Newly installed WordPress sites come with a theme or a template designed by the makers of the software. There’s nothing wrong with those themes. But because of the way WordPress works, you can try on a different design without losing a single bit of content.

The mechanics of changing themes are easy; the harder part os making the choice of them. WordPress provides thousands of free theme that are easily installed via your dashboard. Our you can purchase “premium” themes that can offer a wider range of designs and features. The most challenging part of theme shopping is that the demos or previews often do not give a full picture of how the theme will work.

The best course of action then, when starting out, is to start writing with the default theme (currently Twenty-Seventeen), and develop a range of posts, pages, menus, plugins etc. Then start trying on, like in a dressing room some new themes. If they do not produce what you want, or if you find they do not work, you can always switch back to the Twenty-Seventeen theme.

Before you go into the dressing room, you ought to develop some ideas of how you envision your site. How is it organized? Is it a busy page full of information? Does it feature predominantly your writing? Or is it a portfolio of media-rich content? One way to start is to identify other WordPress sites that have design elements that appeal to you.

While there are web tools that supposedly identify what theme a WordPress site is using they are not always accurate. With a bit of detective work, you can view the source of a WordPress site and identify it’s theme (See “Method 2. Manually Detect WordPress Theme Used by a Website” from WP Beginner’s How to Find Which WordPress Theme a Site is Using.

For this activity, let’s just explore what WordPress offers you. Finding what theme to try on is just the beginning.

In your WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance -> Themes. This will display just the themes currently installed on your site, most likely the few that are provided by default. Click the Add New button at the top to enter the Theme browser.

The Featured tab present themes that WordPress identifies, and there is a decent variety here. Popular might help too. The Mad Scientists at Extend Labs browsed around for a new theme for their blog at thoughts.extendlabs.ca. They could not tell much from the icon previews, but clicked on one called Super because it looked kind science-like.

That brings up a screen with information about the theme. The preview on the right shows some standard WordPress content all theme previews display. They do not always give a full sense of what the theme can do, but the Scientists saw enough to want to try.

They clicked the Install button – this moves a copy of the theme files to their blog. Then to try it out, they click Activate.

The first look was not bad! It looks “science-y”

There are many things one can do with themes by using the Customizer, an interface that allows you to change settings for a theme and see a preview n real time. Access the this interface when viewing your site via the Customize link in the top black admin menu bar (or from within the WordPress dashboard, via Appearance -> Customize.

Each pane on the left has settings you can try out and see the results immediately. The Scientists went first to the Header Image panel where they uploaded a photo of their laboratory to replace the default image that comes with the theme. Under Current Image, they clicked Upload Image, and put a copy of that photo into the site.

It looked realy good. They made a few more edits in the Customizer (added social media links, changing the footer text). A few items in the Customizer are common in all sites, but theme developer add additional settings specific to a theme.

The nice thing about the Customizer is that no changes are applied until you click Publish, so if things get messed up, you can exit without saving. But the Scientists were pleased… until after they clicked Publish they noted the header image did not change. They tried two more times.

This can happen with themes; sometimes they just do not work. You can try to figure it out, or contact the developer, but sometimes its just easier to try another theme.

Back to the Add Theme interface, they try the Feature Filter where they can check the kind of things they want a site to have (you might try with one or two check boxes, and refine as you go).

This is a way to find similar themes based on desired features. Clicking Apply Features than shows themes that match this criteria.

The same challenges occur; you have to try and figure out if the theme is a good fit from the preview image and a description, or just try it out and see. Many themes try to hook you into a basic theme with limited features, and then try to upsell you to a Pro version you must pay for.

One way to find good themes is to find one you like and look for other ones by the same developer. We really like the themes by Anders Noren, which are all elegant but without too many screens of settings. You can ind his themes in your WordPress site by just searching on his name.

Again, the best part of themes is if they do not work, you cab just switch, and you will not lose any information from your site.

Try out a theme on one of your WordPress sites, and use as a link for your response either the site, or a link to a response in the Reclaim Hosting Newbies Corner thread where we asked people to share their favorite themes.

Screencast Demo Segment Domain Camp Intro Video

This activity was part of week 7 of Domain Camp.

Example for "Trying on a New WordPress Theme":
http://thoughts.extendlabs.ca/

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2 Responses Completed for this Activity

  • I could spend all day selecting and modifying a theme! (Lisa Koster, @lkoster)

    I got so involved in my back to school activities, I missed Week 7!!  Better late then never. I installed and played around with a few themes.  I am not sure what I will finally settle on. Domain camp has given me some ideas on how I might structure my online presence but I am… Read more »

  • A Notable new theme (Irene Stewart, @IrenequStewart)

    For my main site, procaffination.ca, I tried a couple of new themes. It was fun to see my pages and posts in different formats. Now that I know a bit more about wordpress and my domain through the Domain Camp activities, I have a better idea how to customize to get things looking the way… Read more »

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