Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

WordPress themes for developers

WooThemes - WordPress themes for everyone

This is the article that I had originally intended to post last week, before I suffered a self-induced glitch which caused me to lose my work-in-progress. Thanks to my friend Geof Morris who prompted me to double-check my database for saved revisions. As it turns out, there was indeed a revision stored there which did not show up in the list of revisions given in the editor. That copy contained a fair amount of the original post — enough to give me a good head-start on recreating it.

This week, we’re going to take a quick look at some WordPress themes that have caught my eye recently. In particular, these are themes that don’t just look pretty, they have some muscle under the hood that a web developer like me can sink his teeth into. I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ll try to point out what it is about each theme that might make it attractive to a developer using WordPress as a site platform.

Sandbox

I’ve mentioned Sandbox numerous times before, and it is the current underpinning for this site. Unlike the other themes mentioned below, Sandbox is not designed to be pretty out-of-the-box — you have to add your own design work.While it does come with some sample stylesheets which demonstrate placing sidebars on the left, right, or one on either side, it’s up to you to touch it up with graphics, colors, typography, etc.

What Sandbox does is to provide a semantically rich framework to hang your own visual design on. Sandbox’s class generation functions have become the inspiration for many other themes that followed. It also gives you hAtom and hContact microformats, which can be consumed by web tools like the Flock browser or Yahoo’s SearchMonkey.

PrimePress

PrimePress has strong semantic underpinnings, but also pays a lot of attention to the design and typography of the site. One interesting feature is that it lets you create your own custom.css file for overriding its styles. Just put your own rules in there, and the theme will automatically load them up.

This theme supports rotating header images, and there is an article on the site explaining how to modify the theme to support per-page custom header images.

Thematic

Thematic is a highly adaptable, SEO-friendly theme, which was based on Sandbox. It comes with a nice visual style, and some stylesheet variations which give you different sidebar configuations. The sample themes are based on the 960px grid system which is becoming more and more popular. What’s particularly interesting about this theme is that it gives you 13 separate widget containers to work with.

There also some child themes available for Thematic which show off how you can really change the layout of a site with nothing more than a new stylesheet: Monochromatic, Blamatic, Junction

Agregado

This one isn’t as generically useful as the others, but is still quite interesting. Agregado is geared towards highlighting your “lifestream”, an aggregated view of your activity on a variety of social networking sites. It can collect your updates from Twitter, Flickr, Delicious, Last.fm, Facebook, and a ton of other sites, displaying them prominently in the sidebar next to your blog posts. And it’s wrapped up in a pretty design, to boot. You might not use it much for client work, but it’s a heck of an interesting starting point for a personal site.

Carrington

Carrington is a new uber theme framework from my buddies at CrowdFavorite. This theme takes the existing flexibility of the WordPress theme system to a new order of magnitude. The normal WordPress theme API lets you customize the look of the site based on view types like “home page”, “single post”, “date archives”, “author archives”, etc.

With Carringon, things break down even further, with definable sub-templates for your post and comment loops, among other things. Plus, it also defines “contexts” which let you use more specific views for certain special circumstances like “single post by Joe Smith”, posts by guest authors, and the like. It also lets you easily use different headers/footers/sidebars depending on category, or for specific pages.

I think Carrington is going to define the next generation of WordPress themes. Particularly when combined with the new template file overrides for child themes, coming in WordPress 2.7 next month.

Just a few

As I said earlier, these are just a few of the themes that I have noticed recently. There are many other excellent themes available which are great starting points for theme customization. Of course, every project is different, and no one theme is going to be absolutely perfect for all possible sites, so you have to look at the features to find the best fit for your purposes.

If you have done custom theme work before, what themes have you used, and why?

WooThemes - Made by Designers

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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46 Responses to WordPress themes for developers

  1. Pat says:

    This is either a child theme or a customized version of Agregado: http://boompa.ca/
    It’s one of the most impressive looking websites I’ve seen.

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  3. GoScript says:

    Gave a look on Garrington but when I click on a comment the theme simply breaks.
    Go to http://wp-themes.com/carrington-blog/ and click on a comments link. The theme will break.
    Comments show fine in the single post page, but not on the home page.

    Don’t know if it’s a general issues or is something wrong with way wp-themes changes the theme.

  4. Dougal says:

    @Pat: Nice find!

    @GoScript: Try the live demo at carringtontheme.com, instead. There must be something funky in the wp-themes setup for theme previews.

  5. GoScript says:

    I actually downloaded it myself and gave it a test. It works perfectly!

  6. remouk says:

    What about k2?

    I began with Sandbox, but switched to k2 when my theme broke a little after a Sandbox update. k2 has advanced features (via JavaScript / AJAX) that makes the difference to me.

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  8. Cristi says:

    Hi!

    I’ve just released my first child theme based on Thematic.
    You can check it out here: http://www.cozmoslabs.com/2008/10/25/byty-free-child-theme-built-thematic/

    Cheers!

  9. Dougal says:

    @remouk: I meant to mention K2, and I forgot to do it. If I remember correctly, K2 was somewhat of an inspiration for Sandbox’s class functions. Once upon a time, I came close to using K2 for this site. I’m glad to see that it is still getting updated, it’s another excellent theme for developers to start with!

