Floundering Around with WordPress Themes

I think we all know how important it is to judge a book by its cover. No wait, we know we’re not meant to do that but if we’re honest we know we do it anyway because our minds are just teeming with 57 varieties of cognitive bias. A website may have great content, but if its appearance is a turnoff then visitors are more likely to move on than stick around. That, my friends, is why it’s important to pick the right theme for your new blog.

For the uninitiated, a theme is just a set of rules governing how things appear on your website. For example there are layout rules covering the size and position of blocks on the page, and formatting rules covering things like fonts and colour schemes. Changing themes is like changing clothes – it doesn’t affect how things work but it can make a huge difference to the impression you make.

WordPress offers an extensive range of both free and premium themes. If you’re using a free WordPress blog (with an insertblognamehere.wordpress.com type URL) then there’s little you can do to customise your theme, so it’s all the more important to choose one that looks good and does what you need it to do.

I’ve gone with a premium WordPress package that includes the custom domain and advanced customisation options. It gives me some straightforward menus for tweaking colours and fonts and a CSS editor that will allow me to completely ditch and replace the CSS code should I so desire. I learned HTML a while back and had no problem picking it up, but I haven’t played with CSS before so need to do a little bit of learning before swimming towards the deep end of the customisation pool.

After spending a few hours looking through themes I ended up with two clear favourites, Flounder and Collections. Flounder is free, but Collections would add another £59 to my set up costs. I don’t mind paying if Collections turns out to be Mr Righttheme, but I could buy a new video game on launch day for that money! As I have access to a lot of customisation powers I’m trying Flounder first, and these are my initial thoughts on its strengths and weaknesses.

Pros

  • I find the way posts have well-defined blocks makes it easier to focus on the content without getting distracted by other stuff on the page.
  • It’s a colourful theme. I love colour longtime. Did I mention that I really, really, really love colour?
  • This theme is a good reflection of my personal style. I tend to gravitate towards clothes with strong colours and simple shapes, so looking at this is a little like looking in a mirror.
  • I like that the header image is round rather than rectangular. I just like curves and circles, okay? It took me about three seconds to come up with a great idea for a round header image that fits what I’m about, but I’m not going to sit down and do custom art work until I’ve at least taken Flounder out on a few dates and made sure there’s potential for a long term relationship.
  • You can throw all the widgets you want in the sidebar without them becoming intrusive and distracting because the blocks with the posts are so IN YOUR FACE.
  • I like that the different post formats have their own colour schemes and ideograms. As a strong visual thinker I find this far more intuitive than words.

Cons

  • I dislike the way tags, categories etc are capitalised by default, and I think it makes it harder to read them.
  • I find the Flounder menu weird setup weird. You can’t see the weirdness here right now because I haven’t set up any static pages yet, but you can see it on the Flounder demo site I linked to above.
  • Text on a coloured background is problematic for many people, myself included, so tweaking the colour scheme is essential.
  • Coloured backgrounds can enhance images, but they can also clash with them. Again, colour experimentation is necessary.

My first priority for customisation is to sort out my colour scheme. Flounder supports a range of post formats, and different post types publish in different colours. Therefore I need to publish posts in a range of formats before I begin playing with the colour scheme. The easy way to do it would just be to throw up some filler content then delete it when I’m done experimenting. I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going to find ways to use the full range of post types using content I would want to share here anyway. Along the way I may as well put something on my About page and maybe even create a few static pages so I can deal with my menu issues. That should keep me busy for a week or two!

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