It’s been a bit longer since my last Project WordPress post.  Holidays, work, & other excuses kept getting in the way of blogging.

Back on track, and I’ll post a bit about theme selection.  Theme selection is obviously personal, so this post is intended more to introduce theme elements the webmaster should be aware of when selecting or designing a new theme.

Variable (fluid) vs. Fixed Width isn’t unique to WordPress design, but it’s an element that is fairly important when choosing your design.  Fixed width themes have a standard pixel width that doesn’t deviate based on screen resolution.  GeekEstate is a fixed width theme.  If you shrink your window size, you’ll see that you start losing elements of the site.  Variable width will fit any screen size (to a point.)  Fluid Blue is an example of a nice variable width theme.  As you minimize the screen, it automatically fits.  Fair warning: Fixed width is much easier to design, so there are many more fixed width options available.

Site width: If you’ve chosen a fixed width theme, it’s time to choose how wide you would like.  This should be dictated by common screen resolution.  You’ll notice that, as technology matures, websites typically get wider.  Many older websites & wordpress themes were designed to accommodate 800X600 screens.  That size monitor (in my opinion) has effectively become obsolete, so most themes are typically built for 1024X768 screens.  The width is the most important element to note, as any user can scroll up & down.  It’s a good idea to check browser statistics and decide what % of users you’re willing to lose in order to provide a better experience for the rest.  Personally, I stop supporting a user group after it falls below 5% (come on IE6!!!)

Widget Ready Sidebars: This is a fantastic feature of WordPress that was introduced some time ago, so I would recommend avoiding any theme that’s not widget ready.  These allow you to easily customize your sidebars by dropping widgets…which we all know do really cool things.

1, 2, 3 Column (or template options): You see little to no 1-column WordPress templates, but plenty of 2 & 3 column designs.  A little used and powerful feature in WordPress is “page templates” which allow you to choose, well, different templates when adding pages.  I’ve incorporated this into my designs, and you can see a 2-column template here, and a 3-column template on the blog page.  Bear in mind that your blog posts will always be composed in the “default” template, so you will want to decide 1, 2, or 3 column as your default.

Advanced Features: Many premium WordPress themes offer advanced features in the backend.  Agentpress (and Revolution) offer home page widgets that provide a robust index page.  Other themes allow you to easily upload banner slideshow images, change color schemes, and change the default column count.

While there are many, many more personal choices to make when choosing a new theme, these core decisions should be at the top of your list.  However, the best part about WordPress is, if you don’t like the theme you just chose, you simply find another!