Beta Testers Needed

Interested in getting copies of cutting edge premium themes before they are released to the public? We are putting together a small team of insiders to help us plan & test new WordPress themes. See below for details!

[gravityform id=1 name=WordPressTheme Beta Testers]

Emphasis Theme Preview: Design Critique

I finally got around to designing a new theme to giveaway to the WordPress community. Before writing the code I would like to get some input from the community on the design, as well as what features you would like to see included. Click on each image for the full-size version.

Features

  • Focus on Content
  • Clean, effective design
  • Author Comment Highlighting
  • Widgetized Sidebar

Here is the home page:

emphasis-home-page

Here is a post page (single.php):

emphasis-post

Do you have any constructive feedback on the design and layout? If you were to use this theme on your blog what features would you like to see?

It’s Official: We’ll Design Your WordPress Site!

We just launched the WP LImits custom themes page, which I am happy to say has been well received by our Twitter friends who got to preview it (follow us @wplimits). So we are now open for business!

Since WordPress can be used to create a full website, not just a blog, we wanted to make great CMS-like, custom themes available at an affordable price. And to kick it off we are offering a discount to $1,200 USD.

WP Limits Custom WordPress Theme Designs
WP Limits Custom WordPress Theme Designs

If you would like to see more of our work you can take a look at our web design studio in Boise where all of our great designs come from!

Top 5 Reasons we use WordPress as a Content Management System

These days every site must have a content management system (CMS), or else it will very soon be outdated. Try selling a site to a client and then telling them they can’t actually update any of the content or photos themselves, somehow I don’t think they will be very happy.

Now in searching for a CMS to use you will come across everything from free, outdated systems such as Joomla, to some very expensive (think $50,000) corporate solutions that offer less functionality. In addition to that entire range a lot of development companies have created their own proprietary CMS. Having taken over clients from many of these development companies I can say that they usually produce nightmarish code, and have no documentation.

In a look search for the perfect CMS we finally settled on WordPress, no it’s not perfect, but here are the reasons we love it:

  1. Easy Template System. WordPress will integrate very quickly into an HTML and CSS template using some simple PHP tags. Once you get the hang of how it works, then you can convert a template over to a basic WordPress theme in minutes.
  2. Clean Code. WordPress outputs clean, semantic code. There are no outdated, table-based layouts, or anything else that gets in the way of web standards. Also the text editor will only let the user style text in a semantic way (such as using H1s for headers) that follows the CSS for the site (meaning the designer can set the style, and the site owner has to stay consistent with it).
  3. Robust Backend. Since the WordPress backend has been recently redesigned, it offers greater functionality. Some of the best web designers in the world worked on it, and it includes hours of usability studies. Know that your clients are using the best interface around.
  4. Regular Updates (including security). WordPress is updated regularly, which means that as soon as a security flaw is discovered, an update is sent out for it. Also you can rest assured that your client won’t be left years down the road with a system that is out of date. It will move with the times, and everything will just keep getting better.
  5. Excellent documentation. Some people say you should buy from them because they can offer something nobody else can. I say don’t, because if they aren’t around to fix it, then nobody else can and you will be stuck. With an open source system like WordPress you have excellent documentation and resources available including a huge support community. So if your web designer falls of the face of the earth it won’t be that hard to find someone else who can work with your system.

There are many more reasons, but those are the five that are most important to me and my clients. Do you have any more to add, or better yet, reasons you don’t like WordPress as a CMS?

Are Premium Themes Dying Out?

Recently there have been a lot of changes in the WordPress theme scene. A little over a year ago it was hard to find quality themes anywhere, so that is what started the Premium Theme market. Brian Gardner started this trend with his very popular Revolution Theme.

Why did they become popular?

It was very hard to find high quality themes as there was no longer a central theme directory. What was available had no standards for quality, and also themes often included hidden links, or backdoors into your WordPress blog. All things to be avoided.

With premium themes people no longer had to worry about the quality, and the $30-80 people would usually pay was a small price for the level of code they were receiving.

Are they here to stay?

After talking with Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp Utah a few weeks ago, I think they will die out. With the new theme directory we have standards that themes have to meet, and a blog designer can now go to one central location and know that every theme they are looking at is high quality. This takes the hassle out of it since someone else (who is usually more qualified) has already proofed the code, so now you don’t have to. And you are getting this quality for free.

Are free themes sustainable for developers?

The big question is how will these developers who were/are selling premium themes going to still make their money? It will definitely take some more innovation, but I believe it is possible. Take a look at WordPress, it is distributed for free, but is also quite profitable. There is plenty of money to be made off of blog ads, theme customization, and support.

Another example of giving themes away for free is Small Potato’s site WP Designer. He gave away a lot of great themes, and in turn it increased his site traffic (which he turned around and sold for a lot of money).

There are many ways to give themes away and still make money off of them. Maybe you are always being asked to customize certain themes, you can charge for this and make quite a lot. It all depends on what your specific community is looking for.

Recent changes.

The largest news in the premium theme world is that Brian Gardner (the founder of premium themes) is now switching all of this themes to open source. He obviously found a way to make this new business model profitable, so it shouldn’t be too hard for others to follow him.

You can read more about Brian’s changes on his website, as well as an interview with The Blog Herald.

