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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 WordPress.com. 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?

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  1. I’m very happy with my theme. I am using Twenty Ten. I love it because I have been able to really tweak the design to suit my needs. It feels like my house when I go there and I hope others enjoy the look and feel as well. I tried to make it a fun place to visit. It still continues to be a work in progress. :)

  2. I admit to frequently playing around with themes. I really admire bloggers who make a theme their own with individual colours and widget combinations. Content is the most important ingredient but choosing the right theme is a must! I use Origin for my main blog and Twenty Eleven for my simple, uncluttered poetry blog. But 2013 could be the year I dare to change! Thanks for an interesting topic.

  3. It’s all creativity. You can take the same theme and customize it (without the upgrade!) to meet your needs/demands or suit your style. All you need is a friendly layout and a perfect background and header image. :)

    Just like mine. :D

  4. You are so right! When I first started my blog a few months ago, I just threw a theme up without giving it much thought. It bugged me until I dedicated some time to finding one I really like, but one that also gave my blog the warm and homey feel I was looking to find. I won’t lie. I spent hours going through themes, until I finally settled on one. :-)

  5. I like my theme as well! It has allowed me to customize the way I did my website. But this article has given me great inspiration to either use a theme more geared toward my photography or…to start a new blog for just the photography and link to it from my main blog. Hmmmm, good things to think about over this holiday season!

  6. I use the Oxygen theme for photblogging but love the simplicity, the font and rectangular thumbs p.s. I do pop into appearance/themes regularly just to try on different outfits ;)

  7. I’m just starting and have a lot to learn about themes. I just chose the one that appealed to me the most. I like others comments, like: “Creativity” and “Playing around with the themes to find one that fits.” I will take a day, soon, to spend on choosing just the right theme.

    1. I use Pilcrow, too. I love how clean and legible everything is. But there’s still plenty of room to put a lot of content on the front page. Frizztext, your font really looks like an integral part of your blog style…cool how you customized it!
      Greetings from Maryland,
      Melanie

  8. I have a photoblog, and I admit I’ve changed my theme several times in the past. I currently use Nishita (light) and I really like it. It’s clean and it allows me to showcase my photos at full width. So I think I am sticking with it for the long haul.

  9. I tried several themes when I first started my blog and I settled on Twenty Eleven. I like that I can use my own photo for the header. I also like the simple, uncluttered look of this theme. It works for me and makes my blog feel like home.

  10. I love my minimalist Oulipo theme. There is no clutter to distract from the essence of the blog: the content. And because it looks so basic, and so pretty, with black words on a white background, it helps keep me in line with my original intent of focusing on words instead of pictures to convey my stories. It makes me a better writer for that.

  11. I’m 50% happy with my theme, but it seems like I’m finding more and more bloggers with the same one! And I’m not tech-savvy at all so I have no idea how to personalize my header or font or anything.
    This post was helpful because I’ve been doing something re-thinking about my blog and what I want it to symbolize/represent. I’m definitely sensing a blog change coming up in the coming months! :)

  12. I have a book blog and I’m currently using Choco Demo. I wanted to change to give my blog a new look for 2013 but I couldn’t seem to find but 4 or 5 templates that matched. All the others didn’t always work. The words were sometimes too small, or to big or things were off center or worse would completely disappear because a widget or category doesn’t exist. So, I’ve given up on changing for the moment and have decided to focus on content. I’m excited for 2013. I hope to really step things up and hopefully increase subscriptions and views. Nice post!

  13. The most interesting and challenging thing I did with my theme was to turn it into a more religious blog, when I first saw piano black at wordpress.org I felt in love with it, was a great surprise to see wordpress.com team making it free. but It was simply too techy and avant-garde and is hard to match it with old icons and symbols, but I turn him into a elegant and sophisticated philo-religious blog. There is a lot of customizations I can still do, but for now it’s simply the way I want it to be. ;)

  14. My theme is 2012; I might change it sometime but I’m happy with it just now and it has been a good one to start with. My priority when choosing was easy readability – it’s amazing how often I am completely put off following a blog, or even reading a single blog post, which has tiny font size or is light text on a dark background. Headache inducing!
    I am not myself dyslexic, but having spent the last ten years teaching children, I know many children and other people find reading squashed typeface on coloured backgrounds, or light coloured typeface, incredibly difficult. Something for folk to consider, if they want to attract as many readers as possible.

