Photo by Sam Howzit
WordPress dominates the web. Everyone uses it—from Ford to NASA to your friend at work—and even though it’s never been without competitors, it has held its own for the ten years it’s been available.
While this is great news for people just getting started with the web, the omnipresence of WordPress is a real challenge for designers, who struggle to personalize sites that all have the same core functionality. And while no one is forcing you to make your website look and feel unique, your users will appreciate a site that has a distinctive feel even while it functions the way a WordPress site should.
Even though WordPress should force a McDonalds-ization of the web, with every site looking alike, what’s happened instead is a Starbucks-ization. Like Starbucks, which designs many of its new stores from scratch, taking into account the fact that each building, location, and climate is different, WordPress uses themes to allow you to personalize how your site looks without altering the inner workings, and usability, of your site.
No matter which WordPress site you visit, or create, you’ll get the same great functionality, but with a distinctive look. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you choose, modify, or even design WordPress themes.
You Pay for Personality, but Shabby Chic is OK
While WordPress is famous for being absolutely free, many of the tools that make it a real bargain are, ironically, not. This is particularly true for themes, which, more than anything else, give your site the unique feel that allows it to stand out.
But, there’s nothing wrong with using a free theme, particularly when you’re starting out. Websites like Theme Lab () offer a range of free themes, organized by the most recently made, while WordPress’s own site offers free themes for all.
Build Up, Not Down
All themes are designed to support specific kinds of sites and, in many cases, specific sites. So, unless you’re okay with a ready-to-wear theme, you’ll likely want to make adjustments to even the most perfect theme.
When you select a theme, spend some time going through all of its features and options, deselecting those you think you won’t use. Or, you can search for a minimalist theme that will allow you to start with something simple, and then add more features, or switch to a more complex theme, when the moment arises.
Make It Personal, But Not Too Personal
The search for the perfect theme—either free or paid—can take a long, long time, and as soon as you find it, it’s hard to resist the urge to tweak the site to make it just right for your needs.
While you shouldn’t be afraid to make minor adjustments, too much personalization will suck up all the time you saved by selecting a theme designed by someone else. Trust the designer who made your theme, and allow yourself to enjoy the time you saved by relying on someone else’s labor. If you really want to make your own theme, start with a minimalist theme, and then add new features, colors, and designs. If you take apart someone else’s handiwork, you risk breaking it.
Take a Tutorial
If you’re ready to make the plunge, and start designing your own themes, or seriously modifying those you find online, you’ll probably want to learn how to modify themes quickly and efficiently. (Note: trial by error is rarely the fastest way to get something done).
ThemeShaper’s ultimate WordPress Theme Tutorial is a great place to start, and many providers of paid themes also offer tutorials on how to make their themes work for you.
Choosing, modifying, and designing a theme for your WordPress site is one of the easiest, and more enjoyable, things you can do to make your site feel like it’s really yours. Once you open up the hood, and learn how WordPress themes work, you’re well on your way to learning how to make your site perform the way you like.
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