Choosing a WordPress Theme You’ll Love!

Continuing from my previous post, I thought I would tell you about the process I took to select a theme, the requirements that it had to meet, which themes I decided on, and which ones made the cut.

During the summer of 2009, I started freelancing for various friends, family and small businesses. Because my day job was doing Rails work, I started doing a few projects in Rails, but quickly decided I needed something else, something that was already setup for the most part. So I moved to WordPress. I was able to quickly produce websites where it would take several hours, days, and sometimes, weeks longer to do with Rails. WordPress’ popularity was also growing rapidly so it was starting to become common to run into people that were familiar with it or had heard of it. Whereas they hadn’t heard of Rails.

As I was starting to do more and more freelance work, I decided I needed to find a couple of good quality themes that I could really focus on and become proficient in it so that I would be able to use them as my theme/s of choice. It was also important to me to find a theme that I could also become a part of the community. As the WordPress community graciously accepted me back into their open arms, I wanted to make sure that the theme I’d be using all the time was a great community to be a part of.

Requirements for a Theme

My list of requirements of a theme were fairly simple. It had to be easily customizable. Because let’s face it, who really wants a website that looks like everyone else’s? I wanted it to be dead simple to make changes. Coming from a web development background, I knew and understood HTML, CSS, and PHP, so I didn’t mind getting into the code.

Another big feature the theme had to have was a way for developers to “hook” into the code with PHP. This way I could easily manipulate the design, move content around, and so on. It also needed to use as many of the WordPress features as possible. Basically what I was looking for was something that had 80% of completion for the majority of the projects I was taking on (blogs and simple content management sites, small business websites).

Selecting a Theme

So selecting a theme was actually a little harder than I thought it would have been. I first started searching the free themes available on the WordPress.org themes site. I figured that would be the best place to look. It would be open source and I would be able to contribute back to it if it didn’t have everything in it I wanted.

However, after looking through the popular themes in the Theme Directory, I decided I need to look in the premium theme arena. Because let’s face it. If there’s money behind it, then it’s bound to be worthwhile. That said, I started asking around the WordPress.org forums and friends in the community, and found about a small handful of themes to really look at. After carefully looking them over I narrowed them down to the following: iThemes, StudioPress’ Genesis Framework, Headway Themes, Press75 and Thesis. These were all recommended products to me and I wanted to give them a shot.

I put up the money upfront and use a theme from each company a project. I figured that would be the best way to really see which theme I was going to use for the foreseeable future.

iThemes

I don’t remember off the top of my head what I bought from them (it has been quite the time now). But I wasn’t happy with it. It was missing features I needed and if I recall it wasn’t going to fit my 80% needs of working with every site. I do know that at the time it was not Builder.

StudioPress’ Genesis Framework

This theme wasn’t that bad, however it required a lot of code. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a code monkey and don’t mind living in writing code all day, but my goal is to have something that fits the needs of 80% of my target clientele and this actually required me to do designs before hand, or hire someone to do designs. This ended up cutting into my bottom line, which I didn’t want to have to deal with.

Headway Themes

When I first started out, I wasn’t very happy with it. What I liked about it was that I could quickly turn out a design and not have to worry about sitting in code all day. It was a little ahead of it’s time when I started, but it wasn’t what I wanted to deal with all the time. (Keep in mind this was right after it was released. There have been a ton of updates since there, including a complete rewrite and I know use it exclusively.)

Press75

These themes are awesome. I love the work Jason does and would use them for one off projects, but I couldn’t use them for all of my projects. I do use them for some things but not a lot anymore.

Thesis Theme Framework

This was probably the most popular theme and theme framework at the time. It was nice to have a lot of the functionality I was looking for and a way to produce it out very quickly. It actually allowed to to pump out updates very quickly and in the budget my clients were willing to pay.

At the end of all of this, I ended up with theme licenses from each of these companies and a theme, Thesis, that allowed me to do quality work in a budget that my clients would pay, and one I was willing to accept. Life was grand until the spring/summer of 2010.

The Tipping Point

Around the early part of the summer of 2010, there was this debate that started in the WordPress community. During this time I was listening to all sides and trying to see where things were going to land. When I hear the Matt Mullenweg publicly say he was going to sue DIY Themes over Thesis’ license, I decided I needed to make a change.

