Let’s Talk About Themes, Shall We?

Starting up a blog is kind of like buying a house: first, you have to decide what neighborhood you want…

Starting up a blog is kind of like buying a house: first, you have to decide what neighborhood you want to live in. (Welcome to You’ll receive your fruit basket shortly.) Then, you have to figure out what kind of home you’d like to have — that’s the theme you choose. Finally, you fill your new home with stuff; i.e., your content. Step number two can be a bit tricky, so that’s what we’re going to focus on today. Let’s pick a theme!

I'm not sure we have a theme that matches up with this one. (Photo courtesy of YardSale.)

I’m not sure we have a theme that matches up with this one. (Photo courtesy of YardSale.)

There are lots of options — 200+ — and you might not always have a particular vision as you’re getting started. Should you move into a minimalist loft, like Publish? If you’ve got a big art collection to showcase, maybe you need a gallery like Hatch or  Gridspace. You might like a place with some old-timey charm, like Vintage Kitchen, something with a bit of whimsy like Balloons, or something ornate like Matala.

Decisions, decisions! And within each of those broad categories, there are multiple options. Your loft could be dark and edgy like Vertigo or clean and bright like Watson. Maybe your gallery is going to share space with the written word, so you need something like React. It’s enough to make you want to move back into your parents’ basement.

So what are some guiding principles that’ll get you into the perfect place? Let’s stop torturing the real estate metaphor and get to some concrete tips. Here are the big three to consider when you’re choosing a theme:

Your style.

No matter how popular your blog becomes, no one is going to spend more time on it than you, so it behooves you to make it a place you think is comfortable, good-looking, and reflective of you. You might admire the bold typography of Blog Simple, but if you’re personally drawn to the softer look of Ever After, you’ll be happier with that in the long run.

Why? Let’s beat down another metaphor: I might admire the woman who can pull off a perfect pair of skinny jeans, but when it comes down to it, I’ll only ever be comfortable in baggy trousers. If I put on the skinny jeans, I’ll be self-conscious and will spend all night tugging at my clothes to get them just so. Eventually, I’ll give up and leave them in the closet (my closet can attest to this).

So it is with your theme. Pick something that doesn’t speak to you, and you’re looking at lots of tweaks to try and make it feel like “you.” Eventually, you may find yourself blogging less and less, and all because you won’t admit to yourself that what you really love is the moody color scheme and delicate scrollwork of Dusk to Dawn. Set yourself up for blogging success by picking a theme you’ll like looking at every day. (Or, if you’re like most of us, a dozen times a day. You know you do. There’s no shame here.)

Your content.

If you have an idea of your blog’s focus when you’re starting out, you can further narrow down the world of available themes. If you love photography and know you’ll be posting images with most posts, you’ll want to consider themes that will showcase them, like Simfo and Mixfolio. If you haven’t touched a camera since your Polaroid bit the dust but you love writing poetry, there are themes that make your text the star, like Runo Light and Manifest. There are also themes for specific purposes, like Soundcheck for your band’s website or Confit for your restaurant.

True story: if you search for Creative Commons photos of "confused house" on Flickr, you find a lot of sheep. (Photo courtesy of infomatique.)

True story: if you search for Creative Commons photos of “confused house” on Flickr, you find a lot of sheep. (Photo courtesy of infomatique.)

What if you’re not sure what your site will be, or you envision yourself posting a bit of this and a bit of that? First, welcome to the 99% of bloggers. Second, the Theme world is your oyster — there are plenty of themes well-suited for housing different types of posts. Chalk! Delicacy! Eight! Twenty Twelve!  Take a look, see what kinds of visuals you’re drawn to, and then consider our third pillar: your time and energy.

Your time and energy.

All our themes are designed to be easy to work with, but some can handle more customizing and futzing that others. Some, like the newly-released Cheer, are pretty much going to look how they look. Others, like Twenty Ten, will let you upload a customer header image and make other tweaks to the home page. Still others, like Minimum, have a variety of layout options for your home page and are highly configurable.

How much time and energy do you want to put into your theme, as opposed to the content you’d like to create? Be realistic about what you want to do. The last thing we want is for you to feel frustrated by your site — we want you to stick around and publish. And while we’re confident that we can help anyone work with any theme, we also don’t want you to spend your time on theme options if what you want to be doing is posting about your awesome DIY project. When you’re considering a theme, take a few minutes to take a look at its features and customization options, and let that be a factor in your decision.

Perhaps this is your style; we won't judge. Well, maybe a little. (Photo courtesy of McBeth.)

Perhaps this is your style; we won’t judge. Well, we might judge a little. (Photo courtesy of McBeth.)

There’s more to building a great site than just picking a theme, and you can always add on a custom design upgrade to make all the little details just so. Still, the theme will be the skeleton on which the rest of the site hangs, so make sure it’s one your can not just live with, but love. If you’re still trying to find The One, head to the Theme Showcase and take a look around (you can use the blue “Find a Theme” button to help you filter).

Bonus secret!

Maybe you want a seasonal holiday theme. Maybe you’re changing the focus of your site. Maybe you’re just indecisive. In any of those instances: you can always switch themes. It’s as easy as heading to the Appearance → Themes area of your dashboard, picking a new theme, and clicking “Activate.” This might not be something you want to do every week, but there’s no harm in trying something new or giving your site a fresh look.

Are you happy with your theme? What criteria did you use to make a decision?


