Site NewsWhat are you looking for in a WordPress theme?

What are you looking for in a WordPress theme?

So my latest theme, “Simply Ornate” isn’t going over very well. I personally really like the theme, but it sounds like I’m the minority. So I pose a simple question… What are you looking for in a free wordpress theme?

Do you like…

  • Simple and minimal themes or illustrated?
  • Plugins or no plugins?
  • Easy to set up and get running or more advanced with extra bells and whistles?
  • Horizontal or vertical?
  • One post, excerpts or limited posts on the home page or everything?
  • News and blog style layouts or something a little more unique?

Comment below and let me know you’re thoughts. I want to get going on another freebie and am challenging myself to try to get the best of all worlds into it.

Comments (15)

  • Hi Evan,

    I will freely admit that “Simply Ornate” isn’t my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the vibe you were going for. I had never heard of you before your release of “Notepad Chaos” on Smashing Magazine and I love the theme, but I couldn’t stand the background. I ultimately decided that I liked the theme enough to try and change out the background and I am still in the process of cleaning up the mess I made. I seriously underestimated just how much of the underlying markup I would have to change to get the theme working with a tiled background image, but I’m finally making progress. I made a post on my initial experience hacking around with the theme here.

    I do not consider myself a designer by any stretch of the imagination; preferring to use the analogy that you are the architect and I am the builder. When I’m looking for a design to use in a project I tend to look for the following things:

    Somewhere in the Middle – Once upon a time I prefered my themes on the minimal side, but that was due largely to my ignorance of Photoshop. Now that I am starting to get a feel for the program I go out of my way looking for themes that look stylish without being garish.
    No Plugins – Its not that I don’t like a well integrated plugin in themes, its just that I’m usually on the wrong side. While Flickr is a great service, I prefer Picasa.
    Depends – Sometimes the more advanced themes take things to the extreme. Take the “Infinity” theme that was previously released on Smashing Magazine. The theme’s complexity gives it a great “unified” look, but not only does it make customization difficult, but also forces the blogger to modify their behavior as well.
    Vertical – Horizontal layouts are intriguing and great when they are done well, but I’d say less than 5% of designers do it well.
    Excerpts or Limited Posts – Some layouts, like the Notepad Chaos theme, look great with 1 long post on the front page, but they can be intimidating as a writer. “Oh my, I’ve got to make this post long.” I think a good design has to be able to do excerpts or X posts in order to be flexible for more than just a handful of bloggers.
    All of the above – They all have their place and I think that Magazine layouts are starting to get a little overblown. Personally, I like hybrids like Solostream’s Zeke, which I use on one of my blogs

    Overall, I think you’re doing a great job and I am seriously thinking of taking a crack at using one of your other themes for another blog of mine. I just can’t seem to make up my mind which direction I want to go with the site. Magazine, Video, or traditional blog. Regardless, keep up the good work.

  • I recommend checking out the “AJAX Edit Comments” plugin. I’m looking back at my previous comment and thinking, “Damn, my list didn’t really come out styled.

  • Hey Evan,

    I really enjoy your themes and I have tried using them in the past, but there is almost an un-nameable problem with them. I am not sure what it is. It’s just never quite right. But when I look at your themes I think they are beautiful, so it’s a bit of a contradiction.

    Beyond my professional site, I always strictly consider myself a personal blogger and so I don’t look for news themes or anything to fancy. However, I want something that is more than minimal. I want to highlight my content, but still be able to include my flickr feed, youtube videos, twitter, delicious, etc.

    I think there was a lot of value in the tumblr-style uniquely styled categories, but it never really caught on. I don’t want a skinny, vertical blog though. I like the horizontal look. Much like unstandard or Brian Gardners current theme. I want the sidebars with category styling. Not minimal, but not so specific to lock me in. And I want at least 14 font (or whatever the EM equivalent is).

    Anyway, that’s enough from me. Keep up the good work. In regards to the ornate theme, I think it’s gorgeous except ultimately I think it would be too difficult to read.

  • Thanks for the awesome insight. reading your comments gets another question churning in my head – what about ad space?

    Would you like a theme that incorporates ad units and ways to generate income?

  • It really depends on the target market for the theme. Magazine themes must have ad space, but traditional blog layouts can go either way. Your themes have a great look, but with the exception of Google AdSense text links, I think they’d be spoiled with graphical 125×125 or banners. I think it is something you should keep in mind now and then, but I wouldn’t dwell on it. There is plenty of ’empty’ space in your themes for ads, but I’d leave it to the user to decide whether or not they want to fill in the space with ads.

  • Hi Evan,

    All I can say is you can’t please ’em all. Some people prefer to use a basic minimal theme while others want to be bombarded with visuals. If you ask me, with explosion of the premium theme market lately it’s nice to see there are still those who are releasing awesome themes free of charge.

    I’ve developed a few free themes myself, and the one thing I’ve found is the more your theme will “work out of the box”, the less problems people will have setting it up. But I suppose that goes without saying.

    Btw, the typography of “Simply Ornate” is jaw-droppingly delicious. Nicely done.

  • Hello, Evan.

    I think the main thing that Simply Ornate lacked was usability. Yes, it was a great groundwork for building upon, but many WP users looking for a theme are looking for an all-inclusive deal–something where all issues are addressed, and nothing important (such as simple admin access) is left out.

    The aesthetic design of anything is completely subjective, so don’t take it personally if even the majority doesn’t appreciate something you’ve done. There are people out there who will like it. (I personally love the SO style.) However, don’t forget things such as adding a bg to the content divs, so as to make sure the design doesn’t drown out the content.

    Having written for SM and not gotten the responses expected, I know your frustration. But, don’t let it get you down. Just take the critiques as constructive criticism and know that your already good work can now become great.

  • One thing I noticed regarding Simply Ornate is you highlighted the one color version (aside from the pink) with has the least amount of contrast.

    As beautiful as your designs are, it has to be readable above all else.

    And since you asked direct questions, here are the direct answers:

    Simple and minimal themes or illustrated? Either, both if both are beautiful
    Plugins or no plugins? No plugins are easier
    Easy to set up and get running or more advanced with extra bells and whistles? Easy to setup un;ess the bells and whistles are easy to manage
    Horizontal or vertical? Irrelevant
    One post, excerpts or limited posts on the home page or everything? one MAIN post with links to everything else.
    News and blog style layouts or something a little more unique?v Unique is nice as long as its beautiful.

  • I am going to give a test run to simply ornate the patter background is really gorgeous.

    The kind of wordpress I am looking for is a wordpress theme that thinks about monetizing the site that goes there, i have seen beautiful themes that I couldnt use because they had no banner space, ideally i would want a three row theme, with clearly defined space for at least a top horizontal banner.

  • Evan,

    Just wanted to let you know I think simply ornate is a very attractive theme. I wouldn’t have guessed that there are people who don’t like it.

    Thanks again for the email,

  • Will you make your web template into WordPress theme? Coz it’s so nice.

  • i think what most people are after now in a theme are the ability to have the wp blog to double up as a CMS site, front end either blog style or site layout!

    would be nice to have the ability to not have the front page a blog but more of a website then you click through to the blog section..

    the only versions that i have seen like this are premium templates that cost a lot of money.

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  • I would say, just make what *you* like, there will always be people who like it.

  • Just wondering if you could PLEASE add a box where the blog author can add a small photo and short description of themselves ABOVE the categories on the sidebar for Notepad Chaos?

    That would be awesome =) Also I like as many bells and whistles as possible 😛

    LOVE THE DESIGN… and thanks for your hard work!

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