  10. Pat says:

    A couple points:

    1. Any theme (excluding child themes) can be a parent theme. Simply call on the template files in your child theme’s css file.

    2. Child themes can also harness the power of the functions.php file, so you can include your own functions. This allows you to overwrite the parent theme’s hooks and filters, or add your own.

  11. Dulce says:

    I’m a fan of Thematic and Agregado. I’ll check out the rest of the compiled themes. Thank you for sharing.

  12. AsceticMonk says:

    Thanks for the list! I have discovered many interesting themes in this post.

  13. Coins says:

    Been thinking of changing the theme on my blog for some time now, and those are some really good recommendations you have there. One thing though, I noticed you mentioning that Thematic is SEO-friendly, does it really make a difference? If a theme is SEO friendly or not?

  14. Dougal says:

    @Coins: I suppose it depends on how important it is to you that people are able to find your site via search engines :)

    Making something “SEO-friendly” is mostly a matter of using POSH principles. But there are extra touches that can give just a little more edge — like putting the article title before the site name in your site title. And keep in mind that it can be really easy to create a design that is absolutely beautiful, visually, but would “look” like crap to a search engine.

    SEO is a fairly broad topic, and subject to various opinions, nit-picking, and voodoo. If you really want to find out more about it, there are plenty of good resources out there.

  15. Agregado is pretty as it is.

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  17. These themes have an added value as they have more than meets the eye as described here. Having a foundation that is friendly for developers put them in a different category from the regular themes that we compare to one another. I hadn’t known about that 960-pixel system that seems quite appropriate after looking at the site dedicated to it.

  18. Joni Mueller says:

    I’m currently giving mad props to Chris Pearson’s Thesis Theme. It’s a premium theme but it’s very carefully constructed so that web designers like myself can take the ball and run with it, and WP newbies can use the theme as is or use the theme’s dashboard interface to customize the layout, behavior and style of the theme without having to muck about in HTML and CSS code.
    http://diythemes.com/thesis/

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  22. Jason Penney says:

    Thanks for posting these. I’d been planning on migrating to Sandbox, but Carrington looks pretty interesting (and it seems to have the same/similar semantic classes to Sandbox).

    (hopefully this doesn’t post multiple times, I keep getting errors during the OpenID tranfer)

  23. Cesar Noel says:

    Nice list of WordPress themes for us Developers, I really liked Thematic though

  24. Miguel Angel says:

    Hello, i need some help, i am new in this and i am trying to change my sites theme and this message show when i click view site:
    Fatal error: Call to undefined function: language_attributes() in /home/www/planetapeninsula/wordpress2/wp-content/themes/aurora/header.php on line 2

    It seems that only the default theme can display, i will appreciatte any help about this issue!!!

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  26. Noon says:

    ? ????? ???? ?????? ???

  27. Web Talk says:

    thanks for sharing these infos. the only issue with these themes is that they are available to everybody so the risk for readers to find other blogs with the same theme is higher. i love sandbox because it is very flexible but i dont know anything about making a theme. Since i dont know how to make a them the only solution i had some month ago was to pay…sad but i cosnider it a little investment.

  28. Deryk Wenaus says:

    thanks for this informative post. Just warning to readers. Carrington is a very powerful theme, but it is not for the feint of heart. It takes a while to learn what exactly is going on, and simply changes often take a while as you go searching forever for the place to make the change. I suggest only using carrington theme on large sites that will have many many pages that need specific styling, then it is an awesome theme. But for small stuff, avoid it.

  29. Iula says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing this

  30. swodayskipido says:

    i want to share my free wordpress theme here.

    Preview:
    http://www.elegantthemes.com/preview/eVid/

    Download:
    http://www.sendspace.com/file/6uv0n2

  31. PrimePress is a very nice theme, I have been looking for a simple yet stylish theme for a local news blog I have been working on, this looks like a great fit. Thanks.

  32. Hardest Game says:

    Very nice themes.
    I’m a developer, so these themems will come in handy.
    Thanks for sharing.

  33. Hardest Game says:

    Not the prettiest themes ever, but great for seo.
    Thanks.

  34. Will definitely use some of those, thanks for sharing.

  35. sori says:

    I agree that Carrington theme is cutting edge, but for me, I still like the hooks adaptation in Thesis theme and believe that is where things will go in the future

  36. Aku Ankka says:

    These are great themes. Gotta bookmarkit for later use. Good work! I like that they are great for SEO too.

  37. Busby SEO says:

    Sandbox is a good theme for developers. But now there are so many great themes even free premium themes. I'm just a noobie to wordpress but I do like themes from Brian Gardner.

  38. Nice themes. If I use a theme though, I usually try to tweak it a little just so it doesn’t look like the same thing seen over and over.

  39. Nice theme. I am very new to this. I tried these themes for my site. It looks good. Very useful for my site. Thanks for the post

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  41. An old list, but a good list of wordpress themes from back in 2008!

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  43. I like the Thematic. Indeed a great theme! Looks great and is easy to work with. Slight learning curve but once you learn it you realize how truly customizable this theme is.

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