What Are Your Theme Standards?


On a thread within the WPTavern forum, there is an interesting discussion taking place among some prominent theme authors on creating a theme standards system. The initial idea is to create a standards system which would give theme authors a goal to shoot for. However, as the discussion has progressed, it’s easy to see that this entire idea of rating themes or putting together a set of standards is a complex problem.

So after reading through that thread, I thought it would be a good idea to tap into the WordPress community to figure out what is most important to you when it comes to using a theme? Is it price, license, design, usability, functionality, or something else?




  1. Ryan Burrell (1 comments.) says:

    I think it depends on what you’re wanting them theme for. If you’re a publisher, you’re probably looking for price, usability, features, and the aesthetics (not necessarily in that order).

    If you’re a designer, you’re probably looking for something that can be easily skinned to apply your own tweaks and changes, or recycled as your own homegrown theme.

    If you’re a developer, you probably want something that is put together well, since you’ll probably be hacking it to bits for your own mad-scientist experiments.

    Myself, since I’m a combination of all of these… I go for a theme that is more framework-esque in approach, so that I can change it with ease and truly make it my own.

  2. Eurico Leite (1 comments.) says:

    You know, it’s hard to think that way. I wouldn’t mind having a theme with a great design and a fantastic functionality.

    The problem is, the best the design is, the worst the usability is.

    For example, WP-Smashing is an awesome theme however, it’s hard to manage.

    I think it’s better to everyone be original and customize their own theme as they like. If you like it, you like it. The blog is yours :)

  3. Danny Brown (9 comments.) says:

    Has to be functionality for me. Price is less important – I’ll happily pay a little extra to get more functions. It’s one of the reasons I use Chris Pearson’s Thesis theme – great foundation to build from.

  4. jr (1 comments.) says:

    One thing I notice about themes is that they are mostly about aesthetics and graphics. Ok, maybe that’s the point of themes. But what I’d like to see more of is functionality options. For example, blogger has the option to place text boxes in the blog column. Maybe WP can do that, but I haven’t run across it yet. Different themes might work better with different functionality like that. Then maybe this stuff belongs to the plugins and not the themes.

    How about some AJAX?

  5. 0p0 (2 comments.) says:

    I’d say in this order:

    1 – Usability.
    2 – Functionality.
    3 – Design.

  6. Babs (42 comments.) says:

    Design is my first priority. My blogs are mostly text, so I need something spiffy to counteract the monotony of the words. I particularly love themes that encourage the end user to further customize them, easily, and make them their own.

    Functionality/usability is next. I have been through a number of pretty themes lately whose designers omitted a feature that I thought was not only important, but common among most themes. I also think it’s VERY important that themes get tested thoroughly before they are released into the wild.

    Price: Free is good. In fact, many “freeware” programs are proving that free is often better. I don’t want to discourage that movement. :) If I love a theme author’s work and have the cash to spare, I will attempt to show my appreciation with a donation — at least.

  7. Darran (9 comments.) says:

    Design has to be the first thing to consider though I am very bad in that area. If a theme is not visually pleasing to the eye even in the case of a minimalist one, it is not going to gather much attention.

    I feel accessibility has been left out here. We always try to get our designs validating as XHTML Strict, and there is a reason for that. This is one of the most important thing in a good theme.

    Usability is next. It needs to be simple to use without having to be technical. A good readme and perhaps maybe some admin options would be great to have.

    I do not really believe in paid themes, unless of course it is custom made for a certain site. Themes should be free and must stay that way.

    Functionality is an add on, it is not crucial but it would be nice to have and separates your theme from other similar ones.

  8. Jarrett (2 comments.) says:

    For me, as a writer, themes themselves must be clean in design, offer functionality without complexity, and allow for personalization/customization.

    Writers know that their blogs are about the words and the content therein as opposed to photoblogs that focus strictly on visuals. More often than not, themes tend to try and be everything to everyone. Few succeed in doing that, but the vast majority fail.

    The other key to a successful theme is the designers should be able to take constructive feedback. I see lots of themes that have potential “if this was added”, “if this was changed”, et al. Unfortunately themes tend to be extensions of egos and when feedback is given, the ego is bruised and the theme suffers unless someone else pick it up and works the code.

