Theme Modifications: A Practical Business Solution

Written by Wholegrain Team - November 25, 2014

Today your online presence can make or break your business, so it’s important to make the right decisions when it comes to the design and functionality of your website. An increasing number of people are turning to WordPress as a cost-effective CMS, but should you always opt for a bespoke theme or can you still stand out from the crowd by modifying an existing theme?

As professional developers, our client base ranges from start-ups to multinational corporations so naturally the range and cost of services that we offer varies from client to client, but we are able to build websites to suit most budgets.

In our experience, there is no right or wrong answer over whether you should opt for a bespoke solution or modify an existing theme. There are occasions when only a bespoke solution will do, but often factors such as budget and timescale intervene to make this unviable. Plus there are some amazing themes available and often something already exists that will meet your needs, saving you time and money.

Ultimately, the decision depends largely on the needs and requirements of your organisation and your plans for future growth, but there are pros and cons to both methods of working.

The Pros and Cons of a Bespoke WordPress Theme

The biggest advantages of a bespoke theme are its originality and its flexibility. Because a bespoke solution is custom-made for your website, it will stand out from the crowd and help to set you apart from your main competitors. In addition, the framework and plugins are created to your specifications, giving you the exact flexibility you need to succeed in your specific niche.

However, while working from a blank page is easier in many ways, it can take much longer to both design and build the website, and it needs a lot more development time – both of which are costly.

The Pros and Cons of Theme Modification

The biggest advantage to working with an existing theme is its affordability. While themes vary in price, most are typically under $100, so you can make big savings on the cost of a custom theme and there are thousands to choose from – sometimes too many!

If you choose a popular theme made by a well-known developer, you will be future-proofing your investment as you will benefit from regular updates and good support. The process of modifying the theme to suit your requirements will be relatively straightforward and much quicker, plus if you choose a framework, such as Genesis, it’s easy to swap themes if you want to freshen up your site or your needs change in the future.

On the flip side, it can be difficult to sort through the thousands of themes on offer to find one that suits your needs, follows best practices and provides good support – despite the number of themes on offer, many aren’t responsive which is becoming increasingly essential in our mobile-driven world. You are also limited to a certain extent by the original developer’s boundaries and while it’s easy to customise the basics, it may not be possible – at least without significant development work – to build the exact functionality you require.

Case Studies

We’ve recently worked on three exciting projects that, for various reasons, meant we had to modify and adapt existing themes rather than create a bespoke solution from scratch. Each website met the client’s specific requirements and together they demonstrate how working with theme modifications can be both time and cost efficient.

Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)

The newly formed company GTR is on track to become the UK’s largest train operator in 2015 so their challenge wasn’t financial – with just three weeks until their new company was due to launch, they didn’t have enough time to wait for a custom-made website to be designed and built. However, the solution had to look bespoke to provide the quality needed for their brand.


We worked closely with GTR’s marketing team as they finalised the branding for the new company, and identified a theme, Avada, which had the necessary functionality and could be easily adapted to match the brand guidelines. In just three weeks, we transformed the theme changing the colours and fonts to match the branding, adding in the new brand iconography and finding the right images for the website. The result is a beautiful new corporate site that works on any platform, completed in a fraction of the time a bespoke site would have taken.

University of Southampton

The University of Southampton wanted a knowledge base to support Personal Academic Tutors and Senior Tutors in their new role following a revision of the University’s personal tutoring scheme.

While budget wasn’t a particular problem, by identifying a theme that had the backend functionality and the frontend search tool that met their needs, they could free up a lot more of their budget for other elements such as accessibility and copywriting.

We identified the Flatbase theme as a starting point for their website, then added the Southampton branding. We completely redesigned the homepage in order to fit with brand guidelines, but the interior pages remain broadly true to the original theme.

While our copywriter was researching and writing the content, we added the accessibility elements so the site would meet the University’s strict accessibility guidelines. This included adding font size variations, making it compatible for screen readers, and building an easy read and dyslexic-friendly version.

The resulting website met their specific requirements, and using a theme that had the backend functionality and frontend search tool they required saved them a lot of money.

Online Handbook for Personal Academic Tutors

QP Magazine

Part of the Telegraph Media Group, QP Magazine is the UK’s leading watch magazine. They needed a sleek, professional website that had the flexibility to adapt to the needs of their magazine and their live show, and the quality to make them stand out from their main rivals. However, they only had two months in which to complete the project and they were realistic about their ability to agree on a design that was built from scratch. They also had a fairly limited budget to work with.

After some searching, we identified a theme, Hickory, that was close to their design ideals and we agreed the changes that would transform the theme to match their exact specifications. Over the next two months, we altered the layout, added the banner ad functionality, changed the font and colour to match their branding, added the brand iconography, and built a special exhibitors page.

The process was great value for the client, offering a combination of quality, value and speed, and the result is a beautiful, sleek website that looks great on any format.

Salon QP

The important thing to stress is that opting for a theme modification doesn’t mean you are getting any less of a service or that your final business solution is compromised. It simply means that you aren’t getting a bespoke website. What you are getting is a practical solution to your business needs.

What are your thoughts on creating bespoke themes or opting to modify an existing theme? Join in the discussion below.