How I Chose My Theme: Bloggers Chime In

Personal tumblelogs. Portfolios. Front pages with post sliders. Templates for photographers. So many themes, so many choices. How do people decide on a theme?

We asked three users how they selected their themes:

  • Heather at 2 Summers, a photographer who decided it was time to change her theme after happily using Parament for two years — to the image-focused Gallery theme.

Go magazine-style with Oxygen

Polly’s blog, Happily Polly, is literally hot off the press. Launched in early April, she’s worked hard to build an eye-catching lifestyle blog, focused on healthy and happy living. She wanted a design to complement her varied topics, from recipes to DIY crafts to inspiration, and Oxygen was perfect for her needs.

“I love the design and feel of online magazines, so was immediately drawn to Oxygen,” says Polly. “The front page layout, particularly the slider, sealed the deal for me: it’s a brilliant way to show off your featured posts. It’s a very moldable, customizable theme; I’ve seen Oxygen used on different blogs and websites and am impressed with the uniqueness of each.”

We asked Blogging University 101 students to experiment with different themes. “I probably tried 80 percent of the themes available,” says Polly. “I’m particular in my style, and I had a clear vision of what I wanted my blog to look like. It needed to appear ‘theme-less’ — in other words, I wanted the design to wholly reflect my personality and style, and not come across so much as a stream of blog posts on a page.”

I wanted the design to wholly reflect my personality and style, and not come across so much as a stream of blog posts on a page.

Because Oxygen has many options, some users find the theme challenging to set up. “There is a learning curve for any theme, but especially so with one like Oxygen, where you have a lot of control,” says Polly. “Don’t be intimidated by its features; the reward will be a professional magazine-style blog. Also, do some research on a theme instead of jumping in blindfolded.”

For more on Oxygenlearn about its features, read tutorials, and search for discussions in the Themes Forum.

Customize your look-and-feel with Twenty Fourteen

Lindsey’s site, 101 Things to Do with Kids, focuses on activities for small children, from crafts to cooking to games. She wants a site that feels and looks fun, which she achieves with the splashes of orange and colorful header image.

As a participant in the Blogging University 201 challenge, focused on branding and traffic, Lindsey was asked to “audit” her brand and think about a design that will best showcase her content and represents who she is. Her previous theme, Craftywas certainly fun and playful.

“But I wanted something fun and professional, and I liked Twenty Fourteen‘s sleek look,” she says. The left and right sidebars offer space for widgets and social media links, providing all the real estate she needs to promote her work. While she liked the default black and green palette, she customized the color scheme with a Custom Design upgrade, and creates a cohesive look with the orange accent across her navigation menu and left sidebar.

For more information on Twenty Fourteen, visit the theme page, and see how users have customized it (as well as stripped it down).

Showcase your photography with Gallery

Heather, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, decided it was time to change her theme.

The old design of 2 Summers, using Parament.

The old design of 2 Summers, using Parament.

While I really loved Parament, I knew my blog had grown stale and it was time for a change,” says Heather. “So much in my life has changed over the last two years. Blogging has become a bigger part of my life, and I was ready to take it to another level. But my blog is also intensely personal, and I was emotionally attached to the old look. It took me a few months to let go.”

Blogging has become a bigger part of my life, and I was ready to take it to another level. 

Before she switched her theme, Heather’s friend Fiver had designed a fantastic new header for her site: a hand-drawn picture highlighting all the unique aspects of her life in Johannesburg. She wasn’t sure what her new theme would be, but she knew it had to showcase this new header:

With this element in place, Heather dove into the Theme Showcase to look for a theme. “Gallery caught my eye because of the large custom header space and the simple, clean gallery format on the homepage,” says Heather. “I hadn’t planned to buy a premium theme, but the moment I saw my new header in Gallery, I had to have it.” (You, too, can preview a header image in a premium theme in the Customizer.)

Heather wanted to display her photos boldly (at least 640 pixels wide), and the post format of Gallery fulfills this requirement. The ability to set featured images also allows her to showcase her best photos on the homepage. “A good post headline is so much more enticing when accompanied by a compelling photo,” she says.

Like this theme? For more, visit the Gallery theme page.

If you’d like to read more about themes, search our customization series of posts.

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  1. caseylove1985

    Most of my blog will be about photography (there will be other topics too) I needed a theme that is very simple, mellow.


  2. Allan G. Smorra

    When it comes to switching themes, how do you handle resizing/modifying headers or featured images from the previous theme? Does your Media Library transfer to the new theme?