  15. My Theme is Something Fishy. It’s almost summer where I live and I loved the ltitle worm and the crab at the bottom. I like that it’s a light and funny theme, but it’s the third I’ve used since I started my blog almost a year ago. I do need change from time to time and I loved the way this theme displayed my posts (big picture and some text, everything is very tidy), so I’m sticking with it for a while.

  16. I love Nishita. I illustrate every post, so I want a theme which will show off my pictures beside the text, and have a wide page for the text beside the pictures. I also wanted a striking and distinctive photo for my header. I would like the text a little larger, but use HTML and Pristina for words I want to emphasise, or my poetry.

  17. When I started I used Liquorish and I really loved it. I
    started to post more pictures and also wanted to do other things in side bars. I tried lots of those available using the preview theme. It was really good because I could immediately see which I liked and how the new theme would effect my posts. I also asked in the forums what people thought of my blog. Two people said they didn’t like the purple :( Never mind – I love it although it is a lot lighter now than it was originally.
    After going through nearly all the themes I had a short list and chose my current theme Triton Lite from amongst them. It gives me all that I want in terms of displaying pictures, extra side and foot spaces and is really easy to use.
    The only thing I am slightly unhappy with is the font. If I decide to stick with this one I will probably upgrade to use a darker one with a different style to be easier to read.

  18. I have switched my environmental/general content blog just recently to the new Widely theme…love it. I use Modularity light for both my art and my photo blog…great dark background. I use Bold Life for my dog grooming information blog…it has a bookish feel. How wonderful to have such great choices…thank you WordPress.

  19. When I started my craft blog a couple of months ago, I settled on Matala for my theme but then I kept running into others with identical looking sites. I decided to be brave and tweak a bit and feel pretty comfortable with the result although I wouldn’t be surprised if I tweak a bit more in the future.

  20. I like my theme very much, in fact I love it. I started off with Misty Look, but I was looking for a theme with old fashioned, classic style and without anything of blue in it – especially not the text. And I did. In fact my theme was the only possible choice then.

    Now I have been looking at Reddle and Linen which also would suit my style. But, I’ll wait. New themes come up quite regularly. I’ll wait for a new RIGHT one, and then maybe…

  21. I started with oxygen for my photoblog, but just recently switched to Imbalance2. I love the new format because it offers a glimpse into each post and hopefully invites the reader to click on it. Plus, I like to use catchy titles for each picture post, which are displayed in an eye-catching manner. Please see my latest post — http://reerc.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/walk-on-air/) — for what I mean.

    That said, I really liked simfo — would have switched to it right away if it were free!

  22. I made mine using Chateau because I loved the layout.. but didn’t like the all white background. I tried lots of colored background that were too much, so finally found a floral pattern on a white background which highlighted it but not overpowered it. Now I love it. You’re right, it feels like home to me and I love being on the site for that reason. Now I’m in the process for looking for the right thing for my next site….. and the addiction begins lol.

  23. I use Triton Lite for my photo blog (cat photos, of course!) and Notepad for my main one. I like Notepad but I’m always browsing through the themes and looking for something better…in other words, I waste a lot of time looking at new themes when I should be writing :)

    1. Me too!! I must have changed my theme about eight times and in that rime wrote 2-3 posts, ridiculous|! I finally coughed up for a premium theme but it took me weeks to make that decision – but I am happy with the look and like others on this thread, t feels more like me than all the others so it was worth it. Now I’ve just gotta write…

  24. I’ve changed my theme once, and my focus is, well, unfocused. I’m all over the place with nature blogs, humor, seriousness, wisdom, art, crafts and anything else I feel like writing at the time. I’m just happy to have a place to do it and meet some lovely people.

  25. I’m using Parament because it is the ONLY theme that works with the look I want for my blog. I don’t foresee switching themes anytime soon.

