choice. and partly because ,as a command-line source code junkie, I have a blind spot for GUI bells and whistles. I want something that’s easy AND hackable (this is often also known as wanting your cake and eating it).
Still, there’s usually a happy medium out there. So let’s take a look around. Before I fire up my search engine I should spend some time considering my needs – this should make the hunt a little easier.
Things I need
First of all, there are some basic requirements I can use to narrow the field. With a significant percentage of all traffic coming from mobile sources, I know I should ensure that any theme I use is fully responsive. Secondly, because my site will offer landing pages for information about products and services, I know I need a theme that balances blog and page elements, and handles navigation well and flexibly. It should be clean and extensible. It should offer full support for child themes. It should be compatible with as many plugins as possible. My posts can run longish – a thousand words or more, so readability is as important as impact. As far as looks are concerned, my tastes run to simplicity, though I’m not immune to the occasional flourish.
This article at WPBeginner provides a great round-up of requirements to bear in mind, as well as links to reviews of both free and paid themes.
Things I Don’t Need (but you Might)
In narrowing things down, features you don’t need can be as useful as those you do.
As a developer, I tend to find any UI interface designed to make things ‘easy’ for me irritating – especially if it keeps me at arm’s length from the underlying code. So I’ll probably not be looking for page builder features. I’m also not looking for a support package right now. If I didn’t have skills or colleagues to fall back on when things get weird, I’d likely want both of these and I’d probably choose a paid theme to get them.
If you’re looking for a premium theme there’s good advice to be found in posts by Amy Lynn Andrews and DesignWall, though see below for other links..
I’m unlikely to be supporting multiple languages, but internationalization/localization should always be considered.
I’ll be keeping it fairly simple, so I don’t need much in the way of animations or parallax scrolling. If you’re building a landing page for a business, though, you might want to emphasise initial visual impact. If that’s your thing, try searching for ‘landing page themes’ or ‘business themes’. WPBeginner rounds up a nice selection of free business themes.
Where to look
There are a bewildering number of options out there. Sites such as
themeforest, themify and studiopress exist to serve the paid market.
For free themes it’s hard to beat the built-in access provided by WordPress itself (choose Appearance / Themes then hit the Add New button) but various sites like wpmudev, WPBeginner and colorlib review free themes on a regular basis. There are also a number of sites such as justfreethemes and freewpthemes that exist solely to curate free themes.
wordpress.org and wordpress.com have directories of both commercial and free themes.
Off The Peg or Self-Build?
This is a coder-oriented series, so it would be wrong not to at least consider another option. That is either building a theme from scratch or creating one based on a minimal parent. The latter option is probably the way to go. Right now I’m hearing the most buzz about understrap which provides a core that combines the starter theme Underscores with Twitter’s Bootstrap 4 framework.
If I had more than a few days to get this done, I would definitely consider this option — even though I am primarily a back-end developer it speaks to my inner geek.
But time is pressing – I think I’ll have to shop the shelves for now, and return to understrap in these pages another time.
Speaking of time – I don’t have much. I’m going disappear now and apply some of this thinking to actually picking out a theme. In the next article, I’ll see about applying it to my still-barely-started Web site. Will I have something ready by Christmas at this rate? We shall see!