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How Do You Choose a WordPress Theme?

How to Choose a WordPress Theme for Your eChapbook and Blog is part of an ongoing lesson for young people on web page design and development, and blogging, of course. The first instruction is to choose a WordPress Theme for their blog and discuss why they made the choice they made.

Choosing a theme is no easy matter because it requires you to think ahead and to imagine what your site will look like in terms of its layout and design, and how it will function. You can always change themes and add functions as you move along, but changing themes and adding functions is not always as easy as pressing a few keystrokes.

The instructions recommend looking at the whole theme as well as the parts and pieces, including the color, layout, design, multi-post view and single post view, navigation, and all the details.

What I found interesting is what first drew the students to the particular Themes they liked. Among the very well described reasons they listed for choosing their favorite WordPress Themes, I found a running thread: color.

…My favorite color is blue so I chose this one…I picked it because i liked the picture. The abandoned rail line weaving through a forest has a mysterious feel to it…My second pick, just beachy was the only theme that had the ocean in it…I like the colors and like that it is very simple…It has a background of yellow, which is one of my favorite colors…I really like how the reds flow together…I also like the picture at the top…I like the colors and the heading picture…I really like the colors and the way it’s set up…Simplicity is pink and anyone that knows me, is sure that pink is my favorite color…my middle name is Rose and I love roses…My second favorite theme is Red is nice. I like this one because I like it’s color red…I Love the color pink…This theme is cool because the black is mostly on the left side with a strip of green running down the right side which looks cool…I also like the rich red color as the background…it’s simple but still pretty. I know the colors aren’t important, but apparently they’re hard to change and I already like this one…This one isn’t as pretty as the first one but I think I could change the colors and fonts…I also admire the theme because of it’s colors and it’s layout and design…because it is different from every other theme. While most of the themes are brightly colored, I like the dark color of this theme…

Color plays a huge role in choosing a Theme or web design for your blog or website. With the innocence and exuberence of youth, these kids understand well how color expresses emotions. They feel a deep connection with the colors and understand that their blogs will be representative of “their personality”. The colors often reflect their feelings about themselves.

Do you think about the color when choosing your WordPress Theme? Do you personalize your color choices? Do you choose red because of its intensity and firey nature? Or are you an earthy person and choose blues, browns, and greens? Are you known by your color choices? If someone sees pink, do they think of you? Or do you stick to black text on a white page to keep things clean and simple, orderly, reflective of your personality?

Or is it the images and graphics on the Theme that attract your attention. One spirited youth explained, “It has a picture of the character ‘Puss-n-Boots’ from Shrek which I find to be both adorable and hilarious.” Trains, computer tech images, oceans, water, flowers, and other photographic or graphic images meant more than the colors of the Themes for some.

Images are very reflective of the personality of the blogger as well as the blog topic. They can be used as visual introductions to the blog’s content, or to capture the eye’s attention and interest throughout the blog. They can be the main visual subject of the Theme, or just a small detail. Either way, the images used in designing a Theme help sway many people in choosing a WordPress Theme for their blog, independent of color.

Luckily, changing the header art in WordPress is fairly easy, but Themes are often chosen because of the artwork included. Though many people can change the graphics in a WordPress Theme easily, few do. They like the whole package, including the images.

Many of the students mentioned structure and functionality as having an impact on their decision. Some liked the sidebar on the right, others on the left. Some noticed navigational and functional details like Pages and search, noticing where they are and how they might be used by the readers.

This showed me that the kids were moving into the second phase of the process of choosing a WordPress Theme: Thinking of the end user.

Thinking of Usability When Choosing a WordPress Theme

Choosing a WordPress Theme for your blog begins with personal choices, reflective of your taste and goals with your blog. The second phase kicks in when you start to think about usability. How will people use this blog and how to make it more useful to use.

How much effort do you put into choosing a WordPress Theme when it comes to thinking of others? Do you think about how people will find information about you, how to contact you, and how to find out more information? Do you think about how people will navigate your blog, moving around to read more of your writing and look at your pictures? Do you think about how people will search your blog? Do you think about adding a site map or any navigational aids like recent posts and most popular posts?

Do you think about your audience and how they will use and read your blog? Do you think about the fact that approximately 25% of all Internet users are blind, visually or physically impaired and classified as “disabled”? What are you doing to help them access your blog? Do you think about the average age of your audience and how they will respond to certain font sizes, layouts, designs, and even the colors?

As pretty and colorful as a web page design is, if a reader can’t find the information they want, and if it’s a struggle to read, then you’ve just lost some customers. Take time to think about how people will use your blog.

