(An article contribution by Chris Reynolds: an entrepreneur, fellow designer and developer at Web Hosting Search)
Ever heard of WordPress.org? If you haven’t, I’ll be surprised. WordPress’ blogging software has been downloaded over 6,000,000 times since the launch of version 1.5 in 2005, the first version in which WordPress introduced the use of Themes. Fast-forward to 2009 and developing these themes has become the livelihood of many professional web designers. In other words, if you’re like most web designers and feeling the effects of the financial crisis, perhaps you should consider designing you very own WordPress Premium Theme. It is important to keep in mind the principles of effective web design.
Around 90,000 Google searches are made every month for the term “Wordpress themes.” This has been a trend for the last three years and the hype over WordPress doesn’t seem to be dwindling. However, something that has happened is the commercialization of the theme market. There are over 20 well-established designers working full-time to create and sell what are referred to as Premium Themes.
Designing and Selling Premium Themes
Though the commercial concept of premium themes opposes the WordPress open source freeware philosophy, it has opened up a vast new market for web designers. Some of you may already have created a WordPress theme without charging anyone for it. Ever since WordPress went mainstream, web designers have frequently contributed with free themes, mostly to promote their skills and expand their portfolios. Designing premium themes, however, isn’t a huge step in the other direction. You simply charge for your services, make the user interface more simple than the free themes available, and provide support/updates. People interested in purchasing premium themes aren’t usually interested in tinkering or learning to hack the layout. If I, as a blogger, purchase a premium theme, chances are I probably couldn’t design one myself.
Additional features that define premium themes are quality of design (aesthetics) and flexibility. Professional web designers can charge their customers for a theme license only because they are providing a professional and high quality product. There will always be free WordPress themes for you to choose from, but updates, tweak tips, and a community forum are all what you’ll receive when purchasing a premium theme from any of the web’s top providers. Here’s why you should consider developing your own theme:
- The WordPress blogging platform is used by tens of millions of web denizens each day.
- It is an inspirational haven for any web designer to work with.
- The demand for unique and professional WordPress themes today is higher than it has ever been. Just take a look at what they are doing over at Woo Themes and you’ll understand.
- WordPress has become a trusted free CMS, thus more frequently used in serious website-projects where web design is gladly paid for (even the NYTimes utilizes WordPress).
Creating a Premium Theme – CSS, templates and functions
Now that we have discussed some of the business advantages of designing WordPress themes, let’s take a look at a few technical pros. Creating a WordPress theme requires the standard CSS development and graphic design skills, but it also includes some PHP and XHTML/HTML programming. Not to worry, the WordPress CMS uses a framework of three theme files. First there’s the standard CSS-stylesheet, style.css, that controls the look of the website. Then there are functions files, functions.php and template files.
If user interface is your thing and you’re not interested in becoming a developer – that’s fine – just connect with a PHP / WordPress developer. You will be able to provide him designs that can be sliced up and made into WordPress themes.
Finding a web developer with working knowledge of WordPress programming won’t be hard anyway. You can even download an existing theme, install it and configure the stylesheet, functions files and template files directly from the WP-admin dashboard. One important step here is to make sure to change theme information in the stylesheet-file.
Below is an example of the first few lines of the stylesheet, including unique information for one particular theme. WordPress does not tolerate or allow direct copying when creating your own theme.
Theme Name: Rose
Theme URI: the-theme’s-homepage
Author URI: your-URI
General comments/License Statement if any.
For this trial and error approach, however, you’ll need a place to experiment online. Check out WordPress hosting in order to set up a suitable hosting account.
For more technical information on creating your own WordPress theme please take a look at WordPress.org’s own Theme Development.