Changing Your WordPress Theme

I had the good fortune to win a subscription at Elegant Themes, one of my favorite sources of WordPress themes, so it seems like a perfect time to talk about themes and what you can do with them at your WordPress site.

Most of the WordPress sites that we work with, including the site where you are right now, have custom themes designed just for them. This is the best option for a business, in my opinion, but it’s not the least expensive option. If you’re on a budget, you can have a very good looking website by choosing a well-designed pre-made theme.

The one at left, on Josepha’s blog, is Widescreen from Graph Paper Press.

We installed it, added photos, customized the look by making some simple changes in the CSS, and Josepha had a great website.WordPress theme

Say she’s ready for a change, though, it’s simple to switch to a new theme. We downloaded a couple from Elegant Themes, installed them, and activated them.

Since WordPress keeps the content separate from the themes, we can change the theme without altering the content at all. All Josepha’s pages and posts are still just as they were. As with so many things about WordPress, though, it’s not really as simple as it sounds.

The first theme we tried out, On the Go, put her most recent blog post onto the front page nicely, but you’ll notice that the navigation is a mess. We have way too many choices across the top, and they aren’t in the right spots, while the tabs within the main content area just say “tab custom field” — not very useful as a label.

She also has an empty space for an image and her videos are completely invisible.

WP theme

The next one, Grunge Mag, is even worse. It gives Josepha a nice slideshow — but with no images in it. If we scroll down, we see the same post featured half a dozen times on the page.

Neither of these themes will work for Josepha out of the box. This is true with most themes unless they are very simple. When you want to have a slideshow, featured posts, additional pages, or any functionality beyond a basic blog page, you’ll need to configure the theme to make it work for you.

Fortunately, it’s not that hard to configure your new theme and customize it for your blog.

The first place to look is in the section of the dashboard under appearance called “Theme Options.”WordPress theme options

Not all themes have this section, but if yours does, you’ll find most of the things you need right there.

We changed the colors, added Josepha’s name in place of a logo (that involved creating an image in a png file),  and selected the categories that she wanted in the featured area. We told the rotating gallery to rotate in the theme options area, too, and chose things like the length of time we wanted for the rotation and the effect we wanted for the change.

We had to go on to “Menus” to fix the navigation, add images to the blog posts, and add custom fields to the posts. Sometimes you’ll also find things in “settings” and sometimes you have to use the Editor to get the effect you want.

The themes from Elegant Themes have clear documentation with them, but not all do; sometimes you just have to be prepared to search around a bit to find all the things you’ll want to change.

You may also need to change your widgets or plug-ins; different themes support different options there, and your particular theme may not be compatible with every widget.

After about an hour, we had this nice look for Josepha’s blog.

Configuring Grunge Mag was simpler. Nearly all the changes we made were directly in the Theme Options area.

We chose a different color scheme from the ones offered with the theme, set up the menu, made some decisions about featured content categories, and we were just about set. It took half an hour.

However, this theme didn’t suit the way Josepha usually posts her blog. We needed to make some changes in the images, use custom fields for thumbnails, and make adjustments in the text. If Josepha decides to keep this theme, she’ll need to make some changes in the way she blogs.

Josepha was understanding about my desire to go mess with her blog for the sake of my blog post today, and I hope you find it useful. It is one of the cool things about WordPress that — if you find a theme that you like just as it is — you can set it up for your blog in a short time.

If this were for a business, though, rather than a personal blog, we’d need to customize it. We’d have a graphic artist create unique images to brand the blog, and we wouldn’t change it around as lightly as we change shoes.

When our designers and the firms we work with plan professional WordPress blogs, they begin with a custom mock up, and usually choose a very generic theme (such as Headway, Sandbox, Genesis, Thesis, or the default theme) as the basis so that the site itself can be exactly what they and the clients have envisioned.

If you want to use a pre-made theme as a shortcut for your company, give it the same level of thought that you would if you were starting from scratch. You can see good results with significant savings.

4 thoughts on “Changing Your WordPress Theme

  1. Hello,
    I am working on a website for a friend of mine, “On The Go”, by Elegant Themes. I have tried everything to change the slider Tab Custom Text. … and landed hear. I was wondering if you could guide me with this? I am a novice at WP and do not know much, but am very interested in learning.
    Thank you for your time.
    Pam

    • I’m sorry — I haven’t looked at it since I tried it out for this post, which as you can see was a long time ago. Elegant Themes have most design touches handled in the theme options, and they also have support documents for all their themes. Still, it can take a lot of time and trial and error to track down any particular issue. When I can’t find something in the theme options, I use Firebug to identify the element information and look for it in the editor.

      We usually go with custom themes — our designer complains that it takes longer to find everything in the pre-made themes than it does to build a new one, and I think that can be true. When people want a live refresh, though, I end up working with whatever theme they have, so I know what you’re going through. It would be a lot easier if there were a standard system for WordPress themes!

  2. hello I would like your help please, I have the theme for wordpress 3.5
    my problem is in the custom field I manage to put a picture but not the title of the thumbnail here is thank you in advance.

    you talk about here sorry for my English :

    just about set. It took half an hour.
    However, this theme didn’t suit the way Josepha usually posts her blog. We needed to make some changes in the images, use custom fields for thumbnails, and make adjustments in the text. If Josepha decides to keep this theme, she’ll need to make some changes in the way she blogs.

    • The answer would depend on the specific theme you’re using. The best plan is to read the documentation for the specific theme you chose. Often you’ll find a forum where you can get help, too. And there’s always trial and error.

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