What’s a WordPress Theme, Anyway? by David

The overwhelming amount of technology we, as a collective people, encounter on a day-to-day basis is staggering. The grocery store has more payment methods than I can remember. We can’t even take a Sunday drive without maneuvering through 87 buttons and settings in the car… radio, windows, seat position, a/c, traction control, eco-mode, and on and on. To help weed out some of this confusion when dealing with websites, let’s discuss CMS Themes.

First off, all themes are not created equal. Themes are built to function on individual CMSs, which stands for Content Management System. The most popular CMS is WordPress, and it’s our personal preference here at 1305. We prefer it because nearly 25% of all active websites today are using WordPress, meaning it has a large support community and a plethora of plugins to utilize.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how themes function, we should cover the basics. A theme is a framework for websites, similar to the framing of a house. Not the drywall and paint, the actual timber or block frame sitting on the foundation. Without a theme, a CMS has no function. Imagine your house without it’s frame, just a pile of rubble.

The theme is where the real work begins when creating a website. The theme is the underlying structure for the design and the content. This is why we always begin the website process by either choosing a pre-built theme or deciding to custom build a theme for a specified design. The latter entails much more work, and we’re starting with a blank canvas and build every individual piece of the site from scratch. Whereas, the former utilizes files built by other developers which we can leverage.

Pre-built themes, such as those found on Elegant Themes and Theme Forest, are much faster to implement and manage, but they have their limitations as well. Think of pre-built themes like buying a home in a planned community. There are several layout choices, but you can’t say “we like this one, but knock down this wall, extend that wall, add a garage, and move the kitchen to the upstairs”. Pre-built themes are meant to leverage their existing structure for the sake of time and design efficiency.

On the other hand, building a theme for a custom design allows for all manner of changes. We can knock out entire levels and flip the house on its side if desired. However, with these customizations, time is sacrificed for the sake of design integrity. With this extra time, also comes an added price tag.

Ultimately, the decision between pre-built vs. custom themes comes down to a few answers.

  • Are you looking for a unique design?
  • Do you have the capital for such a design/build?
  • Is a speedy launch imperative?

With those questions in mind, you are now armed with the knowledge to more deftly chose how to proceed with choosing your website’s theme.

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