A WordPress website is more than just a pretty theme. It is comprised of three distinct parts that must work seamlessly together. Having a clear understanding of these parts will help you choose the options you need in a theme. It will also help you choose the right designer to customize your theme.
WordPress is a robust, yet flexible Content Management System (CMS). It is the software that underlies the website. Beyond creating static pages and blogs, WordPress can also be used for groups, membership sites, and networking sites.
All of the content of the site, including the theme and its graphics, are stored in a database. This makes it easy for content (or data) to be searched and displayed in a variety of ways, such as blog posts by category, or featured images. It is also why the site’s theme can be changed quickly without disturbing the core content.
The theme is comprised of several parts that must be in perfect harmony with one another. They are the framework, the graphics, and the CSS file.
The framework is very much like the wood framing of a house. It determines the basic shape of the site. For example, a common site will have these five elements:
Header – Navigation area – Content area – Sidebar – Footer
The framework determines where each one of those elements appears, and what content will be displayed in each of them. For instance, the sidebar usually contains only widgets. The header usually does not contain any widgets.
However, there is a growing trend to have widgets available for every section of the site. Widgets in the content area are how magazine style themes work. They display blog posts according to category.
The graphics of a theme are usually found in the header and background of the site. Some core graphics are also found in the headers or backgrounds of widgets, but that makes the page slow to load. Also, Flash intro pages are quickly falling out of favor because of the negative impact on the site’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Flash has been replaced with JQuery slide shows.
The CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) is the editable code that comes with your theme and determines how every element of it looks from the fonts to the links, as well as most of the other color options on the site.
There are three types of designers, including:
- Site developers – who generally create frameworks and work mostly with code.
- Graphic designers – who generally never work with the core code.
- Site designers – who generally use a base framework and create graphics and CSS files to suit the design specs of the end user.
Site developers are great with code, but tend to create visually uninteresting sites. They function beautifully, but are often boxy and have very little color appeal, unless you like mostly black sites.
Graphic designers tend to build gorgeous overlays with a big wow factor that favors lots of open, or negative space. As a rule, graphic designers know little code and even less about marketing. (Don’t become offended. I have lots of buddies that are graphic designers and they confirm my statements.)
Site designers are the middle of the road folks. Most of them began as graphic artists and have become fluent in customizing popular frameworks, like StudioPress. The only code they usually deal with is the CSS.
How to Choose a Design and Designer
The best way to choose a design that will work best for you and your target audience is to first start with your content. It’s almost like buying a house, but you start with your furniture (content) first then choose a frame style (theme) that will best fit around it.
The rule of thumb is that content drives design, not the other way around.
Content rules the Internet. It is how your site will get found, read, and acted upon. The purpose of the design is to enhance the content, not compete with it for attention.
Once you have your content, it will be much easier to narrow the search for the type of framework that best suits it and meets your target audience’s expectations and needs. That alone will keep you from becoming dazzled then dazed by viewing thousands of potential theme designs.
After you choose the framework, then you can search for a theme that is already in the style (colors and graphics) that you like, or seek someone who can customize it for you.
If you hire a graphic designer first, especially one that has no experience matching the design to a frame, it will probably cost you a small fortune to have a developer customize a framework to match. And, it’s likely that the design will be more about the wow factor than based on solid online marketing practices.
Are You Serious?
If you are serious about using your site to attract and retain more clients, then focus on content first and chose a theme based on solid marketing principles. Simple sites, also called minimalist designs are gaining in popularity, and for good reason. Unless you are in a niche where high fashion counts, let your content rule your site. Think of it like Sunday dinner. You can set the prettiest table in the world, but if the food isn’t good, no one’s coming back for seconds. A simple design is easy to find, easy to customize, and easy on your budget.