Are you looking to start working as a WordPress theme developer? Do you want to create WordPress themes to submit in WordPress.org free themes repository? Want to start your own WordPress theme business? Whatever you objective, you can easily start working as a WordPress theme designer and build your online business that earns money online.
In this article, you will learn how to start designing your WordPress theme like a professional so that your WordPress themes (whether free or premium) look great and are useful to a large section of WordPress blogs and websites.
Designing can look easy, but it is difficult skillset to master. While many people who’ve dabbled in it may believe that they have a profound understanding of design, proper design concepts are rarely understood well, sometimes even by the so-called professionals.
A smart designer needs to spend a lot of time studying existing designs and understanding the ideas applied in them in depth, and should treat every project like a major learning experience. Don’t be so arrogant to assume your design is a good one, just because you happen to think so – at any stage of your career.
Before you get started with WordPress theme designing, you should take some time to figure out exactly where you’re going and what potential major obstacles you can expect along the way.
Guidelines for WordPress Themes
If you want to design themes for WordPress, you must learn the best practices and guidelines recommended by the official WordPress community. You can learn the concepts of WordPress theme development on WordPress Codex. There is nothing better learning resource for WordPress than the source itself.
As WordPress keeps evolving, you will have to stay updated with the latest features and code recommendations. If you are just starting out, do not forget to check the instructions set out for WordPress themes eligible for inclusion in the official repository.
No Shame in Learning by Copying
Throughout history, design trends have always been built on top of one another. Nobody is ever truly original, and even if you think you’ve come up with a revolutionary new concept, chances are someone else has thought of it before you but simply hasn’t spent a lot of time talking about it publicly.
The point is, if you see something you like in another theme and think it’s a clever concept, there’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from that idea, as long as you make meaningful modifications to it and don’t simply make a 1:1 copy. Spend enough time in the design field and you’ll eventually realize that most respected professionals work that way. And let’s be honest, in 2017, half the web looks the same visually anyway!
Browse through the official WordPress themes repository and marketplaces such as ThemeForest to check out what kind of themes are in demand. Check what types of themes are in demand. Download the themes to learn how the coding is done to create a nice and stunning theme. If you want to check my own examples, you can go to ReduxThemes.com.
Don’t Ignore the Usefulness of Pen & Paper
The modern designer market is full of digital tools that can assist you in the process in all sorts of ways, from drafting the initial concept to fully fleshing out the design and finalizing it. However, don’t forget about one of the most useful tools for rapid prototyping there is, good old paper.
If you’re not sure how to design the overall layout of the theme, you should try spending some time coming up with quick sketches until you get a rough idea of how you want everything to be aligned. The final design doesn’t necessarily have to follow those sketches exactly, but they can be a powerful tool in figuring out where any potential problems are going to be, and coming up with solutions for them before they’ve even materialized.
Keep Your Codes Lean
Many times, WordPress theme designers ignore the importance of creating a lean script. If your WordPress theme is not efficiently coded, the website running the theme will get slowed down. It might not become visible on small websites, but even one extra process of code can create unnecessary burden on the web server. On a popular website, a bloated WordPress theme can run havoc.
Careful with Class Names and Inheritance
If you’re basing your design on another theme, you should consider the original naming scheme for its classes and try to avoid any conflicts. Mixing your own style classes with those from the original theme can become very problematic, and it can lead to multiple wasted hours trying to troubleshoot a misalignment that doesn’t even come from the file you’re editing.
Not everything has to be occupied by content – A common beginner mistake is to try to utilize 100% of the available screen space. You’re not typesetting a magazine, you’re trying to make a stylish and intuitive design. “Less is more” should be your main motto throughout all this, and trimming the fat in your designs will sooner or later become a major point of interest in your studies of the field. Start with the bare necessities and don’t add anything unless it’s critical in the initial design phase, then take it easy on the visual details later on.
Troubleshoot & Debug Carefully
You’ll probably run into various issues with the layout, scripts, and more. Don’t let these pile up, and address each one as soon as it arises. Otherwise you’ll eventually find yourself with lots of unwieldy code that provokes you into applying inelegant “duct tape” solutions, ruining an otherwise potentially good theme.
For all the WordPress themes you create, you should use a local WordPress installation with debug function activated, and theme unit test data being used for proper testing of the theme features.
Once you have the theme ready locally, do check it on a live web server, and try to check with servers with different versions of PHP. Also make sure you test any third party scripts and CDN calls you utilise on the web host you intend to use as some hosts often block calls to certain script repositories which can truly make or break your design.
Get Feedback from Strangers
This is a more general design advice, but it’s important nonetheless. When seeking feedback, forget about your family and friends. Unless you have one of those more special friends that aren’t afraid of speaking their mind about how they really feel about the fruit of your work, you probably won’t benefit much from these opinions.
Post previews on designer forums, share screenshots on Twitter, and see what kind of feedback you’ll get there. You don’t have to agree with and implement every kind of change that’s suggested, but at least you’ll get a broader range of opinions. As an added bonus, this works great for promoting your work too.