Every WordPress site uses a theme to control the design of the website. It manages the style including the colours, fonts and layout. Some WordPress themes are free, but it is also possible to pay 3rd parties for WordPress themes. Paid themes may offer styles that you prefer or include options which make it easier for you to customise the design to create a layout or overall style that you prefer.
WordPress provides a free theme, built by the same team that builds the software. This is often referred to as the “Core Theme” and it’s name is usually based on it’s year of release. The current core theme is called Twenty Twenty. This free theme is fully responsive, which means that it displays your site properly on desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile phones and works perfectly with WordPress.
In the past, WordPress and it’s core themes didn’t offer much flexibility. Thankfully this has now changed. The latest version of WordPress and the Twenty Twenty theme includes a lot of options to help you create a website design which suits your content and reflects your chosen style.
The Block Editor
WordPress now includes a block editor which allows you to easily insert different types of content to your WordPress posts and pages. This will also allow you to control the layout by using columns. This is a fairly new introduction to WordPress and means that you can easily manipulate the look of your site. The block editor now allows site owners to do things on WordPress sites, that could previously only be achieved by using a site builder plugin, buying a paid theme or by learning to write code.
Widgets are a standard WordPress feature which have existed for many years and can be found in the Appearance Menu on the WordPress Dashboard. They allow you to easily insert certain pieces of content such as a search bar or a list of previous WordPress posts. Widgets can only be added to specific widget areas such as the Footer or Sidebar and those areas are decided by the developer that created the theme.
Paid themes have traditionally offered a bigger selection of widgets and a wider range of widget areas than the standard core themes. The current list of standard WordPress widgets and the new block editor now allows you to easily do many of these things with the core Twenty Twenty theme.
Paid Themes and Design Plugins
As most commercial themes are very focused on purely how things look, they often generate code which does not follow best practice for producing websites that are accessible and suitable for all users. Anybody using assistive technology to visit your site, may be affected by this.
Plugins and paid themes, containing built in style frameworks or page builders, such as Elementor, Divi or Genesis will always add extra code to your website. This usually makes your website files bigger and can make your website harder for people to use. They almost always increase the time it takes each page to load and use more data than a lightweight website, which is a big problem for people looking at your site on a mobile phone.
Digital Practices Websites
The websites you are building for this course are private and can only be seen by people accessing the University network, but if this was a public website and you wanted more people to find it, slow page loading is one of the issues that search engines like Google, view as a negative and would make them less likely to display your website in their search results.
If you decide to use a different theme for your WordPress site, it is important to make sure that it doesn’t cause any problems for your site. Any theme that requires you to pay for an annual subscription, add multiple plugins or update your server settings, is almost certainly not suitable for this project. The Twenty Twenty theme, which is already installed on your site, will do everything you need for this unit.
Unnecessary code will make your webpages take longer to open, which provides a negative experience for your website visitors. Spending money on a complicated theme or expensive plugins will not get you a better grade for this project and if they affect the performance of your website or make it harder for people to use, you may even lose some marks.
The priority for your new WordPress site is your content, so please don’t add unnecessary plugins or choose flashy themes, which slow down your website and don’t add any value.