Designing WordPress Themes From Scratch

If you have ever tried to create a WordPress theme from scratch, it should be painfully obvious how much work the entire process can be.  A good design can be trumped by poor usability, while many phenomenally coded themes are ignored due to lack of appeal. If you like our themes (and we hope you do), keep reading, our process may work for you as well.

Pick a niche and stick with it.

WordPress themes that “do it all” or advertise themselves as “the last WordPress theme you will ever need” are like a wheel to me at this point – don’t even try to reinvent them. Not only  are there countless options available, the amount of bloat and excess coding and files in these types of themes is just plain irresponsible. Instead, pick a niche market to create a theme for. Do a little research and include the types of functionality your market would benefit from. For example, a theme for fundraising or charities may include a donation counter. By choosing and mastering a certain niche, it makes it far easier for the user to imagine using your theme, while making it perfectly efficient to install and populate.

Get a 1,000 hour head start.

Save yourself a ton of time and frustration by downloading your starter theme from Underscores.me

This incredible free resource is the starting point of all of our WordPress themes. It is just the right amount of well-coded, lean, modern wordpress templates, CSS, and JS to get you started without getting in your way.

Choose your includes.

Before we develop our themes, we decide what types of additional functionality will be required to accomplish our design goals. For example, will the theme need a slider, animation, push menu? The options are limitless, but should be wisely chosen, as we are trying to fight bloat at any cost. Planning your includes ahead of time will help you reduce the amount you use, and organize them properly within your theme. Remember, you may not need them on every page, so only enqueue them on the template files which require them.

Develop. Test. Repeat.

The most time consuming part of theme creation, proper development sets apart the good from the great. Theme development is much more than page templates, it is ease of installation, customization, and overall user experience. What good is a theme if users struggle to input their own content? This is our main focus while creating all of our themes. We (and the people over at WordPress) strongly discourage the use of custom admin panels, masses of built in theme options, and changing the core of a users install. It is best practice to include all of your theme options right in the WordPress theme customizer. You can do pretty much anything with it that you can with a custom admin panel, and your theme won’t ever fall apart as WordPress continues to grow and update. After you test and tweak your theme, there is just one thing left to do.

Validate your theme.

Make sure your theme is up to WordPress standards. We use Themecheck.org, a validation service for WordPress where visitors can upload themes and templates. The service will analyze the files and run tests to verify security and code quality, as well as give each theme a quality score along with a list of alerts and warnings. Once you are validated, you have successfully created a wonderful WordPress theme.

Good Luck!