  1. I’m very happy with my theme and having stuck on to my theme for so long I have have great difficulty moving over to a new theme. All my widgets and pages are in their right place. :)

  2. We shall :-)

    I’ve been dealing with this for a very long time now as I won’t find a suitable theme for our blog, meeting all the requirements concerning layout, widgets and typography.
    It’s not that there weren’t lots of really great looking themes on here, but I’m very picky on the layout, and every theme ever tried so far has come up with one or more flaws that I just couldn’t live with. (or they are premium, which non-profit bloggers can’t afford ;-))

    For instance, I will never understand why web designers create themes where the link color is black.
    In 99% of cases the text color is black as well, so how should readers then be able to clearly identify a link?
    I also think that quotes must be highlighted in a special way and not just bold or italic like in so many themes.
    Some themes have a transparent background image – very nice feature, but if (like in “Triton Lite”) the text color is gray, it just becomes unreadable.

    And no, switching themes is not as easy as you say, unless you’re fond of editing half of your posts after switching. In most cases the layout of older posts changes heavily (especially if you have photos included with a certain alignment).

    If themes were able to adapt the former post layout to the new one, this problem would be solved.

    The featured post slider is a very attractive addition we’d really like to use. Problem here with most of the themes: When the featured image of a post written years ago is smaller than required, it won’t appear in the slider.

    Currently we use “The morning After”, it has a clean magazine style layout that makes it
    look close to perfect, but as standards change, there is still something missing.
    Maybe a better way to show off important (featured) posts…

    Greetz from Berlin (GER)

  3. After changing my theme I think perhaps 5 or more different times I finally found “Oxygen”. I am an amateur photographer & storyteller and I needed something that could feature both aspects. The Oxygen theme gives the versatility I require. With the slider option for the static page I can change-up the appearance of my front page quickly and easily. Also I really craved a left hand column — I just like that look. I think it appeals to my old web designer self…that was a common layout back in the early days of site design.

    I recently setup a photography only page and after alot of change-ups decided to use the same theme. Again, it was the versatility in the design, as well as the full-page option that decided me. Can’t wait for the day I can justify upgrading…in time, in time.

    I am a very happy wordpress blogger. Tried a couple others, but I didn’t find one that had the versatility that wordpress offers. Reminds me of using Macromedia/Dreamweaver back when WYSIWYG was first developing. I’m having fun, and that’s what’s important.

  4. I’ve just recently switched to Bold News and happy with it for the most part. It feel it looks more professional than iTheme2, which I was using before. Now I just need to teach myself CSS so that I can customise it and get it more like how I want it to look.

    It was a relatively easy choice as it was really important to me to have a post slider, and there aren’t actually that many posts that have this feature.

  5. I just started using WordPress last month and I admit I got lost on some of the controls here. I wasn’t comfortable with some themes and I have been changing themes a lot. I am actually on my fourth theme and I hope I will eventually be comfortable with it,

  6. I’ve spent a lot of interesting time looking at themes. I’m still fascinated by blogs that support featured images, and blogs with front-page sliders. I’ve used 5 or 6 WordPress themes over the years, but usually stick with something that’s clean and functional. Twenty-ten is one of my favs, and Pilcrow and Coraline. So why am I using Twenty-twelve for my main blog. Because I think it provides excellent display for both photos and text.

    Someday I might spring for one of the really sharp Premium blogs. But for now, I’ve found that Custom fonts provides the customizing I need. I’m fanatical about readability. Some of the very thin sans-serif typefaces are almost impossible for my old eyes to read, especially if the blog features long, wide lines of body type. I avoid using the full-width feature. Usually one sidebar, or even two, makes the main post narrower and therefore the lines shorter and easier to read. I choose classy and readable typefaces and usually bump up the size.

    An excellent way to make your blog unique is with a well-crafted custom header that incorporates your title. On most themes you can deactivate the title field and use only the custom header. When I get some spare change, I’m going to pay a good designer-artist to create a custom header for me.

  7. I am using BUENO cause there is a fun quality to it which I would like for my blog on doodles. It also showcases the comic strips reasonably well. :)

  8. I love my theme, Sight. The only problem I have with it is on my Macbook screen (it looks perfectly all on S III), my tagline seems neither here nor there. You can see it, but it looks like it’s too shy to be there.

    I had a designer do my static frontpage and to me it’s 100 percent perfect, save for the tagline Write Here Write Now, which I had the designer move elsewhere. But since the tagline is entered into my setting, it still appears in that halfway spot in the header and the only solution is to leave the tagline field empty in the setting, which I don’t want to do.

    I would appreciate any suggestion/recommendation you could send my way.

    Thank you!

  9. terima kasih atas kritikan yang positif
    pelajaran berharga buat saya yang masih pemula
    yang minim bahasa inggrisnya.
    thank you saran dan kritiknya

  10. I used the theme “Chunk” by Automatic. I am a weird, all-over-the-place, first time blogger. I post photos, with and sometimes without written word, so, it felt perfect. Also, the simplicity of it is what attracted me. Once I am not a broke writer-in-the-making, I want to upgrade to “Minimalist” because that was my favorite Premium theme. CIao

  11. I’m new to blogging and like the Chateau theme I chose for my combination of writing and photos. It’s clean and elegant. My entries can be slotted into four categories: Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love. After reading your post, I may try changing the theme at some point. For now, it works. I love seeing what others are doing with the same theme. Everyone’s an original!

  12. I have changed my theme several times, & am now back with the one I started with, haha. It’s fun that we can opt in & out so easily, though I learned pretty quickly to have the header pic & ideas about the ‘layout’ ready to get on with as soon as the change happens. And I found too that the theme very definitely affected my attitude about blogging in general. AND, one of the best things about changing themes is you learn way more dashboard skills, since many of them have different options, requirements, etc.

    Good times!!

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