Approaching Theme Design

Organic Themes was invited to speak at WordCamp Phoenix in January of 2011. Our presentation was on the subject of Approaching Theme Design. We were very excited about this opportunity, and would like to share our presentation from the conference.

Here are a few theme design tips from the presentation:

Theme Design Tips For Publicly Released Themes

Background Images — This is a pet peeve of mine. Any patterns, gradients or images applied to a theme, and stored within a theme images folder are usually difficult for clients and customers to edit. Particularly if they are unfamiliar with uploading files via FTP, or image editing software. It’s best to keep your images to a bare minimum for ease of customization and fast load times.

It Has To Be Perfect — There’s no cutting corners! Don’t slack on the layout dimensions, borders, rollovers, line spacing or any aspect of the design. This also applies to the development. With a personal theme or a client, you have the freedom to jury rig your design and code to a certain extent. Not when offering a theme to the masses. It has to be perfect.

Typography — As all web designers know, typography on the web has its limits. It’s your job to be as creative as possible with web typography within those limitations, or the entire design will suffer. Pay extra close attention to line spacing, heading styles, link text, blockquotes and more. I don’t suggest using font replacement methods such as sIFR, Cufon or Google Fonts when offering a theme to the public — free or paid. While you might prefer one method over the other, they are still imperfect and will create complications with customers that want to change fonts on their own. Stick to web safe fonts. Just get creative with the limited options.

Be Prepared For Anything — Other people are going to be using these themes, not you. They’re going to do weird stuff with them. And you need to be prepared for a post filled with nothing but headings and video, or iframes, or Flash, or ads, or 10MB images. When people start stacking weird content on top of each other that you didn’t anticipate, you’re going to have design problems.

Master Doing Lots With A Little — This is where the creativity really comes in! If you must keep your background images and fonts limited, you better have some other aces up your sleeve for designing unique themes. Personally, I enjoy the challenge of working with the space creatively.

Label Everything — If your using Photoshop, label every single layer. Particularly if you are not developing the theme, or plan to offer the design file to the public. It will save you, the developer and anybody else using the design file loads of time in the long run.

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David Morgan is the co-founder, designer, and developer of Organic Themes. He founded the company with Jeff Milone in 2009 on the Hawaiian island of Maui. David enjoys surfing, swimming, golfing and creating new web applications and products. Personal Site: