I remember it so clearly: my own “Themeforest Moment” while looking for a WordPress themes, back in my WP-noob days. I was looking for a resume´theme, and something with spinning circles on the home page caught my eye. They reminded me of my much-loved, mismatched Fiestaware plates, and I sat there playing with those spinners way longer than I care to admit. Five seconds later, my credit card was OUT.
You know the rest of the story, don’t you? At some point, those plates stopped spinning. It was probably my fault, or almost certainly something that I could have easily fixed. The theme author, however, was not as responsive as I’d hoped (and neither was the theme, pun intended), and whatever advice he gave me, I had no clue what he was talking about, anyway. Forty bucks wasted!
My “Growth Mindset Moment”
It’s all good, though, in the big picture, because I’ve learned to value my mistakes even more than my successes (growth mindset, anyone?).
If you’re already a hot-shot developer, this post probably won’t teach you anything new. I’m talking more to those of you who might be working through your own “Themeforest Moment.” I’ll explain what those themes actually are, and I’ll toss out a few tips that (I hope) will give you some clarity on where to start and what to look for, based on your organization’s needs.
My Starting Point
I usually work with Genesis child themes, most often the ones sold by Studiopress. (They’re not paying me anything, though. Actually, I pay them, for their themes, because they’ve earned my trust.) It’s okay if “Genesis” or “child theme” doesn’t ring a bell for you. This is what it means:
Unless you are fortunate enough to have several thousand dollars sitting around, begging, “Buy a new web site with me!”, you are probably not going to end up with a site that is completely custom-built, starting with a developer staring at a blank file on the screen. Instead, you (or your developer) will begin with a child theme built on the Genesis “parent theme,” or some other WordPress framework.
Parent Themes, Child Themes
Why use a child theme?
This one is very simple. Every time the Genesis code is updated (partly to patch security holes and stay ahead of hackers), any changes you’ve made — to the CSS, for instance — will be overwritten, and you will lose those. If you put those changes in a separate css file inside a collection of files called a child theme, your changes will not be affected when Genesis is updated. Clever, right? Updates are important, because not updating is one of the main ways your site becomes infected with malicious code.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are the tips I promised for cutting through the “forest” of WordPress themes:
- You’ll probably see lots of beautiful Parallax-style themes. Those are the “special effect” sites you’ve seen everywhere, with a background that seems to move at a different speed from the rest of the page sections that scroll over it. They’re trendy, but probably on the way out. There are other sites that resemble Parallax-style, with text moving over the background — like the one this site is built on — Agency Pro.
- If you’re looking for a different sort of site, a more “traditional” and non-trendy one for your business or non-profit, one of these Studiopress themes might work well for you: Executive Pro, Outreach Pro, or Enterprise Pro. They’re fixed-width themes, and there’s still room for that large home page image, along with areas for information, images, etctera. You’re not giving up all your prime home page real estate for one image and a caption. Not that there aren’t good reasons to do that sometimes. It all depends on your needs and the nature of your organization.
- Another great option if you want lots of events, features, and updates on the home page — which CAN be done without looking cluttered — is a magazine-style site. News Pro from Studiopress is a great choice. I’ve also worked with a magazine-style theme called Resurrect from Church Themes. The layout worked well for them, because of their need for a number of features on the home page–location, upcoming events, recent sermons, latest blog posts, videos. It sounds cluttered, but it isn’t. You can see it here. See? Magazine-style themes are not just for magazines.
*On a side note, I’ve worked with a couple of African nonprofits, and one of them had intermittent internet access and low-resolution images. For this reason, we decided to use a magazine-style theme because the quality of their images worked best with a smaller size (rather than a large, full-screen image).
Now, remember, once these themes are customized, they will probably end up looking quite different from the theme demo. For this reason, think CONTENT, STRUCTURE, and FEATURES before “looks.” See before and after. For this, you can compare my site to the “Agency Pro” demo.
Not different enough for you? Compare this site to the original.
That wasn’t built on a Genesis child theme, or Genesis, at all. It’s another WordPress framework called Thematic, for which we created a child theme. I only included it to show you that a customization can end up looking NOTHING like the original
I hope this post has been helpful for those of you facing a “Themeforest Moment.” If you’d like to chat and brainstorm more about choosing a theme, please feel free to get in touch with me, even if you don’t intend to hire me to build it for you. I’m really passionate about helping people understand WordPress in plain English, not geek-speak. In fact, you’ll probably tire of hearing me talk about WordPress before I tire of talking about WordPress! There are also quite a few talented and experienced Genesis Developers recommended by Studiopress, who would love to talk to you.