Austin WordPress Beginners Meet-up Notes — June 13, 2011
Jackie Dana and Sandi Batik lead the June 13th Hands-On WordPress WordPress Theming discussion. The group looked at how to find a theme that offers the right amount of custom options and features to best suit their needs, and how the theme should relate to the site’s structure, purpose, and audience.
Currently there are over 1,384 free themes available on wordpress.org, and that doesn’t even include all of the other free and premium themes and frameworks that are available, much less the option for creating a custom theme. With all those options in mind, choosing between all of these themes can be bewildering. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this Hands-On WordPress session Jackie and Sandi discussed how to make smart choices when picking out a theme for your site; and reviewed how your theme relates to your site’s structure, purpose, and audience, and how to find a theme that offers you the right amount of custom options and features to best suit your needs. With all those options in mind, choosing between all of these themes can be bewildering. The best way to make sense of all the choices is to start at the beginning.
What is a theme?
Depending on how you use it, WordPress can be a blogging platform, a content management system or website building software – in essence, it’s the behind the scenes code that makes a website work. Your WordPress site itself consists of content, the posts/pages/images that convey information, and a theme, which is the overall design that you choose to determine how your site will look to the outside world. You do not (usually) change the underlying WordPress code (or need to reinstall WP) in order to change the site’s theme, though on occasion you may need to modify your content.
How to chose a theme
- Define the purpose, structure and audience for your website.
- Consider your branding (logo, design, etc. of your print materials, signage as well as message)
- Who is the primary audience? What characteristics define them?
- What is your site’s purpose? Blog? News? Gallery/portfolio? Sales?
- What features do you need on the site? Social media? Shopping cart? Forms?
- Determine the basic structure for your site: wireframing
- Choose a theme solely based on color, fonts, or graphics.
- Obsess about it being ‘perfect’ (to the point where you don’t have a functioning website!)
- Give up.
Other questions to consider:
- What kind of media and what is most important/prominent? Text/Photos/Audio/Video
- What kind of navigational structure do you need? How do you want your menu bar to work (e.g. drop downs)? Do you need a special way to display categories/tags, comments, or multiple authors? Do you want a sidebar – or multiple sidebars? Widgeted footers or headers?
- How important is a custom(ized) design?
- What is your own skill level for adding your own features/modifying a theme’s design? Are you willing to pay a developer/consultant to work with you or do you need to be self-sufficient? Are you willing to read documentation or contact support (if provided)?
- How much are you willing to pay for a theme? Do you need/want support from the theme developer?
When you find a theme you (think) you like:
- Does it offer the customization you need? Can you change layout, font and/or colors from the admin panel? Can you move the sidebar or increase/decrease number of sidebars/columns, or upload your own header graphic? With CSS and PHP skills, all of these things can usually be modified, but if you don’t have those skills (or don’t want to pay someone) then it’s good to have the options at your fingertips.
- Is it GPL? (See http://wordpress.org/about/license/ )
- Can you remove/alter the theme designer’s info/logo in the footer?
- Can you figure out how to use any special features like a slideshow option?
- Can you alter other elements or add your own as needed?
- Is there a forum or other online support? Is the theme developer available to answer questions through their own website (some do it via comments) or via email?
- Upload and activate your new theme with your own content. Does anything immediately break (often the navigation bar is the first to go) and if so, can you work around it?
Resources from WordPress.org:
Sites/products discussed at the meetup:
(note: inclusion here does not imply that Austin WordPress Organizers recommends any of the following; they are listed here solely as reference).
- Theme Finder, a WPCandy Project
- Genesis Framework by StudioPress
- Theme Hybrid: A WordPress theme club
- WordPress Users Association – WPUA.org
- Constellation Theme for WordPress
Our presenters, Jackie and Sandi both stressed that key to narrowing down theme choices depends on determining and prioritizing the site’s functional goals. Good web design has always been about making the right trade-offs – and WordPress offers even beginners so easy ways to produce a well designed sites.
The last part of the meet-up was devoted to answering attendee questions and offering some theme suggestions for specific sites. Our WPATX members took us seriously when we suggested bringing their laptops and questions!
Thanks for attending and approaching the meet-up with so much enthusiasm. Jackie and I look forward to seeing you all at another Austin WordPress beginners meet-up soon. Always Check out wpaustin.com for meetup notes and other resources.