Choosing a (WordPress) Blog Theme (and customizing it)

It seems appropriate to me that the first blog post should be about picking the blog theme since I’ve done this a few times recently (both for myself and others’ blogs) and I always come across the same problems. First of all, the official WordPress themes site offers possibly the lamest selection of themes, which is further degraded by their volume. If you’re looking for a WordPress theme that’s more stylish or unique, I recommend looking elsewhere.

A few sources I came across:

After picking a few themes I liked, I tested them out and also checked the code for each.  I am sad to say that I am yet to see a theme that has code I would consider even decent. Generally, they vary from usable to just plain embarrassing. I’m not sure who writes this stuff, but the theme which I initially chose (Modicus Remix by Art Culture) was simple and slick, but was nothing close to being packaged for distribution. The year in the copyright was hard-coded to “2007”, the feeds were still hard-coded to Art Culture’s feeds, it had its own subscription form, and its own Google Ad Syndication module. Considering that it took a few minutes to remove all this stuff its surprising that they would leave it in.

Back to the code itself – in many cases it is a compete disaster, which not only complicates customization but also affects performance and cross-browser appearance. PHP is far from a strict language and shortcomings of this are on full effect in these templates. (One of the goals of this blog will be to address that a bit.)  But its the CSS that is often even worse.

Anyhow, after further searching I decided to go with a different theme – Fire Wind 1.0 which I found on bgthemes.com. It also employed some questionable decisions in terms of usability (for example, some links were black but on hover would become red; others were the exact opposite), but the code was significantly better than most themes I’ve come across.

Customizing the Theme

Picking a theme with solid code means that customization is much more straight forward. If you’ve seen the original theme you’ll notice that I’ve modified it almost beyond recognition.  In fact, when I chose a theme I’m not really looking at the design elements or colors as much as the basic structure and again, the code quality.

When customizing this theme I used the multi-column layout technique covered in this article posted on A List Apart.  I’ve used this a few times and kind of like it even though its a total hack.  Aside from that, most of the changes were done in the single stylesheet which the theme uses.  The dark background image is a manipulated photo taken by me of an old PCI card.

Its also worth noting that searching broadly once again proves to be very rewarding since aside from cool themes I also came across some great free fonts (courtesy of Smashing Magazine – thanks!) and design tutorials.  Speaking of fancy fonts, I should mention that the font used for the SUBCHILD logo (unless I’ve changed it since) is Gangly available at Veer.com.  Prior to this font, I had used Buzzer 3.

More later.

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