I immediately started looking at the themes I bought and got the updates and started playing around with them again. It was around the end of July I redesigned my site with Headway Themes and saw how incredible it was. I was hooked! I understood it right away and started getting as much information as I could about it. I was in the forums reading just about every post ever added. I learned how they were allowing developers hook into things with Easy Hooks, and Hooks so I could write code. I saw that they had APIs for skins (think Child Themes), and leafs (now Blocks with version 3.0). It was actually pretty cool to see all they were doing. They were marketing themselves as a no coding theme, but they had features built for developers as well.

The Change

After a few weeks of playing around with Headway, I started helping people out in the forums. Keep in mind I wanted to be part of the community that themes create. I wanted to get to know the community and it’s members so that I could be one of them as well. I wanted to share my experiences with Headway and learn from others in the community as well. During this time, I was not only helping people out, but they were helping me out. It wasn’t till around November I would be asked to join them.

Grant emailed me asking me about my experience with Headway and that he had noticed that I was helping out a lot in the forums. He wanted to offer me a job. Instead of just answering questions in the forums for free. they were willing to pay me. I thought, well of course I’ll take some money for being part of the community! People were already looking up to me, I was getting specific Headway design/development jobs based on helping people in the forums, so why not work as a moderator to help people out and get paid.

The rest of the Headway story is pretty much there. I know work pretty much fulltime for them and take on projects as need be. I use Headway Themes exclusively for designing and developing websites on WordPress. I haven’t taken that many projects in the last couple of months as we’ve been working heavily on version 3.0 and everything that goes along with publishing a release. I’ve been doing more tutorials over at the Headway Themes blog, and Headway Hub, and will be putting more out there in the next couple of weeks. I’ve also been developing some free starter child themes and a couple of blocks that will be released after the new year.

If you haven’t bought Headway Themes yet, you definitely should take a look at the theme. It convinced me a long time ago, and now I practically don’t use another theme!

8 thoughts on “Choosing a WordPress Theme You’ll Love!”

  1. Hi AJ

    I’m running with Genesis at the moment and if you use a turnkey design you can get away with minimum code and a super quick site.

    I’ve recently bought Headway but not had much time to play with it… will get some time early in the new year and then I will offer clients the choice – Genesis / Headway.

    Struck me that you can produce virtually any layout you can think of with Headway, but you still have to decide on your own colours, fonts, margins etc, which takes time and can look awful if you aren’t a graphic designer.

    The child themes for both Genesis and Headway are what makes turning out a great looking site so easy and quick.

    Hope to report back about Headway in the New Year.

    Happy New Year AJ.

    • @wmwebdes Sure, I suppose if I was doing turn key designs I would do that, but a lot (actually most) of my clients I’m under a NDA with and they don’t want a turn key design. So I have to design 80-90% of the sites I’m building, whether I hire a designer, or design it myself.

      I’m a strong believer that investing in a single theme framework is the way to go (there’s a separate post about that soon). Clients don’t care what theme you use, as long as they are happy with their site. So when you give them the choice between say Genesis and Headway, it’s not really helping them. It’s going to confuse them. I know people that will give their clients links to WordPress theme shops and tell them to pick a theme from one of them. How is this helping them? Sure you’re giving them choices, but are they going to make the right one? They are after all hiring you to design and develop a site for them. You’re not really doing either in that situation because you’re just giving them links to designs that are already done. Instead, it would be helpful if you were giving them links to either sites you’ve done, or links to sites your designer has done.

      But of course, this all depends on the clients you’re after. I’m not after clients that don’t want to spend money. (And of course I’m sure I could come up with another blog post about that. 🙂

      Happy new year to you too!!

      • @AJMorris

        Food for thought AJ.

        “I’m a strong believer that investing in a single theme framework is the way to go (there’s a separate post about that soon).”

        Look forward to reading that.

  2. Hi AJ

    I’m running with Genesis at the moment and if you use a turnkey design you can get away with minimum code and a super quick site.

    I’ve recently bought Headway but not had much time to play with it… will get some time early in the new year and then I will offer clients the choice – Genesis / Headway.

    Struck me that you can produce virtually any layout you can think of with Headway, but you still have to decide on your own colours, fonts, margins etc, which takes time and can look awful if you aren’t a graphic designer.

    The child themes for both Genesis and Headway are what makes turning out a great looking site so easy and quick.

    Hope to report back about Headway in the New Year.

    Happy New Year AJ.

  3. Hello AJ! These are great ideas in choosing the perfect WordPress Theme. I think I should give a try for Headway Themes. Thanks for sharing the information…

Comments are closed.