John Gough: You Can Make Templates Look Good

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October 27, 2016

Here’s the tl;dr version: you can make an off-the-shelf theme look as good as a fully custom design if you know what you’re doing. We can safely say that most people who use WordPress have used a consumer template at some point. Some use them build a personal site, make a few modifications, and never touch it again. Freelancers and agencies set new templates up on a monthly or weekly basis for clients. There are WordPress developers whose main source of income is from templates they’ve developed and sold through sites like ThemeForest or Template Monster. Using a prebuilt theme has huge advantages: time savings for developers by using prebuilt CMS features, client confidence from knowing beforehand how a site will look and behave, and user-friendly interfaces that have often been tested and improved over multiple versions. But despite their ubiquity, there is plenty of resistance to using templates. Many clients and designers think that a site that “looks like a template” is cheap, unrefined, and should be inexpensive – regardless of how much time was invested into feature development or customizations. So how do you get the benefits of using a theme, and still satisfy your freelance clients and website’s visitors with a unique, fresh design? In this talk we’ll go through the major hurdles and show you how to overcome them with confidence: – What does a “template-y” site even look like? We’ve heard that feedback before. We may have even said it as we surfed the web. But what styles, elements, fonts, colors, or UI patterns are distinctly “template-y”? Knowing is half the battle. – How to choose the “best” template for your project Most people browse template sites looking for something that looks like the site they want to build, but that’s the wrong approach. A prebuilt theme is a tool, first and foremost, and you wouldn’t buy a saw based on the color of the blade. You pick the right tool for the job. – The right kind of planning “Well begun is half done” Aristotle famously said. Once you’ve picked a theme and are familiar with its capabilities and limitations, you can plan based on what’s possible, rather than trying to make a site that fits into the demo layout. Let’s talk about how to do that in a modular, time-saving way. – Let’s talk specifics We’ve talked about what not to do, and how to get started off on the right foot. Now we’ll go through side-by-side comparisons using real templates to show you how common components can be used to deliver outstanding results. By the end of the talk, you’ll be able to sit confidently down in front of your next project with a better approach to planning and design, and produce a better website. Wow your clients! Impress your friends! And keep all the time-saving benefits of an excellent prebuilt theme, but don’t sacrifice how it looks or performs.

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