Off the Rack: Using Pre-made Website Themes

I recently completed websites for three clients: Healthy Home Business, sculptor Todd Rau, and composer David Macbride. On all three projects I used pre-made, “off the rack” WordPress themes rather than coming up with custom designs. The benefit to the client is that most of the design and layout work is done, saving time and money. The down side is that most of the design and layout work is done, leaving little room for personalization.

In the course of selecting pre-made themes for these clients, I have identified a few things I think every WordPress theme should have:

Healthy Home BusinessTodd RauDavid Macbride

Responsive design. It should go without saying that we live in a world where tablets and smartphones are the internet browsing tool of choice. Yes, people still look at websites on their laptop and desktop machines (especially in the business world), but an ever growing number reach for their phone or tablet when they see a website address. If your website isn’t optimized for viewing on all devices, you risk alienating a large part of your potential audience.

Adapt, which I used for Healthy Home Business, is an excellent example of how to do responsive design for WordPress, with some elegant layout solutions that I have started to use for my custom website designs.

Compatibility with IE7 & 8. On the other end of the scale, it is a sad truth that many people are still using Internet Explorer 7 and 8. This is often the case in offices that bought their computers during the PC boom in the mid-1990s and haven’t upgraded since. It’s tempting to chuckle and maybe put in a “please upgrade your browser” message, but again, why risk alienating part of your potential audience?

Portfolio Press, the theme I used for Todd Rau’s sculpture website, fell down a bit here – I had to add the IE condtional code that should be standard for any theme.

Customization options. Granted, the point of choosing a pre-made WordPress theme would seem to be that the design decisions have been made by the theme designer, but just about everyone wants to customize a little bit. At the very least, controls for changing colors (especially backgrounds and link colors), a few different page layout templates, and the ability to place a logo in the header, should be standard with any theme.

I used Weaver II for David Macbride’s website, and it absolutely excelled at this. In addition to several pre-made sub-themes with different color schemes and design options, it has a simple interface that allows customization of almost every part of the theme, and it even has an advanced options page that allows additions to the CSS code without editing the style sheet directly.

Using WordPress with a pre-made theme is an excellent low-cost option for your website, and there are thousands of themes out there to choose from. But not all themes are created equal, so make sure you choose one that will give you all the options and functionality you need.

As a standard service I can set up your WordPress website for you, including helping with organizing your content and choosing the right pre-made theme (with minor alterations where needed). Contact me to learn more.