What makes a WordPress theme beautiful?

chrislema-face

What makes a WordPress theme beautiful?A couple weeks ago I started a series on the WordPress theme space. If you didn’t catch them, here they are.

So I thought I would wrap this whole thing up with one last question. Part seven. It’s a nice enough number to end with, right?

What makes a WordPress theme beautiful? What makes it ugly?

It’s a great question, right? Because if you’re going to step into the space, if you’re going to release your own themes, you clearly don’t want to be the theme producer that people say is “nice” or “fine” or just “ok.”

That would suck.

No, you want to be a theme vendor that creates beauty. You want to be someone that is trusted for their design aesthetic as much as their coding prowess, right?

So let’s dig into my take on this last question.

And before you get all frustrated with me, please remember, this is an opinionated blog run by an opinionated blogger (that’s me). If you disagree, you can politely do so below in the comments. Or you can start your own blog and respond at length. I’m good either way.

First, let’s talk about movie stars

They all look beautiful, right? But wait. Sometimes I disagree with someone else about whether a particular actress is beautiful.

Know why? Because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  So logically, a theme’s beauty is based on the person judging it.

That said, when it comes to celebrities, we like symmetry. So maybe that’s it. Maybe a theme needs natural symmetry – like a centered single column for blog posts instead of the asymmetry of a sidebar. We’ve seen that trending recently.

Only, when beauty magazines do the research, it turns out the asymmetry is part of the allure. We don’t all want perfect symmetry.

So if it’s not an “eye of the beholder” and it’s not a “symmetry” thing, how do we judge what’s beautiful?

One answer, I think, is perfection. There’s a place for everything and everything is in place. I’m talking about your theme here, not a movie star. But you get my point.

When it comes to the red carpet, or it comes to a magazine cover, movie stars have tons of folks styling hair, doing makeup, and then working in photoshop to make things perfect.

So what does this mean for WordPress themes?

I think it means at least three things.

First, it suggests that paid professionals should be involved in the design of the theme.

Second, it suggests that you should spend more time on the editing side than on the creation side. Fine tuning details is critical.

Lastly, I think it suggests that different people will consider different things beautiful. So create options – but by that I mean, different themes, not a theme full of different options.

Enough with the theory, let’s get practical

So I think there are five aspects to consider when it comes to a theme’s natural beauty. And I think that when you look at some of the top theme designers out there today, you’ll see this in their work – whether it’s a natural part of their design approach, or whether it’s intentional.

You can remember this list of five by its acronym: SHARP.

Stunning Imagery

I’ve told you before, over 50% of your brain is wired for visuals. So it’s no surprise that we love sites that have strong and beautiful images as part of their design.

Of course, this is also the challenge with some themes. They look fantastic when you see the demo, but if your images suck (or are tiny), they don’t make the same impression.

High Contrast

If viewers can’t distinguish between that subtle shading you’re doing in the background, it’s likely not leaving the impression you want. Subtlety is great, but when it comes to design, we want to know where spaces start and where they end. To do that, we need contrast. The same goes for the ability to effectively read the text, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Contrast, in my opinion, matters when it comes to fonts, colors, backgrounds and more. It’s why we hear most clients ask for something to “pop” – because they’re not seeing enough contrast.

Alignment

I’m fine with this just being a “me” thing. But I can’t stand when there are fourteen different edges to a design. It’s like the designer couldn’t decide between left alignment, center alignment and who knows what.

Creating spaces that make it easy for your brain to discern the different sections of your layout is much easier and better when there’s a sense of clear alignment.

Readability

Beauty comes from everything working together. One of the places where I see this fail the most is when it comes to actually reading a blog post.

Sometimes the font and spacing are too big – meaning I have to scroll for weeks to get to the end of an article (especially if I’m scanning the article).

Sometimes the font and spacing are too small – meaning I can’t read it without a magnifying glass. (Most times I just leave the site, never to come back again.)

Sometimes it’s not a font or spacing thing at all – meaning that the background color or image is getting in the way with reading it (see contrast above).

Either way, making sure a design supports the readability of a site is critical to me.

Purpose

And the last of the SHARP criteria for deciding what makes a WordPress theme beautiful is it’s targeted and clear support of a purpose.

Not my purpose. Not the designer’s purpose. Your purpose. The buyer’s and user’s purpose.

There’s beauty that comes from the clear design decisions that support the targeted effort of the site owner as they engage their own clients.

When the theme demonstrates that purpose in it’s design, I consider it a work of beauty.

Conclusion

I know, you’re shocked because here I am, writing all about beauty and I haven’t shared with you any themes that are beautiful. There are no lists of themes with screenshots. I know.

Because I don’t know your purpose. So that makes it a bit harder to predict what you will think is beautiful.

But I can tell you this.

I’m a big fan of the designs by Theme Foundry, Array, Cr3ativ, Astoundify and some of the amazing StudioPress themes.

Of course, it goes without saying that my take on what makes themes ugly is the opposite of SHARP themes.

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Join more than 7,500 others

My posts. Your inbox. Beautiful.

Chris Lema Speaking

Do You Want To Pick My Brain?

Over the last few years, through private consulting, coaching, and using the pay-by-the-minute Clarity service, I've helped hundreds of folks like you solve their WordPress problems and overcome their technical challenges.

“In 18 minutes Chris was able to save me months of lost time and tens of thousands of dollars by directing me to the right technologies to create my course marketplace. The value was 100x what I paid.” — Josh

Have a question right now? Most of my Clarity calls last less than 20 minutes. Let's set up a call.