Tips on Whether to Design or Theme Your New WordPress Blog

wordpress-smallI’ve been working on a continuing series on how to setup a new blog for the new blogger. This week I’m going to touch on whether you should create your own design or grab an existing theme for your new blog.

So the big question is – OK I have my WordPress page installed, I have the plugins I want to make it work, and I have all of my tools to help me out with managing and maintaining it. Now What? Well you need to decide on how to Design your blog or decide if your going to just download a Theme for it!

These are my tips on whether to design or theme your new WordPress blog. Enjoy!

Design

For me this is the fun part (besides writing that is!) of Blogging. Designing your blog! This is the point where you get to make the blog a reflection of you. Of course you should follow some basic guidelines when thinking about design.

Basic Guidelines to Follow

  • Easy to Navigate! 

If there is one thing I hate is when people hide the menu or don’t provide one at all!  How am I supposed to access  your blog content if you don’t make it OBVIOUSLY APPARENT to me? You have about .0001 seconds to give me what I want and them I’m gone. Better keep it simple and easy to navigate.

  • Keep it Clean! 

This means don’t clutter it with five million badges, advertisements, widgets,  and other flashy distractions from the main point of your blog: YOUR CONTENT!  If you poke around this blog – I have stuff to the side, top, and bottom of my site. I have tried very hard to make it so you can read the articles easily without something flashy drawing your eyes away from it.

(BTW! – notice the Big Box to sign up for my newsletter box on the upper right? Um – it would be fantastic if you signed up for it!)

  • Color Choice

This is a personal pet peeve of mine. If I go to your website and all of a sudden I’m re-enacting the Nazis when they stupidly keep their eyes open when they opened the ARK? That’s not a good thing. I love color – but you should keep it pretty simple. Black text on a White Background is a personal must for me. It is just easier to read. Then the surrounding area? Although you have free reign – be careful with your color selection. (I know mine is boring… but I like it toned down… it is a reflection of myself after all!)

Doing it Yourself

My choice was to do it myself. I had to figure out how to hack, steal, cheat, bite  and scratch my way to designing my blog. Although you can tell it was a homemade job I’m pretty happy with the results.  It was very rewarding and at the end of the day I can look at my site and go “It is mine!”.

The Downside of Doing it Yourself

The downside to doing it yourself? I’m not going to lie to you. It is not easy at first to learn how to do this. I’ve been futzing around on the web for about 15 years now and I still had difficulties with it.

I would ask yourself these questions before trying and tackling a custom design of your site yourself:

  • Do you enjoy learning how to understand basic programming and styling? You will need to have at least a basic understanding of PHP, HTML and CSS.
  • Do you wish to learn more about self-hosting and the inner workings of WordPress?
  • Are you willing to put in the time and effort required to become a code ninja and make your site 100% yours? It will take many hours and you will get frustrated and at one point you will want to punch your monitor.

But, I can tell you after you are done, and especially if you have artistic talent? (Which I absolutely DO NOT HAVE :-/ ) It is 10000% rewarding!  And who knows? You might decide this is something you enjoy doing and you could start a new career off of it!

WordPress Themes

I didn’t mean to freak you out above there. I can totally and completely understand you not wanting to tackle the inner working of WordPress and Web Design. You just want a great looking site and not have to deal with all of the effort of all that mess above. I get it.  You just want to write, sell, or share your <insert your stuff here> like NOW!

Free Themes

This means you decided to go with Option B – get a free WordPress theme. There are a bajillion free themes out there. Some are better than others. Alot look like my 2 year old took his crayons and designed one.

If your going for free – I would recommend using the ones posted on WordPress.org. Although I’m not against getting free ones off of the web. At least you know what you are getting from the WordPress.org website.

Premium Themes

I know I’m going to mention the word MONEY. People hate it when you do that. They think your going to try and sell you something (Yup… I am!).  But the reality of it is. You get what you PAY FOR. And if you want an awesome looking theme that will be the backdrop for your writing?  You are going to have to pay for it.

And this is where a Premium Theme comes in. Below are a few examples of Premium Themes that I have used (or currently use!) and trust.

Thesis (diythemes) – This is the framework I used for this site. And I absolutely love it!  This framework is highly optimized for SEO and it runs quick with the latest changes. The support and documentation is great! Of course there is a twist. You not only need to purchase the Thesis framework. You will then need to go and purchase a third party theme for yet another cost.

WooThemes – I ran across these guys and they do offer a couple freebies as well.  This site used to run off of their Original Premium News theme until I decided to do it myself. These guys do have a ton of different themes to offer at an affordable cost. And I like their back end administration system that comes with it.

