WordPress themes: part 2

By now people may have noticed that this site has stabilized on the free Monospace theme for WordPress. A few thoughts on the art of theme selection and deployment follows.

Starting back in September I cycled through almost a dozen different WordPress themes for this and my personal blogs. As noted above, Monospace became the “winner” for this site. It wasn’t actually a hard choice. Although sometimes it may be hard to tell, the primary purpose of this blog is to serve as my Internet accessible technical journal. Because of that many articles feature snippets of code and sometimes complete programs. As a result the most important consideration in picking a theme for this site was how well it presented code.

Most of the themes I tried were perfectly suitable for normal blogging. Many were downright beautiful from an artistic standpoint. But in the end there were only two that addressed the code presentation task adequately: Monospace and the bare bones Sandbox. I actually liked Sandbox a lot. For me its unembellished HTML was a virtue. But it wasn’t art, and to me systems administration has increasingly revealed itself to be not just about science, but also art. The author’s own blog is mostly in Portuguese (he is from Brasil), but his post on the theme itself is in English.

Although Monospace worked really well here, my personal blog was another matter. There I tried a number of other plain and simple themes, as well as some slightly more complex ones. But none of these were quite right for the kind of gibberish I post there. The content I like to feature there, unlike here, was not code but quotes from news stories and literature. My attention was especially drawn to how different themes handled text presented in blockquotes.

Just yesterday I started experimenting with the Atahualpa theme from BytesforAll. Atahualpa is a “framework” theme, one that is intended to be a foundation for new themes created by its users. Some frameworks are themselves very bare bones, like Sandbox. But Atahualpa actually provides a very extensive set of menus that allow users to control a great deal of presentation detail right from the WordPress administration module.

Although it is possible to effect the same kinds of changes in a base theme by editing the raw theme .css and .php files, even an old time command-line jockey like me could see the value that Atahualpa’s interface adds to the process of theme customization. I was able to make some of the basic changes I make in every theme, mostly though deploying and configuring widgets. But in a couple of places Atahualpa’s Options menus really made the theme a joy to work with. It is embarrassing to admit, but one simple change that made a big difference for me was increasing the font size for quoted text to 105% of the base font. While I could have done this in any of the other themes I tried by editing the .css, it only came to mind when I was working my way through Atahualpa’s “Style Blockquotes” menu. Many thanks to Flynn and the rest of the developers at BytesforAll for providing this terrific gift to the WordPress community.