    I will gladly pay a reasonable (keyword) fee if the theme surpasses my expectations and/or needs. The same goes for freebies – I will be more than happy to offer a donation to support the designer’s efforts. Obviously the latter route is more preferable, but the former is never completely ruled out.

  9. jane (2 comments.) says:

    What a great question. Here’s what I want in a theme:

    1) The ability to easily customize, including header, color, sidebars.
    2) SEO friendliness.
    3) Elegant, easy to read typefaces – no tiny fonts.
    4) *Some* support, whether in a forum or in manual form.
    5) A theme I can update without losing my customizations.
    6) Features that make my text stand out, like pull quotes and well-designed block quotes.
    7) I’d love for a designer to come up with a way to post two photos side by side easily.

    • Babs (42 comments.) says:

      I so agree with you on number 5!

      I even had a theme that had the ability to create a separate stylesheet, to supposedly prevent that from happening. When I upgraded the theme it was gone!

  10. George Serradinho (107 comments.) says:

    Hi there,

    I don’t mind paying for a theme if I think the theme would be easy to use and customize. Theme developers must always keep an open mind when it comes to designing, make it easier for the user to use, modify and enhance the theme.

    I have a paid theme and the admin side of things is all encoded. I can’t see what they did or change anything. I have to ask for it to be release in the next version and that creates headaches for myself and others using the theme.

    You also forgot to mention good theme support, this is a must if you create themes. If there is no support, then I’m sure many will move over to other themes.

  11. Cristian (1 comments.) says:

    Design and usability. I like nonstandard presentation, but, also the theme has to use standard methods to present data (i.e. no tinkering with custom fields). And, most important, I don’t like themes that break plugins or viceversa.

  12. Ajay (209 comments.) says:

    For me it has always been about looks followed by the ease of modifying the code for fitting in all the features that I need.

    I avoid heavy themes with tonnnes of features I will never use

  13. Ben Clapton (2 comments.) says:

    When I think of a set of “standards” I see it as a minimum set of conditions that must be met. With that sort of thinking in mind, you’re then looking at having things such as (from the top of my head):
    1: Certain minimum files – of course, index, single and page files are essential, but should we also include search, 404 and archive pages as a required part of the standard? What other pages?
    2: CSS Standards Compliance – I think the CSS file should comply with W3C standards. Perhaps also there could be a naming scheme: do you use #right or #nav for the right navigation column?
    3: Top 10 plugins should work seamlessly – it would be impossible to test every plugin available for wordpress. However, testing to ensure that at least the top 10 most popular plugins from the wordpress repository work seamlessly I think should be part of the standards. It may be just testing, or incorporating them into the theme design so that it just works. A lot of them at the moment deal with the admin side, but the few that are visible on the site should be incoroprated into the design.
    4: Media compatibility: sites should have on top of their normal stylesheet, a print and mobile stylesheet to ensure compatibility in most situations.

    could probably be a few more but that’s just what i’m thinking of atm

    • RaphaelDDL (1 comments.) says:

      I liked the post you made. But i have some opinions that may be a little different.

      1) Totally agree. More pages, best the theme is because shows the author that it cares about the styling of different parts of your website. And for those that don’t have knowledge to make the loops and else, more pages with more code are always better.

      2) I think a little different. While i agree that a theme must have a CSS that comply with W3C (and by the way, i think the HTML markup it’s more essential than CSS because of SEO related problems), i don’t think have to be a standard for the id/class of the things. Each developer do the id in his own twisted (lol) way. For some, will make sense, for others, not. Im totally for id with decent names like #Content, #Header etc and not weird names such as #h-124,#wp-head-2 etc. Have to be a common sense of names and thats all.

      3) That’s a good suggestion! I’ll start testing the top 10 plugins in my new themes.

