Custom WordPress design is one of the today’s hottest site management topics, despite the fact most users still prefer to skip coding and let someone else build and manage their sites for them.
This comes as no surprise, knowing how designers do the impossible to provide unique theme solutions packed with all features users can think of. To make matters even better, most of those themes are free, or at least reasonably priced.
At its core, each theme is a template. They are all developed to add value to as many users as possible, and it is because of this that they sometimes fail to meet our specific needs and expectations.
In cases like that, we’ll need at least some basic knowledge on how to customize WordPress themes, and fill up essential functionality gaps. For instance, we can use child themes to add little or large chunks of code to the main theme, and still preserve the option to update it the way we want.
All WordPress themes are units of several compatible files which work together to make our website function properly. Depending on the nature of these files, the user gets to apply simpler or more complex changes to his website’s appearance.
Certain website owners prefer to develop unique themes, both for personal usage and commercial distribution across directories and marketplaces. Custom WordPress website design is, however, necessary to every user and these are the reasons:
- To make their websites appealing and unique;
- To benefit from WordPress Loop, templates, and tags to produce different website looks and choose between them;
- To create alternative templates for specific functions and features, most of all search results and categories;
- To be able to switch between layouts and let owners further adjust the looks of their website.
These are the standards website owners should use when coding their themes:
- Standard, well-organized, error-prone, and valid PHP and HTML (check WP Coding Standards);
- Valid and clean CSS (check CSS Coding Standards);
- Keep in line with the basic Site Design & Layout Standards.
All WP themes are to be found in some of the subdirectories of your main WP theme directory (wp-content/themes/ by default), and cannot be moved out using only the wp-config.php file.
WordPress will give you default themes with each new installation, but make sure you examine its files in details to come up with ideas and build your own unique theme files.
The easiest way to do this is to create a child theme, as it only includes the style.css file, and images (if available). The reason why the process is so simple is that the parent theme has already provided all coding data necessary to complete it.
How to create a child WP theme
This is the first step you need to learn when creating a WordPress custom theme. As we already explained, child themes rely on the coding behind their parent themes and use as much of its functionality as they can. Your role in the process is to select the bits of functionality you need and to overwrite them in the desired way.
What should you do?
Open the wp-content/themes directory, and create a new folder inside. Choose a random name that you will remember, and add two files: functions.php and style.css.
Once done, compare the styles used in the child theme to the ones of the parent theme. For the purpose, developers used to include a stylesheet in the new theme, but the method is no longer recommended due to security reasons. Instead, you should embed the stylesheet of the parent theme inside the functions.php file.
Your new themes will appear on the Appearance tab on the admin’s dashboard, from where you can activate them and visit them front-end to see how they look. At first sight, child themes look exactly as their parent themes, as the parent themes are still in charge of managing their files, styles, and views.
Basically, the child theme inherits all functionality from its parent theme and will continue to do so until you’ve specified otherwise.
Here are the commonly used methods that help modify your theme’s functionality:
- Overwrite the entire file
- Add additional styles
- Apply hooks
Total rewriting is recommended in cases where the developer is interested in making structural adjustments, such as replacing elements or effects or removing some of the functionality. The simplest way to make small CSS changes, on the other hand, is to add additional styles. This will suffice to reposition the sidebar or to change the colour of your elements.
Using hooks is the most modular mechanism you can use to change your theme and allows you to adjust core functionality including image output and excerpt lengths. It is slightly more complicated than the other methods, but beginners shouldn’t worry because there are plenty of learning materials that can help them master it.
The only exception to these rules is the functions file, as this file won’t overwrite its parent theme’s functions by default. Instead, you should expect the content it is loaded with to affect the content of the parent as well.
For experienced users, WordPress’s admin panel offers a robust Customization page full of adjustment settings and options.
How to adjust your WP titles and taglines
The Customization Page is where you can edit the website’s title and tagline, and get an instant preview of how those changes would look on the actual website. To make this happen, widen the Site Title & Tagline settings section, and change the text inside. Simply type anything that comes to your mind, and click on the Preview button located on your right-hand side. Once you’ve done the changes you want, proceed by clicking on Save, and then on Publish.
How to customize your site’s front page
In general, WordPress gives users two front page option – to use a static one (single post) or a dynamic one where they will share the last posts and modify content. Again, the user can access the Customization Page, widen the Static Front Page tab, and choose the option he likes.
What WordPress does by default is to display all newest posts on the front page, but you can always switch to the static page option, and make an additional choice on which page/blog post should always appear on it. In both cases, the system lets you choose from all posts/pages you’ve published so far.