StudioPress Themes for WordPress - I like how clean these themes look. And they are very SEO Friendly.  The downside is you need to get the Genesis Framework along with a child theme and it is a sizable investment just like Thesis. I recently switched to using Genesis and I can tell you that I am indeed very happy with it!

Forget IT! Get Me a Professional!

Of course the final alternative is to try and find a Professional to do it for you. And this can run anywhere to a few hundred dollars on up to the thousands depending on the designer and what you want done to your site.

If your interested in having a professional create a site for you? I’m going to suggest Nile Flores from Blondish.net – Don’t let the name fool you – she really knows her stuff and she is pretty affordable too! Just let her know avgjoegeek.net sent you over!

Sites For Inspiration

These are blogs I happened to stumble across the web. Give them a visit (let them know I sent you!) to try and give you inspiration for your new blog! These are in no order – and I apologize in advance if your site isn’t listed!

  • http://jahangiri.us - Holly Jahangiri is one funny lady and smart too!  But I really like the site design.
  • http://www.howtomakemyblog.com/ - This is a great resource for your WordPress blog and I like the design as well!
  • http://sallyhogshead.com/  – Don’t let the name fool you! Sally Hogshead is an authority on getting people “fascinated”! She has a clean design and a great blog!
  • http://www.thebadblogger.com (NSFW) – And then there is this guy. Be forewarned of scantily clad women, an “in your face” attitude, and an all around awesome blog to not only help you monetize, but will keep you on your toes!

So I’ve given you some things to think about the next time you are setting up your new blog!

Please comment below to provide suggestions on where the new blogger can go for additional resources as I’m sure I’ve missed some! Feel free to add what you think the new blogger should know when it comes to design, themes, or other tips as well!


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Jason Mathes
Dad, Geek, Gamer, WordPress Fanatic. When not playing Call of Duty, or busy being a Dad, he shares his over 20 years of experience with Game Reviews, Technology/Gadgets, and WordPress
Jason Mathes
  • http://www.thehobbyblogger.com Bryan

    Hey J. For the DIYers trying figuring out a color scheme, I thought Adobe Kuler (kuler.adobe.com) and ColorSchemeDesigner.com were very helpful.

    • http://avgjoegeek.net avgjoegeek

      Bryan – thanks for the reminder about Kuler! LOL thats how I came up with the (terrible) color scheme for my site! I’ll have to go check out ColorSchemeDesigner.com as well.

  • elaine bell

    I agree with you on the color. I follow a couple of blogs that are very hard to read…either all red and pink or all different shades of green. Hard to follow. While I am not a blogger myself I enjoy reading those of others. Thanks.

    • http://avgjoegeek.net avgjoegeek

      Elaine – thanks for dropping by! I cannot read blogs that have color schemes with that harsh a contrast. My eyes start hurting. So no matter how great the content might be you will see me leave as soon as I see the color scheme!

      • georgianna

        Damned if I know whether I did it right . I think I just signed on to follow your blogs but I’m not at all sure. I’m struggling with t he mechanics of this A-Z challenge.

        • http://avgjoegeek.net avgjoegeek

          Is this in reference to the newsletter checkbox down below in the comment field? I need to try and get the spacing corrected. To comment it isn’t a requirement to sign up for the newsletter (although it is appreciated!). If you do accidentally signed up? – you can either A) Do nothing.. delete the confirmation email. B) If you already subscribed? Whenever I actually finish getting the newsletter setup (lol) you can always unsubscribe with no hassles.

  • http://www.melaleucafacts.com/ Jim Jenks

    You make great points thanks. It’s amazing how bad some peoples blogs are with design and aesthetics. Sometimes I wonder if they actually go back and look at their blog/website to see how it looks or if it’s readable.

    • http://avgjoegeek.net avgjoegeek

      Thanks! I tend to think of my site being an “organized train wreck”. But then.. I freely admit I have very little artistic sense. :-) Speaking of… artistically your site looks great! Thanks for dropping by!

  • david

    I’m using Thesis too. The one thing I like about it is that I change the column widths. I use to just use and modify the defaut theme but that gets old and tiring after a while. It’s good to have a theme where you can make design changes rather easily.

  • http://sevenroots.com Tiyo Kamtiyono

    I prefer to do my design myself, I pick a semi-premium hybrid themes that free to download and have great SEO too. The next task just editing, and dig a little more to the code to get it right as what I want it.

    Thanks for sharing Joe.

    • http://avgjoegeek.net avgjoegeek

      Yea, I went with Thesis as I was running a woo theme and I hated the constraints I had on it. Thesis lets me have complete control over WordPress and I can do what I want with it. Hacking existing themes work – but for me it was just easier to start over.