Modest Opinions isn’t the only blog I’ve got going on. You can see in my sidebar over there that I recommend checking out Hectic Studios and The Big Book of Spam; those are two of my other sites. Another that I’m working on isn’t ready to be announced yet, but suffice to say, it’s running on WordPress also, and running on WordPress means working with themes.
Now, I’m not a theme creator myself. I don’t have the time or energy to devote to creating really tight code, not like I used to. These days, I’m about writing words. I need themes that don’t require a lot of heavy lifting, because although I can fix things, I don’t want to have to, you know? Give me a theme that’s easy to move things around on, easy to customize the colors, and that uses images in an intelligent way. This other blog I’m working on now… the theme I love, I just discovered doesn’t use images in an intelligent way. That prompted this – my list of six stupid things a WordPress theme maker can do, from a user standpoint.
- Using images for layout. I mean, I don’t want the layout of the site to be nailed to the background images you’re including. If I can’t expand the layout without having to create all new images, there’s a major problem there.
- Sloppy CSS. All themes should adhere to the same basic structure in the style.css file. Have a section for your layout, have a section for your headings. Keep all the code relevant to your sidebar in one place. Don’t throw elements all over the file all willy-nilly. It’s annoying. Some master theme makers will actually indent their code (shock!), and that’s definitely a trait worth adopting.
- No comments. If you’re not commenting your code, especially your CSS file, you’re making it harder for the average newbie blogger to use your theme. Do you want your theme to be used? What are you trying to do, keep it a secret?
- Locking in a color scheme. This goes along with point #1. If you’re using a complex background image that isn’t made up of shades of gray, you’re pretty much going to force your user to go into Photoshop and recolor all the images anytime he wants to try out a new color scheme. You might as well hardcode all the colors into your HTML. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I like spending time at the Kuler website playing with new color schemes and trying them out.
- The sidebar is narrower than 234 pixels. Just about everyone wants to throw some advertising into their blog unless it’s a personal site (and sometimes, even then). Standard half-banners are 234×60 pixels. Make your sidebars at least 234 pixels wide (and don’t forget to include any padding in your decision). I could almost go out on a limb and say make them 250px wide at the minimum to accommodate a far wider array of common ad units, but at the very least, the sidebar should be 234px.
- Locking in a width. This goes along with points four and one – it boils down to making it difficult for your theme users to customize your theme. Design for 800×600 if you want, but if I can’t easily make a few changes and customize it for 1024×768, you’ve made a bad error in judgment. I don’t need to hear the "but X% of people still use 800×600!" argument. It’s not about the most popular resolution, it’s about locking your theme. Let the theme user worry about who he might be alienating with the wider layout.
Right, so there’s six things a good WordPress theme designer won’t do. Please, make it easy on your users. If you want your theme to be popular, if you want to earn a reputation as a talented theme designer, make your themes easy to use – it’s that simple.