There are two kinds of people who use WordPress – those who know how to write computer code, and those who don’t. It is safe to say that most people fall into the first category. What this means is, if you don’t know how to hack a theme, you either get someone to do for you, or spend an inordinate amount of time experimenting with a programming discipline you don’t know.
Those who don’t know how to write PHP or CSS tend to use a theme as it is. Popular themes quickly become prevalent on blogs and websites, easily recognizable, with no particular “brand” to make the site visually unique. One of the most popular themes on the Internet is Thesis. In fact, this site is built with Thesis.
Out of the box, Thesis looks just OK. It is highly customizable, with modification, limited only by imagination. And skill. And knowledge. Even though Thesis can be modified without any coding, the real power of making it look unique lies in writing code. Besides, if you have no idea what color hex codes are, or what a stylesheet is, you have gained nothing by pop and click settings. You won’t know what to change.
The most common complaint about Thesis is, most sites look like they were made with Thesis. In fact, this is true. With little or no customizing, Thesis quickly becomes commonplace and boring.
The most customizable – sans coding – theme I’ve ever seen is Atahualpa. It has 268 options. Looking at all these makes me dizzy. Many people like this theme, and its free. Given time to go over all the options, this could be the best theme for you.
But how do I choose a theme?
First, try WordPress Showcase. You may find a free theme you like. Be prepared to learn how to hack it. Otherwise, forget about being unique. This is true whether you buy a theme or use one that is free.
The most important rule of thumb is, less is more. Look for minimalism and ease for your readers. Avoid color that is hard on the eyes – white text on a red background is a good example of bad design. You can’t go wrong with a dark gray text on white background.
Stick with standards as much as possible. Navigation should be at the top; it can be in a sidebar, but that tends to look so “nineties” and you should keep sidebars available for widgets.
View your site as your readers will see it. You may like bright colors, busy design or things moving. Your readers don’t care, and you add nothing for them with too many elements distracting their attention. In all things web site, use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid).