Every time I’ve set up a new website or blog on WordPress, one of the most exciting steps has been choosing a sweet theme. Something that:
- looks good,
- functions well,
- suits the site’s aesthetic,
- is responsive for mobile viewing,
- has perfect colors,
- doesn’t use serif fonts (hate serifs!),
- offers tech support,
- has good reviews…
You can see where this is going.
When you start looking for a theme—the kind of thing you will have to look at every day, that you will have to use every day, not unlike a place to live—your list of must-haves can quickly spiral out of control. If you’re a first time WordPress user, I’d say it’s even worse.
1. HAVING THE WRONG FRAME OF MIND
In retrospect, I think the best frame of mind you can adopt, especially if you want to just get a site up and running is this:
- Find something you can be content with without significant modifications.
Fixer-upper time this is not. You will never get your site up and going, much less any business you hoped to run through it.
For my first WordPress, I got out a notebook and drew some wireframes. Then I tried to find something that looked like my drawing. Ha! Isn’t that adorable. You would probably say this sounds like a huge fucking waste of time. And you would be right. Why did I think I should do this? I don’t know. I would advise you against doing the same.
What I did the second time around was more reasonable. I decided on the type of site I wanted to create, the type of posts I wanted to write, and that easy social sharing was important.
That was as far as I let it go in the beginning.
My frame of mind was to find something that would do a fairly good job of meeting these needs.
It was a much shorter, less agonizing search.
2. NOT REALIZING THIS IS A WEB DEVELOPER’S MODEL HOME
When you go look at a model home or apartment, you step into a set. You know that the furniture, the wall art, the kitchen gadgets are just for show. That stuff isn’t included, and anyways, you’d have nowhere to put your own stuff.
Still, the set props have their purpose. Will my sofa fit? Yes, right here is a similar sofa and it looks fine. Will I have room for a coffee maker and a microwave on this counter? No, it’s not wide enough. Bastards.
WordPress theme designers also stage their products. There are beautiful photos, sweet graphics and logos, and carefully built example pages. It can be surprising at first when you open the door (that is, when you load your chosen theme) and walk into a bare apartment (or in this case, see a nearly blank website with a screen of undefined admin panel options).
Making the new theme look and feel like you want it to—whether that’s modeled on the demo setup or something that goes in a different direction—is going to take some time. If you’re surprised to find yourself in this situation, it’s probably going to take even longer to sort out.
3. BECOMING FIXATED ON FEATURES OR COLORS
Everyone’s seen a completely normal person lose it over an episode of House Hunters and shout at a television screen:
YOU CAN CHANGE THE PAINT!
You can change the color of a wall. You can also change the color of most theme elements.
The only thing that won’t really work is picking a color that has a completely different personality from the WordPress theme you apply it to. Swapping out a stately theme’s grey for wild orange or princess pink would probably be weird.
You can also usually change theme fonts the same way.
So yes, crazy House Hunters couple, you can change the paint. And theme searchers, you can, too. You just can’t change your theme’s personality.
4. NOT BEING ABLE TO SPOT A THEME WITH GOOD BONES
I think people are often surprised just how different what they buy is from what they looked at.
When you’re buying the theme, what you’re really buying is the skeleton of what you see in the demo (the font choices, page layout(s), colors, possibly some custom widgets and customization options).
The stock pictures, images, logos, and graphics usually aren’t included.
Just like with a potential apartment/house, it’s definitely an acquired skill to be able to look past the decoration to see the layout and core features. In the beginning, it can be tough.
The questions is: does the theme have “good bones” that you can see your stuff fitting into well?
5. TRYING TO GET EVERYTHING ON YOUR WISH LIST
This is another thing about House Hunters that can make perfectly zen people flip the hell out.
It’s comedic when someone on TV insists they must find a large bargain-priced house near the beach.
It’s mostly just wasting time when it comes to finding a website theme.
I had to come to terms with the fact that the perfect theme doesn’t exist. Unless I create it. And being as we’ve collectively been getting people coffee or answering phones for the last several years, we probably don’t (yet) have the cash to hire someone to make it or the time to learn development ourselves.
You try to make a list of what you need and stick to it. Adding to your list in the moment—we need things because they’re nice feature upgrades even though we hadn’t considered them before—is sure to skew your search in a dangerous direction. Now you look for that upgrade to be in whatever you pick, even though you hadn’t considered it before!
Do what you can, but you may have to forego something on your list. For now.
BUT RELAX, A THEME IS NOT ACTUALLY A HOUSE
The good thing about theme shopping is that, unlike a house or apartment, you don’t have to live with bad choices.
It’s not a costly purchase like a house. If you really don’t like it, you can just try another one. And you don’t have to stay with something you don’t like because of a fixed-term lease. Just move on.
This move-on spirit is something that’s been really important to my freelancing/writing experience. You can’t put all your hope in any one thing. It could totally let you down. And if something isn’t working, I’d say right now is the best time to decide on making a change.