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.


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 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 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


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,, 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 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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