Developers

A Definitive Guide to Become a Perfect WordPress Theme Developer

A Definitive Guide to Becoming a Perfect WordPress Theme Developer

A nicely coded WordPress theme can earn you millions (See: Avada on Theme Forest) and get your work attention (See: Featured themes on WordPress.org).

Now that you can see what the proverbial carrot looks like, you are probably wondering about the stick.

Good news: there is no stick.

The thing with WordPress development is that it doesn’t require you to come up with everything. All you need to do to code the perfect theme is to pay due attention to and use the native WordPress functions and APIs.

Here’s what the ideal theme (on any platform) should have/be, in order of relevance:

  • Performance
  • Clean, SEO-friendly Markup
  • Easy to navigate
  • Stunning

(It should also be responsive and WordPress upgrade friendly, but we should all know that by now.)

Looks like a challenge? It can be, but it’s also easy once you get the hang of it. As a professional WordPress developer, I can put my experience to use in order to walk you step-by-step through the process of brainstorming to sketching and finally coding the perfect WordPress theme.

Note: This article is intended for those who have more than a passing familiarity with WordPress API, taxonomies, metadata, etc. and more than a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and MySQL, along with any associated script libraries. If you don’t fully understand what JSON means, this article isn’t for you.

Okay developers, now you start the brainstorming of an idea:

The Goals

final-goalAsk yourselves this: what is your objective as the theme author. Clients, Money, Fame, or All of the above? Great. Make a note of it and paste it somewhere it will be readily visible.

“I am making a theme that will blow every other ‘top-selling’ theme out of the water.”

This may seem flimsy, but you’ll find yourself forgetting your initial goals (it happens to all of us). While evolving is okay, it is also time consuming and you may end up at the extreme end of a tangent that doesn’t even look like it’s related to the one you had in mind.

If you are working as a hired WordPress developer on a theme for a client, replace ‘you’ with ‘the client’.

The Users

target-audienceWe have made user-centric design more than a vague concept, so much so that every web developer swears by UX and UI today, with or without actually understanding the meanings and differences between the two terms.

As a theme developer, you should pay some attention to your intended audience/users. How old are they (‘the majority’)? What kinds of devices are they using to browse the net (For example: Millenials are more likely to use mobile phones, tablets, and everything in between)? What would they need your theme for, basically: the industry/category/genre you’re designing a theme for and the kind of audience that website has?

This would help you come with an interface that’s both usable and likable (for users of your theme as well as the website that runs on your theme).

Jot these points down. They will help shape your theme and decide what elements you’ll be adding to your theme.

The Resources

You should have a realistic idea of your tools and knowledge, as well as the time you have on hands.

This will help you draw a limit around your development process, keep you from getting distracted, and help you decide a workflow.

Now that we’ve fine tuned the idea, we’re ready to work on:

  • The Design
    Make sure your design is:

    • Original: It should look original and unique, even if it is built on the same trends as everybody else is getting behind. Instead of copying blatantly from a single theme, use bits and pieces: this effect, that slider placement, some font you liked, etc. etc. from a bunch of themes you like and mix and match them in your own unique way. The more different you are, the better are your chances of getting noticed.
    • Stunning and Polished: No-one wants a choppy theme for their website. Whether you are working with retina-ready cards or ghost buttons, every bit of your design should look and feel smooth and sleek. Your work deserves the best.

Just stick to the plan, don’t be afraid to scratch out an idea to replace it with a better one (try to keep it limited to small scopes only).

The Code

codeProfessional WordPress theme developers know that the code needs to be clean and standard compliant (aim for W3C coding standards instead of just WordPress) to make a fast, SEO-friendly theme that makes the best of WordPress and returns no errors.

Follow coding best practices: proper indentation, commenting, concatenating. Minify your scripts (in cases when it’s actually reducing the script size), and always use WordPress native functions. Respect the platform and its limitations, and use the tools it provides instead of trampling all over the defaults.

Your code should be easily crawl-able and leave no error messages.

Validate extensively. Testing and improving is the only way you can be better than you were yesterday. Same applies to your theme.

Contribute

As you continue to learn and grow as a professional WordPress theme developer, you will also need to start considering becoming an active member of the community itself.

Start with:

  • Source Code: Familiarizing yourself with the platform’s source code is a good way to learn about its capabilities and limits. WordPress allows you to browse the source and inline documentation, and obtain any external scripts included with the install. You can check them out here.
  • Nightly Builds: You can track the platform changes (development process is fast) and help the community by tracking bugs using nightly builds.
  • Theme Review Team: You can follow or join the discussions by the Theme Review Team on WordPress (here) to keep up with the latest trends and best practices. Since it is volunteer work, you can also join the review team to sharpen your own theme development skills. Don’t worry, they’ll teach you all you need to know about reviewing a theme through mentors and guides.
  • Contribute patches: If you run across a bug or think a feature can be included in the core WordPress, you can submit your code as patch. You can learn all about it here.

Essentially

To become the perfect theme developer, you need to be constantly learning and improving. Remaining dedicated to such a task can be difficult, but you can move up from ‘professional’ to ‘top developer’ with a focus on developing for the real world, not just yourself.

Author Bio:

This article is written by Tracey Jones, a professional writer and an expert WordPress theme developer for a leading WordPress development company – HirWPGeeks Ltd. When she is not developing websites she loves to write excellent blogs and articles about web development and socialize it through social media platforms.

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