Do you hear me yet? Listen closely.
This is the sound of the pain and suffering bloggers on WordPress.com and WordPress make when they encounter the most lovely and useful of WordPress Themes that lack a few of the most basic elements. Come on, folks. Can’t you read? This is common sense stuff that I’m about to tell you, so consider this a slap upside your head.
STYLE BASIC TAGS
There are few things more frustrating for a simple, unsophisticated blogger, than using a very common HTML tag in their post to make something bold or add a horizontal line and find out that the WordPress Theme designer either didn’t style this common, standard tags to match the look of the Theme, or that they did, or did something that unstyled them, and doing so makes it not look right.
A good example is this lovely WordPress Theme I’m currently using (subject to change, of course) called Regulus from Binary Moon. It is an amazing accomplishment to incorporate customization into a Theme that allows users to change how it appears to their readers. It’s a work of art in so many ways, and yet, there are some simple but serious problems.
While putting all their energy into the wizbang effects, which are tremendously successful by the way, simple things were overlooked. I’m singling out Regulus, but I had the same problem with Pool and other WordPress Themes. Here are some examples.
You should see a horizontal line above this paragraph. Do you? No. It’s not there. Why, I’m not sure but either it wasn’t styled, or it was styled to never appear.
This should be in code format, looking like typewriter type.
Well, does it? At this time, unless the Theme author updates the Theme, it doesn’t.
This should be in bold, but bold only works with strong in this Theme.
<b> bold tag is one of the first tags ever developed. The tag for
<strong> is styled, so why couldn’t a b have been added to that style? This is just pure lack of attention.
In my article that should probably be in the WordPress Codex, “Attention WordPress Theme Designers: Designing Themes for WordPressMU and WordPress.com” clearly states that you need to make sure that ALL of the basic elements are styled to match the Theme. Since WordPress.com users can’t tweak or fix what you overlook, you have an additional responsibility to make sure you get it all right from the start. Don’t leave anything out.
Here is a list of the most common HTML elements used within the content area of a post that must be styled to match the Theme, or at least look like they are supposed to look.
- UL/LI – to at least three levels down
- OL/LI – at least 2 levels down
- BLOCKQUOTE with possibly CITE
- H3, H4, H5
- B and STRONG
- I and/or EM
And while you are going through the list, remember to not unfavorably style anything that might make what we use ugly by your choices. For example, Regulus has put in styles that takes all the cell padding and spacing out of tables. There are times when I want to show you a list of data in a table, using them appropriately, but there is NOTHING I can do to add any cell padding to my tables. I could in other Themes but not this one.
|Item 1||Item 2||Item 3|
I can add color and borders, but I’ve tried adding cellpadding and cellspacing to no avail. The styles for the table aren’t stripped out, so they are there. The Theme is just giving different orders. So when I want to make a table, it looks terrible. Tables should come with cell padding, so adding elements that strip all the padding out in a Theme is ridiculous. Come on, give me a break here. And everyone else. Help us do what we do better not worse.
Please, create a well-rounded sandbox or test post to put your WordPress Theme through a full set of test to see how all the different elements will look.
THINK ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS
As you place the WordPress template tags around within the Theme in places where the code will generate the information without user intervention, be sure to add template tag elements that help the Theme meet Web Standards for Accessibility. The WordPress Codex features a step-by-step article on WordPress and Accessibility to help you fully understand how to integrate Accessibility Standards into your WordPress Themes.
One easy example is found in the template tags for creating post title with a descriptive title in the link:
<a href="<?php the_permalink() ?>" rel="bookmark"
title="Article about <?php the_title(); ?>">
<?php the_title(); ?>
The result of the link when the page is generated would be:
<a href="http://example.com/accessibility-matters.php" rel="bookmark" title="Article About Accessibility Matters">Accessibility Matters</a>
Very simple and easy to do. And a requirement to meet the most basic Web Standards.
SHORT AND SWEET SEARCH RESULTS
One of the coolest things to do with WordPress is to create custom web pages. For example, you can have a page designed specifically for the look of the front page of your blog, and then when a visitor clicks on the title or the read-more link of a post, the single page view generated will look different from the front page. This is just the tip of the ice berg of how much fun you can have creating different looks on your WordPress blog and Theme.
But I’m here to berate simple minded WordPress Theme designers who overlook the usefulness of this powerful feature. And one of my biggest grumbles is the lack of styling a Search Page.
Go on, search on this blog. I’ll wait. The search results page has not been developed so what you get is the default look of WordPress which shows you the ENTIRE post from every research result. The user then has to scroll through pages and pages of writing to find what they might be interested in. Type in a popular keyword in your search on this blog and you could easily find a list that scrolls down the equivalent of 42 printed web pages. Totally useless.
