How to Choose a Theme: 5 Tips

Especially when you’re building a new website, you might be thinking a lot about how your site should look. In WordPress, the look of the website is largely governed by its theme (learn more of the WordPress lingo here). With a number of themes available on OpenCUNY and many thousands more built for WordPress (that you can request we make available), how do you choose? This post is written not only to help you decide, but also to give you some general ideas about how to make that decision alongside theme suggestions. If you’d like to discuss any of this further, feel free to email us!

  1. Flexibility. You might not know exactly what you want when you start building your site, so you might want a theme that can easily be changed once you decide. While all of our themes are mobile-friendly, some are definitely more flexible than others. Once you activate a lot of these themes, there are theme options (often nested in the Appearance menu) that will let you further customize the look of the theme, right down to background color and font face. Almost every theme, flexible or not, will allow you to customize menus, header, and the content of your widget spaces. Some of the most flexible themes are built by WordPress (and named after the year they debuted), but a number of others also exist.
    Flexible Themes to Check Out: Make, Pinboard, Twenty Fifteen, Twenty Fourteen, Weaver XTreme.

  2. Widget Space. If you want to feature your Twitter feed or other recent social media prominently throughout your website, you’ll likely want a theme that has well-placed widget spaces where you can load these items. Most themes, aside from very minimalist one-column themes, will have a number of widget spaces (often along the top, right and/or left sides, and/or in the footer) that you can leave empty or fill with widgets (e.g. a small box featuring your recent Flickr photos) of your choice. In the mobile version of your site, some themes may display these widgets at the bottom of the page or not at all. In the widget-friendly themes featured below, Openstrap offers a bounty of eleven possible widget spaces to customize, while Coraline has some nicely-designed widget spaces that stack can span one or two columns of sidebars. Flexible themes, including those mentioned above, will likely have a number of widget spaces.
    Widget-Friendly Themes to Check Out:
    Coraline, Openstrap.

  3. Columns. Another prominent layout decision involves how many or how few columns your content will appear in, including sidebar(s) for widgets. Some themes, like MesoColumn, will allow you to choose how many columns you have or what order you display main and sidebar content in. Other themes, especially those designed especially for mobile and tablet display like Hexa and Kouki, offer only one generously apportioned column for content.
    Column-Focused Themes to Check Out:
    Hexa, Kouki, MesoColumn.

  4. Image-Based. If you’re building a website that will prominently feature images, a number of layouts are available to attractively display them. Some display these images in grid-like columns: Fukasawa (rectangular), Spun (circular), WPFolio (square). Another option is to search for a layout with built-in functions to nicely display images throughout your site. For instance, Oxygen allows the featured images you upload to your posts to be displayed in an image slider of selected posts. 
    Image-Based Themes to Check Out: 
    Fukusawa, Kouki, Oxygen, Spun, WPFolio.

  5. Text-Centric. Aside from the image-based themes discussed above, most themes will nicely feature your text. There are some, however, that focus exclusively on text in a look that strips out space for images in the layout. Some of these minimalist themes are favorites for students building a professional portfolio due to their simple, slick look and attention to typography.
    Text-Centric Themes to Check Out: Delicate, Ease, Mon Cahier, Runo Lite, Thematic, Vertigo

Lastly, if you’re out on the wilds of the internet and come across a WordPress website that you like the look of, you can paste its URL into WordPress Theme Search to find out not only the theme but also the plugins that the website is using.