How to Choose a Theme

Choosing a the right theme sets the tone for your online presence and provides you the tools you need to make it easy for users to navigate your site. It can also add slick, contemporary design elements without you having to undergo the trials of learning PHP and CSS. There are also several caveats to consider when browsing Wordpress or Weebly's offerings, which I'll explain at the end of this document.

  1. You want to make sure that your theme is in line with the general aesthetics of your site. If you study the Holocaust, for instance, it would make little sense to have a theme called “FamilyRecipes2.1” with a pastel pink background and stock food photography, unless, of course, you're doing very glib work. The moral here is that your design choices will reflect on your project and overall presentation of your digital self. Most themes will be endlessly generalizable and not present any problems in terms of accidental aesthetic dissonance, but you should be considering how these designs will frame your work.
  2. You want to use a theme that makes it easy for users to navigate your site. This is not to say that you cannot be oblique or coy in your layout, but you shouldn't make your website such that your users are constantly hunting for menus (or wishing that they'd just stay open when they've been clicked) or battling abrasive, animated GIFs with loony images from 1998. I'm not advising that the form of your website be inconspicuous, like some invisible syringe injecting your content into your visitors. Make your design choices conspicuous and flashy if you like, but don't make them pointless.
  3. Choose a theme that has the functionality you will need built-in. If you plan on having full-screen, 1080p video, find a theme geared towards displaying it. If you are using this as a blog, make sure that some plugin or feature doesn't get in the way of actually writing and displaying posts.
  4. Some themes are more customizable than others. I like the blank themes that give you free-reign in the GUI (graphical user interface) of Wordpress (meaning you can change things from logging into your site rather than in a plaintext editor). Weaver II is a theme that is highly customizable. Other solid, well-supported themes are Portfolio, Skeleton, the yearly Wordpress themes (Twenty Thirteen is in Beta right now), and Customizr, the theme used in Professor Allen Tullos's American Routes website. Technically, every theme is endlessly customizable, if you have endless time to learn how Wordpress is built, the basics of dynamic websites, PHP, CSS, and rudimentary graphic design. There are Lynda.com classes on all these subjects, which you can access from the Woodruff library. If that sentence gave you a panic attack, please unread it and choose a highly custimozable, easy-to use theme that requires the knowledge of point-and-click web browsing.
  5. Remember that even if the theme does have the functionality you desire, it won't implement it exactly the way you would have done it. This is called polymorphism in object oriented programming, the concept that a single goal might be accomplished by different blocks that use the same method name. Though object orientation is the current paradigm in computer science, the code that comprises Wordpress themes and plugins or Weebly themes is not fully modular, and if you don't know much (yet) about how content management systems such as Wordpress work in conjunction with community authored plugins, functions, and themes, then you may quickly be frustrated by how much things that seem like they should work, won't work. At least not in thoe way you've understood it. If you find yourself the victim of a theme-related disaster, don't worry. You can always install a new theme, a new plugin, or find a workaround to make your idea work. Also, if you're having a problem getting a certain design to work, chances are that other people have as well. Each theme has a developer site that is supposed to include instructions, FAQs, and a support forum. It also contains the very important statistics on whether or not a theme is well-supported. If you want less headaches, pick themes that are well-supported.

One of the goals of the Domain initiative as that we all become comfortable and familiar with the ways of expressing ourselves in an increasingly on-line world. If you are unfamiliar with doing so now, using Wordpress and Weebly will be an excellent, painless introduction to making design choices for your work. The more you learn about the software you are working with, the more you will be inspired to customize, carve out, and polish your work. These notices are here only to comfort you when it's two in the morning and you're trying to convert your excellent design ideas into the language of Wordpress and finding it constrains you. Until then, there are many excellent themes that will perfectly complement your work and portfolio.