Customizing WordPress

08/06/2010

The casual WordPress user customizes their theme by selecting a theme, installing their choice of plugins, and perhaps hiring a designer to create a custom header image. This works for many people and there’s something to be said for tasteful minimalism.

With that being said, there are a number of ways that we can begin tapping into the power of WordPress on the path to mastery. Among these are the creation of child themes, the utilization of theme frameworks, and custom plugin development.

Child Themes

A WordPress child theme is a theme that inherits the functionality of another theme, called the parent theme, and allows you to modify, or add to, the functionality of that parent theme.1 In beginning child theme development, I would strongly recommend using WordPress’s new default theme, TwentyTen, as a base.

There are many excellent options from which to choose when beginning child theme development, but the functionality built into and supported by TwentyTen makes it a very inviting foundation. Plus, there are no shortage of quality, up-to-date tutorials on the web for making all kinds of customizations to it.

Theme Frameworks

This is among the fastest growing areas of WordPress right now, and with good reason: Theme Frameworks make it easy to make it easy to build highly functional and customized websites very quickly. Many have put quite a bit of work into providing options panels that let you change things like:

  • Site background color and image
  • Header image and content
  • Font options (typeface, size, color, etc)
  • Page layout templates

Many of these frameworks represent seven-figure businesses for their creators, and rightfully so. They have taken much of the grunt work out of building attractive, effective websites. Some theme frameworks are completely free, and others require a modest investment.

Popular free theme framework options include WP Framework, Thematic, and Theme Hybrid. Leading the commercial theme frameworks are the Thesis, Genesis, and Headway. Customers are fiercely loyal to their frameworks, so I leave the comparisons to people far smarter than I.

Plugin Development

Writing your own plugin is a remarkably easy undertaking. WordPress actually ships with a simple plugin called Hello Dolly that exists primarily to show how a simple plugin is coded. When activated, it displays a random lyric from the song in the administrative area of your site (i.e., not visible to your site’s visitors). Web Developer Andrew Norcross has created a modified version of this plugin called Get Snarky that displays funny quotes (primarily from Twitter).

An example of a simple plugin I created for Keppie Careers was one that displays testimonials from her clients and fades them out every few seconds. A remarkably small amount of code goes into writing a plugin, and I’d encourage everyone who’s serious about WordPress to begin developing them to make their jobs easier.

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