    • Cheri Lucas Rowlands

      Hi Allan — yes, when you switch your theme, all of your content, including media, will still be there. But each theme’s dimensions and requirements are different, so if you’re currently using, for example, Twenty Fourteen, and then switch to Suits or McKinley, your header (or featured images) will be displayed differently. It’s importantly to either test out various design tweaks in the Customizer before switching — or in a test blog (a practice we recommend to users:


  3. Vanessa-Jane Chapman

    Polly’s done a great job with Oxygen! It’s a lovely theme, I used it with my second blog (a recipe one), but struggled a bit with getting it to look how I wanted – I should probably invest a bit more time in playing around with it! For my main blog I chose Coraline because I wanted something quite functional, where I could have the header I wanted, and also lots of widget space with the widget areas showing up on all the post pages and not just the home page.


  4. Little Miss Menopause

    Great examples and reasons to back up sound choices. I think I need to hire a “Dream Theme Team” to deem the cream (of the crop) because I can’t seem to choose. I wonder how many people let indecision, fear of change (or technology) influence their theme. Or just plain get stuck in a rut. Do you know how long I’ve lived with this carpet?! Thanks for this great featured topic.


  5. sweetangel

    Thanks for the great entry. When choosing themes, I always select themes that only show the title and the featured image so that the readers can have an overview of my blogs entries. Each of my entry is also very long, so I often just show the title or use the function “Read more”.


  6. Shane Francescut

    Absolutely fantastic examples Cheri, I really like all three, and the variety they show.

    I also can’t praise the Suites theme enough if you’re someone who is looking for a clean and simple photo displaying blog theme. It allows you to have a nice big custom header image, provides a clean and crisp menu bar across the top, and gives you just the right amount of space along the sidebar for you to showcase whatever widgets you desire.

    I love the ones here though, and put a lot of serious consideration into Oxygen before ultimately deciding on Suits.


  7. Sheila

    I agree, Cheri. I think all three look great, and simple to navigate, although I like Polly’s best, as I’m drawn to magazine styles.

    However, I’d like to put a bid in for Motif! I think it’s a really great theme for blogs with many pages or multiple authors. The grid-page feature displays multiple pages or authors, while looking so good and professional!

    I think I tried practically every free theme before finally settling on Motif, because of the grid pages. But I enjoy seeing how others put various themes to work for them, and these three did a great job. Great choices to include! Thanks!


  8. triciatallen

    I really liked Polly’s blog. It looks great. Impressive, especially since she only started about a month ago, around the same time I started my blog.

    I really like her header as well. Does anyone know about any free tools I could use to create my own customized header? Would love to get some feedback so I can improve my blog.


  9. christinamasterman

    Wow, you guys and gals are all so inspirational. Thank you WP community!


  10. Britt

    I picked Fruit Shake because its layout looks very, very similar to many of the CarePages offered by various hospitals. My “blogging” began as a shout out to friends and family about surgery schedules and casserole preferences, but after I was all better and had hair again, I didn’t need a CarePage, but didn’t want to lose my 200 lovely readers. Blogging U inspired me to change some widgets and colors (and even the name!), and maybe now I will be brave enough to try another theme. Thank you for all of these fun tips!


  11. Words We Women Write

    Cheri, THX for the header info above. I just started a new blog for poetry with the gorgeous McKinley theme. Now I’m curious about Gallery. I’m stumped, tho, can’t find the link to preview how it will look. Only activate and demo.


  12. teeceecounsel

    Funny enough, I always been going with default themes. Maybe with the thoughts shared here, I will begin to put more attention into selecting my themes.
    These themes are really lovely!


  13. Finlay Costello

    I chose a theme that gets to the point. Words; ignore everything else. 🙂


  14. simplybea94

    Hi! I just decided to change my theme to Fontfolio, from Chateux – but I want the curly writing as well as the awesome theme – how much does the custom design thing cost? It doesn’t say anywhere that it costs, or that it is free!


  15. Lee

    I chose my theme by a few ways: Does it cost money? What kind of limitations to personalizing my blog will I have? Will I be able to at least change the color to what I want without having to pay 30 dollars a year for something that should be free? The answer to that last question is usually a big fat no. I have yet to find a theme that meet my needs without it costing unnecessarily an arm and a leg so I work with what you have, which isn’t much.


  16. eskopoet

    I ended up choosing the Oxygen theme too, but I think that I use it in a different way. I don’t have any fancy, sliding, picture shows or anything like that on my home page. Maybe I should, maybe I shouldn’t? I don’t know… but either way, I think that the Oxygen theme lends itself to both a lot of simplicity, and complexity. I love it!


  17. PlayLegit

    I use ‘On Demand’. Itshows off Videos we share really nicely. -KJ


  18. cheesecake

    polly’s site now made me think of changing to oxygen 😀


  19. 2summers

    Thanks so much for featuring me, Cheri. I’ve had a lot of fun redesigning my blog and I really enjoy looking at how other people customize their blogs, too.


  20. Genesis Omega Dynamics

    This has really encouraged me!


