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New work, plus thoughts on WordPress themes

Since WordPress has been the bulk of our work lately, the three newest additions to our portfolio are WordPress. All three were built on existing themes, which gave me even more of a solid opinion about which themes I enjoy working with, and which are less enjoyable.

The first site is The Green Road Show. The client had a banner already designed and said she wanted a simple WordPress site set up to go with it. I created a child theme from my trusty standby, Mimbo,  which I’m loving more each time I use it (as well as each time I don’t).  It is so simple to modify and by default includes dropdown menus and post thumbnail generation. Clients are generally very happy with the results. I hardly ever use its built-in functions like the featured category posts on the home page. These could be useful if you aren’t going to get into the theme files and rearrange them, but I’ve never had a client have a use for them.

The next site we worked on was Design Life Blog. The site already had a full design created in PSD, and the client had purchased the Thesis theme from which to work. I previously had some experience working with Thesis and some other themes like it, like Hybrid. I wasn’t initially attracted to either of these themes because of the complexity involved in modifying them. Yes, there are many built-in functions that you or the client can manipulate without touching a line of code. That is the advantage. The disadvantage is that if you want to modify the theme beyond these built-in functions, you don’t simply go to the WordPress codex and follow the Template Hierarchy to create a new layout. No–you must actually program little mini-plugins called theme hooks. I’m not going to get into all the details on theme hooks, but suffice to say they drove me absolutely crazy. This may be because this particular site was so complex and customized. If I were working on a much simpler site where changing some colors, fonts, and column widths would do the job, then Thesis or Hybrid might be a good choice. But then again, I would probably still go with something like Mimbo just for simplicity’s sake.

But enough of Thesis, which probably deserves a whole post of its own. For Design Life Blog, I took the PSD design, then pulled up the Thesis theme and customized it beyond all recognition with theme hooks. This site really has a lot of cool additions. We installed VideoPress, which is Automattic’s own video plugin for HD video upload and playback. Then we created a contest plugin where visitors can enter design contests, upload images, and vote on other visitors’ contest entries. The client can see vote tallies and set contest start and end dates through the admin.

The third WordPress site we worked on was GraduateFog.co.uk. This site was already set up for the most part, we just came in for some small tweaks like resizing and placing the banner, creating the dropdown menu, and customizing the home page to the client’s specifications. The client had already chosen the Arras WordPress theme, which I liked for the most part, though parts of the coding seemed unnecessarily complex made modifying it much more time consuming. I had to dig through several directories and files before I figured out why it was doing what it was doing. The thumbnail generation is not automatically done like with Mimbo. This always leaves the client frustrated, since they generally have to insert urls in custom fields–not very intuitive. But at least customizing it didn’t involve theme hooks!

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One Response to “New work, plus thoughts on WordPress themes”

  1. Laura McDonald says:

    One thing I wanted to mention–which didn’t really belong in the post above–is that it seems quite impossible to find an honest perspective on working with the Thesis theme. Since Thesis is not free, there is a thriving affiliate program dedicated to promoting the Thesis theme in order to get a commission. All blog posts that I could find talking about the Thesis theme were accompanied by a Thesis banner linked to the author’s affiliate id, which throws some doubt upon the unbiased opinions put forth in the post. At any rate, it’s a good theme, just not what I choose to use, and certainly not a time saver if one is to do even moderate theme customization.

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