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One Year Anniversary Review: Designing WordPress Themes for the Public

An article I wrote during the past year that got a lot of attention, and criticism, was “WordPress Theme Designers: Slapping You Upside the Head”. It was a rant, but also a guide to help those who design WordPress Themes for public release, and to and those who choose and prepare WordPress Themes for inclusion. It was also a cry out for the victims of WordPress Theme designers, the users, who can’t edit or change what they are stuck with in a Theme just because a Theme author took shortcuts or didn’t think their design out fully.


This is the sound of the pain and suffering bloggers on 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.

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 these 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.

In the early days of WordPress Theme design, everyone and anyone got into the fun. Luckily, some very experienced web page designers created powerful and lovely Themes, but a lot more beginners enjoyed the creativity of designing WordPress Themes for contests, and not all of the design details were equal nor thought out.

Designing a WordPress Theme goes beyond simple web page design. As mentioned in “One Year Anniversary Review: Designing WordPress Themes”, WordPress Themes create dynamic content and that dynamic content must be designed. WordPress Themes need to be designed to accommodate every possible page view, multi-post views, single post views, category pages, author pages, Pages, archives, search, comments, popup comments, and every mutation in between.

Themes need to be designed for every design detail that a user might use in the post content area, too, such as bold, italic, tables, images, headings, and horizontal lines. I wrote “Designing Themes for WordPressMU – Fill In All The Details” and “WordPress Design Details” to help address the issue of designing ALL the details to help WordPress users who choose your WordPress Theme:

Designing Themes for WordPress is pretty wide open since each Theme is a self-contained package. The files and styles are all there, and little else is needed – to a point. The rest is up to the user to tweak with. With WordPressMU, the options are limited to choices, not tweakability. Therefore, WordPress Themes for WordPressMU need to be:

  • Self-contained
  • Ready with everything the user needs
  • Require no fixing or adjusting
  • Validated and tested

Recently, the Sandbox Theme was released and added to your choices with Themes, and the developers worked overtime to make sure that EVERY element was over-designed so designers could customize almost every feature within the WordPress Theme. In many ways, this was the first WordPress Theme to take into consideration the highly customizable dynamic content and potential of WordPress Themes. To help you use the Sandbox Theme to develop your own Theme, I put together a rough draft list of all the styles for the Sandbox Theme.

WordPress Themes have recently undergone a revolution and I expect to see more technological advances in Themes and their designs and customization techniques. WordPress Widgets in WordPress Theme design adds extensive flexibility to designers and for users to customize a WordPress Theme and content without interaction directly with template files and code.

Part of my task here on is to write about the “elephant in the room”, as one person explained. In “Do You Want Someone Messing Around With Your Theme?”, I wrote about what everyone understands but doesn’t talk about much, the issue of how much you really want someone altering your WordPress Theme design, and how much control you may want to retain, and if you should:

This growing freedom for the WordPress blogger to manipulate and change a WordPress Theme got me thinking. It led in two directions. One, how exciting and wonderful this is for the user, to be able to have some creative control over the look, navigation, graphics, and content elements of their Themes. Two, how tough it will be for many WordPress Theme designers to give up control of their designs, and how willing they will be to see their Themes changed.

Those thrilled with whizzbang gimmicks will thrive on making their WordPress Themes embrace the new customization features. They will play around to make sure the Theme’s design will still hold up even if you change the header art, add too few or too many links and feeds in the sidebar, and be able to handle link lists, search, and other core elements added to the header or removed from the header. For them, it will be all about the challenge of the gimmicks, with the design elements coming in second or third to functionality.

Those who fuss and fidget with every design element in a WordPress Theme might have some problems with this. For them, designing a WordPress Theme is personal. It is not only a reflection of their expertise in web design, it is a reflection of themselves, their personality, their thoughts, their creativity, their personal expression. These are the folks who may have a hard time giving up control of their artwork in exchange for the user’s self expression.

I have a lot of respect for everyone who takes on a WordPress Theme for public release. It’s a lot of work. It requires extensive testing, not only validation tests but also testing in various browsers, accessibility standards tests, tests for color contrast for visually impaired viewers, and a wide range of tests to make sure the WordPress Theme works consistently across all the various uses a WordPress blog may undergo. It’s a test of patience as well as skill and ability to see a WordPress Theme design all the way through to release.

For those who work on the various WordPress Support forums, a lot of their time is spent helping people fix their WordPress Themes and designs. High praises to them for all of their hard work, helping people fix their headers and sidebars and find their WordPress styles over and over and over again. They have amazing patience and skill in helping people solve their Theme questions and disasters.

Articles about Designing WordPress Themes for Public Release

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

Member of the 9Rules Blogging Network

One Comment

  1. Posted September 13, 2006 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Hi Lorelle,

    I’m in the process of building a spreadsheet of all the theme features, I thought you might find it interesting.

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