Wordpress Beginners: What is a Wordpress Theme?

Written by Tom Greenwood - May 14, 2012

People keep talking about “Themes” as one of the best things about WordPress.

But if you’re a WordPress newbie, you might be wondering what on earth they are talking about.  Here is our beginners guide.

What is a theme?

Simply put, a WordPress theme is the design template of your website. Your theme controls the overall appearance of your website, including the layout, colours and graphics, and the fonts.

It control the design of every page and every blog post on your site.  So all you have to do is write content and add photos, and not worry about anything else.  Every page will look perfect, every time.

The thing that makes themes so special, is that they are interchangeable, like the face and strap on a Swatch Watch.  With just a few clicks, you can swap the theme on your website for a different one, and completely change the layout and style of your website within a few seconds.

Where can I get a theme from?

As standard your WordPress website will come with a very basic theme (currently called Twenty Eleven).  If you’re using your WordPress website for anything more than just a basic personal blog, then you’re likely to want (and need) something that looks more sophisticated and reflects your brand better.

So you have three options:

  1. Find a FREE theme  – the best ones can normally be found at wordpress.org/extend/themes/
  2. Buy a PREMIUM theme – see details below
  3. Commission a custom theme – from a WordPress design and development agency like Wholegrain

If you can find a FREE theme that suits your needs then perfect.  Just download it, and install it on your WordPress site (we’ll get to that).

If the FREE themes don’t suit your requirements, then you’re going to have to spend some money.

Premium Themes

Premium themes are WordPress design templates that you can buy from an online theme store such as www.themeforest.net.  There are literally thousands of themes to choose from and so you may well find one that you like.  They typically cost between $30 and $100 USD and generally have more advanced functionality and more sophisticated designs than free themes.

What you need to realise when buying a theme is that although it might cost just a few dollars, you are getting literally thousands of pounds worth of design and development time.  This is because the same theme gets sold to thousands of people who all contribute to the costs.  It’s like buying a print instead of commissioning an original painting.  You get something that looks good very cheaply, but there are some downsides:

  • You’ll have the same website design as a lot of other people
  • The design will never be 100% as you wanted it, since you chose from the standard options available

For a lot of people though, that is a small compromise for a great looking website at such a low cost.

If you can’t take that compromise, then you can actually modify an existing theme to suit your needs better.  You’ll need to pay a developer to make the changes for you, which will invariably cost far far more than the actual cost of theme, but can be cheaper than having a custom website designed and developed just for you.

Custom Themes

“But I don’t want a website that looks like everyone else’s” I hear you saying!

Well then you can choose the third and final option – to commission a WordPress designer and developer to create a unique WordPress theme just for you.  One that looks and functions exactly the way you want, and that nobody else in the world has on their website.

Many people choose this option after experimenting with existing themes and finding that they don’t deliver what they want. It is the most expensive option, but like a custom designed home, you get a product that you’re truly happy with and stands out from the crowd.

The great thing about themes is that you can interchange them, so if you start out with a FREE or PREMIUM theme, you cn easily change to a custom designed theme later and all of your page content will magically be absorbed into the new design.

How do I change my theme?

Changing your theme in WordPress is really simple.  First you need to dowload the theme files for your chosen theme.  This will be a .zip file.

Note: If you buy a premium theme, they’ll give you a .zip file that contais lots of things in addition to the theme itself (e.g. instructions).  You’ll need to unzip this, and you should find another .zip insie it, which is the theme itself.

You then just log into your WordPress control panel, go to Appearance > Themes > Upload

You can then choose the theme .zip from your computer and upload it.  Once uploaded, you’ll have an option to Activate Theme.  If you click this, your site will switch to the new design within a few seconds.  Easy peasy!

Is it really that simple?

Short answer: Yes

Long answer: It depends on the theme.

Some themes require you to setup various options inside the admin panel so that it knows what content you want to display in particular parts of the design.  If this is the case, then simply activating the new theme might make your site look broken while you are busy setting all the options, so if you are not familiar with the theme, it is always worth putting a maintenance page on your site to hide any ‘work in progress’.

If you need any help with WordPress themes, whether it is installation, modification, or custom design and development, feel free to give us a call on 0207 112 8240 for  friendly chat.