  21. Catherine Hamrick

    Thanks for the great information. I need to switch from a heavy theme, but this gives me the confidence to do so. Great post.


  22. sowingmercy

    One of the most important elements for me is easy to read font, “white space” around the paragraphs. Not too much clutter.


  23. ujuh

    I experimented with Mystique, Misty Lake, Responsive, Pink Touch 2, and God know how many more before settling for Origin. I like Origin because of it’s cool responsive layout and it’s minimalistc giving my blog a cozy feel that lets my content shine.
    Works for me now until our marriage–my blog and I–starts to grow cold and i want to ignite more fire.


  24. ilovemummymost

    Thank you for featuring me Cheri. I have enjoyed blogging 101 and 201 and highly recommend them to all new and inexperienced users. Great fun and a great place to find new blogs to follow and new followers. Still getting to grips with everything but loving every minute. :-)x


  25. epicaldragon13

    I love my blog theme, I had to pick the perfect one before I could start posting! I think Runo Lite is great for me as it just like a notebook, so perfect for my drawings, stories and poems. However I had to look through loooaaads of other themes to finally agree it was the one.


  26. ggh

    I recently wanted to upgrade my Smugmug portfolio page and looked at a number of WordPress themes. The recently promoted Visual theme was perfect (and free was a nice price!). I love how it displays all my photos, art, painting, thoughts, etc. in such a beautiful way including a continuous scroll on the home page. I changed the background color and finally understood how to nest the menus into dropdown lists. I also love the themes by Graph Paper Press and used their Fullscreen template for my site photoblog site.


  27. Polly Hayes

    Thank you Cheri for featuring me! I’m loving being a part of the WordPress community so far – I never really considered blogging would be so social, but now I feel like it’s one of its biggest features! Can’t wait to build my blog further now.


    • FruB

      Love all three blogs! I started out with Traveler, but changed to Ubud, Ubud seemed a little more fresh in a way;) Since I am traveling I really want a minimalistic theme that shows my photos from places I visit and what I do. Allways good inspiration to see how other bloggers select their theme.


  28. Rekha

    I chose Twenty Fourteen, after experimenting with most of the free themes on WordPress. But my reasons were different from Lindsey. I need a three column format because I want to put in my book reviews without disturbing the flow of the main articles. The good reads widget with the link allows me to do just that. I also loved the ability to bring back old popular posts to the front page using the Featured Post option. The option to have a feauted image above each post without the hassle of positioning or resizing cinced the deal for me. I know there’s an option to put in a video on the right sidebar but have not experimented with it yet.
    The only catch with this format was unline my previous one , (Chateau), I am unable to provide a concise view of previous articles.


  29. Marcella Rousseau

    I chose Bueno because it was your most popular theme at the time, but also because it showcased the most photos and I wanted my blog to be able to show a lot of photos, especially one at the top of the page because I wanted something eye-catching in case someone stumbled upon my blog by accident and it caught their eye.


  30. Essential skincare

    Mine definitely needs a makeover now! I’m so glad I came across this, thanks!


  31. Margie

    I chose the Spirit theme, then customized it with the CSS upgrade. It no longer looks like Christmas! I chose Spirit because it is a Responsive Theme with the Comment Icon at the bottom of the page (so readers don’t have to go back to the top of the page before they can leave a comment!) I liked the falling snow, but with CSS and some photoshop magic, I can make anything fall! It has a nice size header that doesn’t overwhelm the page.


  32. Kathleen R

    I found the look for a new theme to be overwhelming. I didn’t think of what I really wanted my blog to do. I just got sucked in by the cool glitzy prototypes. Once I finally found a theme I liked, I began to see my priorities. Luckily Word Press works with us indecisive writers and we can exchange a theme within 30 days if it is not working for us. I didn’t realize, until remodeling my own blog, how important a side bar is to me.


  33. Ms. Roberts

    I’ve used about 90% of the themes on WordPress. Almost every two weeks or so I feel like a new blogger need to change things up!


  34. Eve M. Cooper

    I specifically looked for a theme with black font. I look at a computer 9 + hours a day and my eyes get really tired. Black font is easier for me to read than gray font. People who do not have tired eyes may not even notice that most font is a shade of gray. Trust me though, if your eyes are strained and hurting, gray font is not your friend. Other than that, I would like a neat border or some geometric shapes but that is secondary to the type of font in a theme.


  35. art

    Can I achieve the Twenty Fourteen look without having to upgrade my site?


  36. Cheri Lucas Rowlands

    You can read about customization on our Support site, with more details on the process of browsing/changing themes on our Learn tutorial site.


  37. urright2no

    Thanks for all the input on themes. I’m in my first week and I am second guessing everything. I chose Bouquet because of its simplicity and beautiful colors. Now after reading this posts I see there are other things I need to consider. Thanks a lot.


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