Sure, they might stumble upon a bit of important information in a paragraph here and there, but I keep my posts topic specific, so scrolling through miles of writing to find the point you want and need to help you is not only frustrating but time consuming.
A good search page should be designed to only show excerpts. Hey, if search engines can offer you titles and extremely short excerpts to help you find what you are looking for, then why can’t WordPress Themes?
Again, look to the WordPress Codex for Creating a Search Page with step-by-step instructions on designing a search page to display the right look: show excerpts not full posts.
While I’m Berating, I’m Also Wishing
Okay, so hopefully I’ve done a little slapping upside the head of WordPress Theme designers and developers. These are just simple things that need to be done but are often forgotten in the thrill of creativity. I hope my slap on the head brought back some common sense so we simple bloggers can do what we do without stress or strain from our Themes.
And while I’m berating you all, I’m also wishing for a few things.
- Site Map: A site map is very helpful for those who blog a lot, especially those who blog a lot about a variety of subjects, who need a good site map to help navigate the site. In my WordPress Resources page, I list information about NArchives and a few other site map making plugins. These still need work and development to bring them up-to-date, but help us out with some kind of plugin that lists blog posts by category at least. Listing them by date is near to useless information as users want information not chronological order.
- Page Links in the Footer: I know that the footer in WordPress.com Themes are designed to promote the Theme designer and WordPress.com, but why not add a simple row of Page links for About, Contact, Site Map, and such to add a little more navigation to the footer. Or even add another search form down there. I often find that I’ve scrolled to the bottom of search results or the front page and still not found what I’m looking for. So I have to scroll back up to the top of the screen to get back to the search form. Give me a second search form on long generated pages.
- List Link Manager/Blogroll by Titles: While the Regulus WordPress Theme does separate links in the blogroll (Link Manager) by category title, many don’t, turning your link list into a long line. Help us out by adding the ability to list titles in our Theme’s blogroll.
- Style Everything: I’ve made a list of the most common tags that need to be styled, but make sure everything is styled. One of the cool things with the Regulus WordPress Theme is that you can control the color scheme. I choose Calm Blue, in keeping with the blue look I started out with using the Pool Theme. Everything was great until I got to the Feed links which are in neon orange. Look at the bottom of the sidebar. It’s ugly. Why everything else changed to Calm Blue but these are horridly still orange, who knows. Maybe to resemble feed RSS buttons, I don’t know, but it doesn’t blend in with the overall lovely look of the Theme. Fix it!
I’m sure other people have some berating and wishing to offer WordPress Theme designers, especially those who use WordPress.com. I’m not talking about full access to customizing Themes. I’m not talking about adding hundreds of plugins to make your blog whirl and twirl. I’m talking about common sense, practical things that make our blogs more useful without interference or action from us.
So, calling all WordPress.com users. What have you discovered missing or inaction on your WordPress.com Theme that “should” be there? What do you want to see that should be there? What do you need to make your WordPress.com Theme better? And as for full WordPress version users, what more do you want out of your WordPress Themes that should be there?
UPDATE: Okay, it has been brought to my attention that there seems to be no good guides to help WordPress Theme designers learn how to make Themes. Well, there are such lists. The main lists are on the WordPress Codex, in the Blog Design and Layout and WordPress Lessons sections. A couple others are on my WordPress Resources list, and Site Map with categorized listing of helpful posts.
There is a lot to learn about when designing a Theme for WordPress or any website or blog and releasing it to the public, which is why I wrote Designing Themes for Public Release for the WordPress Codex. In addition to that article, the following are the “required reading list” for people designing and developing WordPress Themes.
- WordPress Codex – Using WordPress Themes
- WordPress Codex – Developing WordPress Themes
- Designing Theme for Public Release
- WordPress Codex – WordPress Lessons on Designing Your WordPress Site
- WordPress Codex – Stepping Into Templates
- WordPress Codex – Stepping Into Template Tags
- Choosing a WordPress Theme
- Help Me Find a WordPress Theme
- Designing A WordPress Theme From Scratch
- Designing A WordPress Theme – Building a Sandbox
- The Secret of Successful Editing of WordPress Themes
- My WordPress Theme is Broken
- Secrets of WordPress Theming
- Chris J Davis’s Sillyness Spelled Wrong Intentionally – Secrets of a WordPress Theme
For designing WordPress Themes for WordPressMU and WordPress.com:
- Attention WordPress Theme Designers – Designing Themes for WordPressMU
- Designing Themes for WordPressMU – Fill In All The Details
- Designing Themes for Public Release
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