WordPress Themes Explained

This tutorial explains what WordPress themes are, what makes WordPress themes unique, and the benefits of using WordPress themes to improve the design of your website or blog.

Themes - An OverviewThe development of advanced web site management systems like the WordPress CMS platform has effectively simplified web design and web development for non-technical users.

This is a great thing for entrepreneurial-minded people planning to start a web presence that they can fully manage.

Prior to blogging and the introduction of easy-to-use content management systems, if you needed to get a web site built for your business, you normally had to wait until both the website development and website design processes were completely done. This process could take weeks, sometimes even many months!

WordPress themes changed all this. In this article, we explore what WordPress themes are, how they save your business money on website design costs, and how themes make it easy to customize your site.

Web Design Revolution

More businesses today are benefiting from a tremendous change in website design that started several years ago. If you are a business owner, you will want to learn more about this, because it could save you a lot of time and money on website development and web design costs.

In a nutshell, this is how things typically worked in “traditional” web design before WordPress came along:

First, you would meet with a website developer or web designer for a brief. After this, the “web design” itself would be decided upon. This meant spending time and money with a professional website designer discussing areas of the site like the, colors, styles, graphic elements, content, etc.

Each page of your web site then had to be hand-coded with all the design elements and scripts coded around the content. All of the pages were then assembled together into a website using links and navigation menus and uploaded to your server, along with all other files needed to make your website work – script libraries, images, media, etc.

Themes - An Overview

(image source:adobe.com)

Only after everything passed testing and functioned the way it was intended to (and looking how a client had wanted it to look), was the site deemed to be completed and ready to go live.

Then, web design “templates” came along”. A website template allows design elements of the website to be worked on separately from content on the page. The introduction of templates helped to make developing websites faster and resulted in lowered production costs. This also allowed web development firms to work with business clients with less money to spend …

Themes - An Overview

(image source: www.dreamweaver-templates.org)

As more small businesses began choosing “template-based” websites, web templates were introduced that offered clients with various customizable settings, like colour palettes, the ability to specify different menu styles, formats, elements, page layouts, and so on.

As web sites and web building applications evolved, web templates also began to evolve into web template ”systems”, which enabled website owners and website developers to control their site’s visual elements.

And then, WordPress was introduced and helped to kick off a new content management revolution …

Understanding WordPress Themes

(WordPress – A Content Publishing Revolution)

To learn more about content management systems and the benefits of the WordPress CMS, see the tutorial below:

The WordPress Theme

WordPress themes drive website templating systems much further.

A WordPress theme controls every aspect of your web site design. It allows you to add a “skin” over your site much like a website template system does but it gives you complete control over the management, appearance and customization aspects of template features.

According to the official WordPress site …

A WordPress Theme is a collection of files that work together to produce a graphical interface with an underlying unifying design for a weblog. These files are called template files. A Theme modifies the way the site is displayed, without modifying the underlying software. Themes may include customized template files, image files (*.jpg, *.gif), style sheets (*.css), custom Pages, as well as any necessary code files (*.php).

(source: WordPress.org)

As stated in the quote above, one of the unique and revolutionary features of WordPress is that the way your site looks to visitors externally is a different thing from the management of your content.

In plain English terms, what this means is that you can modify the design of your site as much and as often as you like without affecting your site’s content and all the work you’ve put into it. For example, if you have set up your website for e-commerce, changing the entire look of the site with a different theme won’t affect the content or the functionality of the site. All e-commerce features, site settings and product information will remain unaffected, but your site will look completely different.

This is huge! Why?

Because when you use WordPress, you no longer need to wait until your website’s design is completed. You can get your business website built simply and start with any WordPress theme you like, and then completely modify the look, feel and design of your website in minutes, whenever you decide … and as often as you like!

Even better, you can easily install a theme on your site without needing any website code programming skills. Just pick any theme you want, install it on your site and activate it. WordPress lets you change your entire site’s web design and customize elements like header images, page layout, style settings and more with just a couple of mouse clicks …

Understanding WP Themes

Since WordPress is open source software, website designers can design themes specifically for the WordPress platform using the WordPress template system.

This means that loads of great WordPress themes can be downloaded by WordPress users. Themes are generally distributed as Free Software under the terms of the GNU General Public License Definition, or sold as Premium (i.e. paid) themes.

The WordPress team maintains a FREE directory of WP themes which allows WordPress users to download, access and install thousands of great themes at no cost …

Understanding Themes

(WordPress.org – WordPress Theme Directory)

As WordPress becomes more popular, more designers are now focused on creating themes for a wider range of uses.

Themes vary from functional-looking, to designs that are visually breathtaking and could typically cost thousands of dollars to design. Surprisingly, most themes can be bought fairly cheaply, especially when you compare the price to what you would have had to pay if a website designer had to develop it from scratch.

You can see a number of theme galleries containing stunning examples of great themes here:

Browse Thousands Of FREE WordPress Themes!

(Browse Thousands Of FREE WordPress Themes!)

WP Themes – Benefits And Advantages

Here are just some of the many benefits and advantages of using WordPress themes over using tools that require traditional website design:

Really Easy To Install

WP themes are very easy to install on your site. Just upload a zip file containing the plugin to your Plugins folder via your dashboard and activate. Even easier still, you can install any of the themes listed in the WP theme directory at WordPress.org) directly from your WP site’s admin area.

Themes - An Overview

Additionally …

  • WordPress has a growing community of commercial theme developers and development companies who make thousands of excellent WordPress Themes available to users. Thousands of these themes are 100% free to use!
  • Themes give sites a unified and consistent look across all the site’s elements, like pages, headers, footers, layout, etc …
  • A “theme” works independently of your site’s content. This makes it possible to swap themes as often as you want without disturbing your blog’s underlying data.
  • Many themes come with built-in features and options that enable you to customize the theme’s layout and design elements to create a unique look to suit your preferences.
  • Many themes are built using a framework that enables you to update the theme to newer versions without losing its unique customizations (e.g. styles)
  • WordPress allows you to search, upload and install WordPress Themes automatically right within your site’s administration interface.
  • Themes lets you save hundreds, even thousands of dollars on website design costs. Free themes cost nothing and most “Premium”WP themes are normally very inexpensive.

Responsive Theme Design

Many theme designers are now developing “responsive” WordPress themes.

A responsive theme allows websites to automatically readjust screen size to display smoothly over different screen sizes and resolutions, as well as different devices (e.g. laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc.) …

WordPress Themes - An Introduction

Responsive themes are also optimized for each platform. Users can scroll, read and load the site on most devices without having to resize anything, or requiring the website owner to install additional display elements.

Note: When downloading WordPress themes, it’s a good idea to choose a responsive WordPress theme. Not only will the theme ensure that your web site will work correctly across all devices, but it also means that the theme is newer than most non-responsive themes and therefore should comply with the latest standards and practices of website design.

We hope that this basic overview has given you a clearer understanding about themes, what WP themes are, how themes help you and your business save money on website development costs, and how WP themes make customizing websites easy.

In the next blog post in our article WordPress newbies on basic features and functionality of WordPress, we show you where to search for great themes for your website.


"Wow! I never knew there's so much to learn about WordPress! I bought one of the WordPress for Dummies three years ago, such authors need to be on this course!" - Rich Law, Create A Blog Now

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Author: Martin Aranovitch

Martin Aranovitch is the founder of WPCompendium.org and the author of The Small Business Digital Manager. WPCompendium.org provides hundreds of FREE detailed step-by-step tutorials that will teach you how to use WordPress to grow your business online at minimal cost with no coding skills required!

Originally published as WordPress Themes Explained.