As you go through your choices in WordPress Themes, make a list of the features you feel are necessary to make your blog easy to use, and check them off. They may include the following:

  • Next and previous post navigation
  • List of related posts
  • List of most recent posts
  • List of most popular posts
  • Category and/or tag lists
  • Site Map
  • Search
  • About Page
  • Easy-to-read and/or flexible/adjustable fonts

Think about usability not just by including these features but thinking about where they are located. Poke around a WordPress Theme that attracts you to see where these elements are. Are they all in the sidebar, or are some in the header? Are core Page and Category links echoed in the footer so when the reader gets to the end of the post, they don’t have to scroll back up to the top? If there is a search, where is it? Is it easy to spot? Pages that are important to the reader such as the About, Contact, or Site Map, are they also easy to locate within the layout of the page?

While many WordPress Themes are based upon the Kubrick/Default WordPress Theme, they are not all alike. Some may appear to be on the surface, but when you dig through the different page views, pay close attention to the details, especially navigation, to make sure that the usability functions on this Theme are what you want to live with for a while.

Don’t Like it? You Can Change Your WordPress Theme

One of the slick features of WordPress is how easy you can change the look of your website. Almost instantly. From the Presentation Panel, you can choose from the WordPress Themes you’ve installed or are featured in your WordPressMU/ blog and select it. With a click or two, you have a whole new look for your blog.

If you are using the full version of WordPress, you can easily change the overall look or details of your WordPress blog. Don’t like the header art, you can change it fairly quickly and easily, even if you are unfamiliar with CSS, XHTML, and PHP. If you are using a Kubrick/Default based WordPress Theme, there is even a utility that will help you change it fast and easy. Don’t like the background color, that’s an easy fix. Want to change the fonts and sizes? Again, with a little familiarity with CSS, you can quickly change those elements without effecting the overall Theme.

Want to dig in deeper and switch the sidebar from left to right or widen or narrow the main column? Want to get rid of the header all together? Want to change everything but the general structural layout? All that is possible with WordPress Themes. You can do whatever you want, using your CSS, XHTML, and PHP expertise, or just learn as you go with trial and error.

I have many articles on Web Page Design, WordPress Themes, and WordPress Tips to help you adjust small details as well as the overall look. There are also extensive articles on changing the look of your WordPress Theme in the in the and WordPress Blog Design and Layout sections.

How Do You Choose a WordPress Theme?

So what goes through your mind as you choose a WordPress Theme? Is it just about color and design elements, or do you think about functionality, too? What goes through your mind as you form a mental checklist of what you like and don’t like in a WordPress Theme? Is one element more important that another? What moves you to choose?

And if you are familiar with the full version of WordPress and have tweaked a few WordPress Themes or built your own, what elements did you change in the Themes? What didn’t you like and removed or changed? What did you like and kept?

So what motivates you to choose a WordPress Theme?

And as a last word from these brilliant youngsters about their WordPress Theme choices, one bright student responded with:

The second, and more important, reason why I like this theme is that it stands out, and I would like my writing to stand out as well.

Well done. Give that kid an A+.

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen


  1. Posted March 29, 2006 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    What goes through my mind?

    How it looks.
    How customizable is it?
    Will readers find this as appealing to them as it is to me?

    As much as I like the new fancy themes that come out with AJAX interfaces and in built tags and asides. The truth is, like that student, I like a theme that says it’s me. Since I write a personal blog, I like something that people can associate my blog with me. Colours, layout, pictures, they all help bring out what really matters in a blog…what I write.

    Given the fact that I have recently altered my theme a bit. I think it does give a fair sense that this blog is me. It stands out (not many blogs this green), it’s personalized (penguins are what I associate myself with) and it’s functional (it’s got the basic features of trackback, tags, and comments all streamlined into the content).

    I choose my theme because it is me. That’s what a (personal) blog is all about in the end.

  2. Posted June 17, 2008 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle
    Thanks for the helpful tips. Can you please tell me where I can find the answer to the following problem. I’m using WP2.5 with a Silveray theme and want to make the ‘main column’ wider but when I change its width, it’s padding position does not change accordingly. –ie, if I widen the column by 30px to the right, the padding stays behind in its old place. No one seems to know how to do this in the WP forum. Please help!!

  3. Posted June 17, 2008 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    @ kamil:

    Help such as this comes from the author of the Theme or someone with the experience to understand how the HTML/CSS architecture works. The WordPress Support Forums feature a large number of people who could help you with this issue, but this is not a specific WordPress issue, so you could try web design support forums for help.

    When you change a column width or position, you must change the width and position of everything around it. There is no easy answer. If you widen a column by 30px, you must remove 30px elsewhere. Removal comes from the width, margins and padding of the containers in and around the container you are changing. It’s trial and error and takes a lot of time and a lot of patience.

    If you cannot find help elsewhere, I recommend that start over from the beginning and change things five pixels at a time to each container, until you have everything in position. The smaller the changes, the easier it is to see what is moving around. And use the container outline features in the Firefox Web Developer Extension to help you physically see the outlines of the containers.

  4. Posted August 16, 2008 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I recently wrote an article on how to modify sidebar width in K2 – it was quite easy. Don’t know if it’ll be applicable to the Silverray theme, but it might.

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