      4) In this aspect, i think that when it’s a free theme, it’s up to the developer. But when selling a theme, this media types have to be sold separately, as add-ons. Because theming for mobile (specially when we test in Opera Mini, iPhone and DS/PSP) it’s a pain in the ass. And the print… well, depending of the theme complexity, may be a little boring to make. So, selling as add-ons is what i do.
      And i do the same with #2. CSS comply always. But xHTML strict or transitional, tableless or made with tables, etc, this kind of things i show the pros and cons to the client and it picks the one suit’s best for him in price/usability.

      If a guy just want a simple theme to post poems, if he got no cash, why should i lose a bigger part of my time making a tableless, testing in multiple browsers, making IE hacks when needed and else when i can just use that dreamweaver crap to make some weird tables? It’s always up to the client’s need and will to pay.

  14. Rajesh Narayanan (2 comments.) says:

    I’ll say it would be:
    1. Aesthetics
    2. Customizability
    3. Load time; guess this also depends on what plugins you use, but just taking the plain theme here.
    4. Support

    Any theme that can provide all the above 4 consistently (despite the number of upgrades it goes through) would be preferred by me.

  15. Jack Kennard (1 comments.) says:

    I like Ryan’s answer. Everyone looks at each instance(whether it’s in the same site or not) a little differently.

    When I first read Standards, w3c validation came to mind. But now I think you mean formulating a commonality between themes. This is a great goal and I think WordPress maybe a little young right now. There are many more mutations ready to take place, soon. WordPress is doing a great job adding new stuff. One of the major widgets I use now is Text. As simple as this widget is it’s a great addition, I no longer have to add code to the sidebar_?.php and could be an easy way to add a widget inside a widget.

    One of the plugins I use now formats the content in html+css+php. How ever I would like to get more people in my office adding info to the site so an easy and familiar palate(like Word) would be great. So maybe a different content layout for posts would be helpful.

    Where I am having trouble: Plugins in WordPress mu & buddypress. Maybe I’m asking to much right now, but this would be a great help.

    Haven’t even mentioned design or features yet. That will be another day. back to work.

  16. Hikari (79 comments.) says:

    1. Usability
    2. follow W3C standards and well implemented features like titles on anchors, alt on pics, etc
    3. dynamic width
    4. well organized and commented PHP, XHTML and CSS code, so that it is easy to customize
    4. native support for most needed plugins, like WordPress Threaded Comments, optimal title, SEO plugins, etc
    5. nice menu with support to nested links
    6. nice and original colors

  17. Ophélie (1 comments.) says:


    When I use a theme I appreciate when :
    1) there are two columns or columns can be easily modified
    2) theme is easily configurable and/or can be modified easily (proper templates and not X templates for same functionalities)
    3) a nice design
    4) loading time : a nice design but not ajax and js everywhere !

  18. Jorge says:

    i’ve put all my “theme standards” including print css, rss links, etc. into a simple frame and restyle it each time for deployment…

    there are some things i noticed should be standards but it’s quite subjective when it comes to the function or the purpose of the site/blog, best wishes

  19. Microsoft Guy (13 comments.) says:

    To me, design, usability, and functionality are the 3 most important key elements to the user in terms of a theme itself. You want a great design to be proud of and for people to like. You want it to be usable and efficient. And you want to it to function rather than just look good.


  1. blognews (blognews) (104 comments.) says:

    [planet wordpress]: Weblog Tools Collection: What Are Your Theme Standards?: On a thread with..

  2. stcwdc (STC Washington, DC) (1 comments.) says:

    Theme developers discuss standards. What is important to you: price, license, design, usability, functionality…?

  3. RaphaelDDL (Raphael DDL) (1 comments.) says:

    What are you theme standards? Nice place to chat about that ;P

  4. prothemer (ProThemer) (1 comments.) says:

    What Are Your #wp Theme Standards? Love that the discussions around this has increased – much needed!

  5. tessneale (Tess Neale) (1 comments.) says:

    What Are Your #wp Theme Standards? Love that discussions around this has increased – much needed! (via @prothemer)


  1. […] Es wäre vielleicht auch interessant, mal auf (Qualitäts-) Kriterien einzugehen. Eine interessante Diskussion in diese Richtung läuft derzeit unter What Are Your Theme Standards? […]

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