11 Principles to Design a Great WordPress Theme

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These days it’s easier than ever to design your own WordPress theme. It’s also a great way to promote your website design service. Design a really awesome theme and let people download it for free and you’ll start developing a following. However, you wouldn’t be the first person to use this marketing plan and there are a ton of really poorly designed themes out there.

custom wordpress theme

Use these 11 principles to design a great WordPress theme that earns you applause instead of raspberries.

  1. Validate your code: Validating your code is like running spell-check on your content and checking to make sure you’ve used proper grammar. If you use bad sentence structure and spelling your reader might misunderstand your message. The same thing happens with your code – if it’s not put together in the right order, using the right characters, browers won’t be able to understand it.
  2. Check it across all browsers: All browsers are not created equally which means they also don’t all translate code the same way. And people don’t automatically upgrade their computers every time a new browser version is introduced, either, so there are more than 120 different browsers in use today. Check your theme across as many browsers as possible.
  3. Make it easy to install and use: The whole reason WordPress exists is to provide a platform that’s easy to use no matter what your level of expertise. If yours works right out of the box, so much the better.
  4. Make it unique: In the world of WordPress magazine themes – ya seen one ya seen ‘em all! Keep the good design basics in mind but let your creativity show through.
  5. Test it: Test it, and then test it again and again. And then give it to your friends and let them test it.
  6. Highlight the content, not the theme: There are some themes out there that are true works of art but I’d only want to use them on a personal blog – a blog I’m not trying to monetize. They’re just so artistic and graphic that they take away from the content. Design a theme that highlights the content, not one that overpowers it.
  7. It has to be widget-ready: This is a must and it goes along with the easy-to-use idea. Most people who use WordPress are doing so because they have no idea how to insert code and they don’t want to have to learn.
  8. Include a custom 404 page: Another “must have.” Most users also have no idea how to create and add a 404 page – and they don’t want to learn.
  9. Make it flexible: I use the free WordPress theme Atahualpa on a lot of my blogs because it’s extremely flexible and easy to use. I can customize the look right from the dashboard and you can’t even tell I’m using the same theme across multiple blogs.
  10. Offer reliable support: Because Atahualpa is so flexible there are designers all over the Internet who work with just this theme. Any time I have a question I just hit Google and instantly, I get an answer. I believe this is one of the biggest reasons Atahualpa is so popular. The interaction with users also provides ideas for upgrades. Make sure you have a system in place to take care of questions.
  11. Use it yourself: And finally, use your theme when you’re promoting your theme. I want to see what it looks like under real-life conditions and if you don’t like it enough to use it yourself, why should I?
Stéphane Kerwer
Article written by Stéphane Kerwer (1995 Posts)
Bonjour from a french guy. My name is Stéphane Kerwer and Dukeo is my blog. I do most of the heavy lifting in here but from time to time, you may see some guest posts. To receive updates from Dukeo, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.
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