Final thoughts.

For the last couple of weeks I have been trying to decide whether to release several themes open source or as premium themes. Last week after talking to Matt I decided on open source, but was still writing this post (Brian, I have been working on this post since before you made your big announcement!) so I hadn’t announced anything yet. In the next week or so look for several new theme releases including a never before created knowledgebase theme.

My thoughts on the entire premium vs. open source is summed up here:

Everything changes very quickly on the web. You always have to be ready to adapt the new markets and the desires of your community.

Will other premium theme providers follow?

Creating a WordPress Theme Without Images

What do I mean?

If you are creating a basic theme for distribution, consider designing it, or at least offering a variation of it, that is image free. As in style everything with CSS, and don’t resort to images for the layout and design.

Why do it?

Customization. It makes it so much easier for the novice user to change a bunch of color values in the CSS, and add in their own images, then to try and remove yours or change the colors. I have spent a lot of time re-skinning themes by trying to make sure that the images I use in a design match up with the original theme.

Also you will be surprised by just how much can be done with CSS without using images as a crutch. Often what the user is looking for in a theme is the functionality and layout, not the pretty styling (since everyone else who purchases the theme will have the same style). So make it easy for the user to get the functionality, remember after they purchase the theme, it is their theme, not yours. Design with the user in mind.

Who is doing it?

We are! Though the theme is not released yet (look for it in the next week or so). It is a theme that focuses on structure and functionality for a CMS style site. The look and feel of the theme can be changed in a few minutes, a new background image can be placed in easily, and then you have a totally new site, but with great functionality!

Also check out the News theme by Quommocation. It looks beautiful, has great typography and layout, and doesn’t use a single image (except for that post photo). Check out the Demo.

Anything else?

In attempting to try this style remember a few things:

  1. Comment your code. I have encountered lots of themes that have far too little commenting, but never a theme that has too much. Since we are creating themes for the purchaser, I would aim for too much commenting. Make that code very easy to understand.
  2. Separate out style code. Consider adding a section of your code for the colors and other aspects of the theme that can be changed. This will make it easier, instead of having to look through code for the :hover style on that <a> tag.
  3. Design places for images. Just because you don’t include images, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it easy for your user to. Consider making it so that you can add a background image to the <body> that will completely restyle the site, but without having to change any code. That would be a graphic designers dream come true.
  4. Focus on typography and spacing. These are the cornerstone of every good design. Get these right, and everything else will follow. Now you have to focus on them because you don’t have any images. Check out Khoi Vihn’s site Subtraction. Yes, he does use an image, but focus on the structure, typography, and grid. It’s beautiful.
  5. Think outside the box. CSS is powerful. Use it in new ways.

That’s your new idea for the week. Feel free to post any other examples or what you come up with in the comments. Enjoy!

Beyond blogging

As advocates of using WordPress for more than a blog publishing platform, we make a vigilant effort to find ways to push past some perceived limitiations of WordPress. There is a gem of a post over at Web Designer Wall that discusses WordPress theme hacks. While the post is a little older, there’s many items to explore especially for beginning WordPress developers.

During your next go-around with developing for WordPress you should be looking for opportunities to employ some of these hacks, as you can manipulate some default items to make your WordPress-based site work the way you need it to.

Additionally, this post over at WPCandy will fill your appetite for even more in-depth WordPress manipulation. Use the items in here as a basis to make some rather substantial changes to the way WordPress handles page items by default.

Play around with some of these techniques and check back frequently for some more advanced resources from us.

Faster Theme Creation with Grids in BluePrint CSS

The Theory.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your site coding went completely smoothly? You didn’t have any weird quirks that took hours to make work in IE, it just simply worked.

Impossible?

No, not really. What I usually do to solve a lot of these problems on more basic sites (where I may not have time to spend hours coding the site or fixing browser bugs) is turn to the handy BluePrint CSS framework.

It is a simple framework that handles a lot of things for you including a reset.css, typography.css, and most importantly for this article grid.css. The grid.css file is the one that saves the most time in writing your HTML. For more information on why you should use grids in your design consult Koi Vinh’s Grid’s Are Good presentation. Using grids will result in stronger, more consistent site designs as well as proper use will result in faster coding.

A Key Piece.

Now that we have established why we are using grids I need to introduce you to one more element for desgn purposes. If you are like me you design mock-ups (often pixel-perfect) in Photoshop before coding. So how do you prevent your pixel-perfect design not lining up with your also pixel-perfect CSS framework? Well, design with our wonderful starter-file.psd. Seriously, it has a grid built in, as well as some handy features to save you some time.

Download the STARTER-FILE.PSD

If you design within this grid, the coding will take place very, very quickly because all your elements will already line up. Sites will just work (Warning: still requires HTML/CSS skill and an intelligent web designer).

Now the Coding.

Coding with BluePrint takes a little time to get used to, but the payoff is definitely worth it. To start make sure you read through the included CSS files in detail. Knowing the classes available to you will save a lot of time and effort. Next read the documentation found here:

http://github.com/joshuaclayton/blueprint-css/wikis/tutorials

That should give you a great introduction. Just give it a little practice and it will save you dozens of hours down the road.

Then you can use those hours we just saved you to suggest some article ideas! Post them in the comments, and we will try to get them written!