Your Site’s Visual Identity
Themes provide the visual layout and navigation basis for your site. Theme styles range from minimalist text to whimsical graphic layouts, and cover every style in between. WordPress.com offers hundreds of free themes, and a selection of premium paid themes as well. WordPress.org ups the ante with thousands of themes to choose from, both free and premium. For our purposes we’ll be focusing on the available free themes, since the price is right. You can usually find a decent free theme to fit your needs, but remember, there are also countless others basing their sites on the same theme, so graphic creation and placement becomes paramount in order to set your site apart from the rest.
Choosing the proper theme for the type of site you want to create is important for two reasons. First and foremost, your theme will create the visual foundation for your site. For example, a traditional blogging theme is going to differ in look and structure from a portfolio theme. A blog theme is going to feature your posted text content, whereas a portfolio theme is going to be image-centric. There are happy mediums to be found, and some themes can be customized to combine blogs, portfolios, and galleries in unique and interesting ways. Second, themes will vary in their placement and size of key site components, such as the menu and header graphics.
Below is a list of important site components that will differ from theme to theme:
- size and location of menu
- size and customization of header graphic
- size and rotation options of featured images on posts
- number of, and location of widgets
- location of, and compatibility with plugins
- number of columns in layout
- background colour or image settings
Decide early on what your site’s main goal will be, and choose a theme accordingly. I’ve written two blog posts to help you select an appropriate theme from the many free selections on WordPress.com. Sweet Journal Themes offers a selection of solid, clean, functional themes for a journal or blog-based site. Cool Portfolio Themes rounds up a host of recommended themes for a portfolio, design, or photography themed site. WordPress.org themes will be discussed later on, as they can become more complex when getting into storefronts, shopping carts, subscription sites, payment gateways, and more.
The great part about the WordPress platform is the separation of the front end from the back end. All of your blog posts, text content, images, pages, comments, and settings are stored in a mySQL database behind the scenes. This allows you to freely change between themes without losing any of your hard work put into building up your site. The new theme simply calls up and displays your content in a different manner exclusive to that theme. You can try several layouts before settling on a favourite, and even then you can change it up whenever you like. Just make sure to keep an eye on the differences listed above, as you may lose certain placement options and positions for your different site elements, depending on the theme.