  26. Loving Watson by the Theme Foundry — who incidentally provide brilliant customer service :) — my secondary blog uses Linen (another of theirs) but this time I wanted a responsive theme. I also like strong typography with clean, white background, and most of their themes come with choices of font (also love Portfolio and React) — without needing a custom upgrade.

  27. I’m very happy with my theme, Coraline. I like that I can use a header photo, and I like the menu tabs across the top. I don’t want it to look too cluttered, but I have a lot of widgets, so I like that I can just run them all down the right column. The typeface is bold, easy to read and uncluttered.

    Whenever I read a post like this, I think about changing my theme, and start browsing. I think that maybe I’m in a rut and need to change periodically, but I keep coming back to the same one. Other times when I’ve changed themes, I couldn’t always get all my widgets to work, and that makes me a little afraid to step out there and try something new, even though, as you say, I can always change it back. Thanks for the information. Maybe one of these days you’ll spur me into making that change.

  28. I use FUNKI because it’s a simple layout and easy to read with a giant featured image at the top to grab attention. I’ve gone through plenty of themes and so far Funki is easily my favorite.

  29. I use Adventure Journal because I like the paper textures and layered feel. Because my blog has multimedia content, I wanted a scrapbook to house my work and customized the theme with my own header and background. I wanted to expand on the existing theme and shape it around my personality.

    Upgrades can help complete the look, and are ideal for creative types and tweakers who want more control of their blog. But as someone rightly said above, a good background and header can work wonders.

  30. Hi @michelle

    Thanks for writing this piece and I love this statement

    “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,”

    It’s so true and it happened to me. When I first started blogging, I could not find a theme that “defines” me. So I was busy finding ways to tweak the theme than come closest. But wordpress.com had it’s limitation on customization and I did not really want to pay.

    I discovered tumblr. Amazing… I thought. Custom CSS, however I want it. I was tweaking my theme every one two days. And I start to realize I was blogging less and less and spending all my time on tweaking the themes. I was also feeling less happy. Blogging/writing makes me think. Tweaking CSS does not.

    So eventually, I set my mind on a theme on wordpress.com started writing. Because I did not want to pay, I was not able to tweak on my css. And that prevented me from busy tweaking and spending more time on writing.

    I am now more focus on my writing and I think better. Thank you wordpress.com.

  31. I use Twenty Eleven. I like the big custom header to capture a reader’s interest. Certainly I preview and fantasize for a few minutes with every new Theme, but come back to my present theme for blog. Part of my problem now is if I switch to another theme, it may require considerable time to realign text and photos. Then I ask myself: which is better more time spent crafting good blog posts or changing to nother theme.

    I’ll revisit in a few months but I like my theme for its legibility and pleasing classic layout choices to jive both photos and text together in 1 unified whole.

  32. Why don’t we see more dark themes to prevent eye stain. The few dark themes available have the tiniest annoying font. I use Motion but I have to tweak it a lot.

  33. When I started blogging in 2008, I used Andreas04. I loved the dark grey background and thought I’d never change templates/themes. A year ago or so, I switched to Coraline because it’s user friendly and offers me the flexibility to play around with it. I love it and plan to keep Coraline for a long time. If I could, the only thing I’d change is to re-size the page so my photos can be bigger. Otherwise, I’m happy! :-)

  34. I am using Koi. I chose it because I liked the colors and overall look and feel – pretty and relaxing and tranquil. I’ve been really happy with it.

  35. I use a theme called “Coraline”, unless I’ve spelt that slightly incorrectly. I got it pretty much when I started the Blog in May 2011. I do think about refreshing my pages, but I’m always worried about either deleting my Blog by mistake, or making a hash of the changover leading to unforseen chaos. Silly I know

  36. I am fairly happy with my theme (2010). It’s easily customizable and it’s easy on the eyes. My main problem is that I can’t seem to make new pages without a plugin to do that.
    And the fact that I can’t have the same Gallery as the people who use the WP site to blog.
    But maybe that will get implemented some day.

  37. I am fairly happy with the theme I chose. It took me awhile to figure out how things work here. (I moved here from another “country”–multiply.) Sometimes I think my theme is a bit narrow on the text part and it posts differently from what I see when writing the entry. However, now I prefer to spend my time visiting the neighbours. :-)

  38. 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. :)