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Thread: Free vs Premium themes, what sets them apart and what could be improved?

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    Member Needs New Keyboard Array jamestl2's Avatar
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    Default Free vs Premium themes, what sets them apart and what could be improved?

    What separates premium themes from regular ones? Advanced features? Graphics? Support?

    Why do some people pay top dollar for premium themes when there's a wide assortment of free themes available. I've checked out a few of the paid themes, and while they do look nice, I've seen professional-looking themes that don't cost a thing.

    Don't get me wrong, I know there's plenty of poorly developed, bland looking cheap themes out there too, but there are good ones freely available as well.


    The reason I ask is that I've recently been working on a few themes of my own (far from finished of course, but I do have the general theme idea started).

    I'd like to incorporate advanced features and such into my themes, to set them apart from the regular themes, but I can't decide on what I'd like to include.

    What's lacking in current WP themes that could eventually be implemented? Anything you'd like to see that doesn't quite exist in WP yet?

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    It looked easier on TV Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    I never use free themes anymore. Ever.

    I usually tend to like very involved themes with a lot of display options. It is probable that on any project I am going use every available piece of related content that I can on the home page, Video, Feeds, Nice Images, Social Networking, and of course Advertising.

    Regular themes that just concentrate on blog posts don't do it for me anymore.

    I see a big market for Multi User/Buddypress compatible themes, especially with the upcoming release of WP 3.0 since it will combine the functionality of MU and Single user...so I really believe community themes are the future of Wordpress.

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    Member Needs New Keyboard Array jamestl2's Avatar
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    I have noticed a few free themes that do offer "Advanced Options Pages, like a few of the ones at the top of the Theme Directory, they aren't that common though. I've never purchased a premium theme before, which is why I'm not entirely sure what advantages they have.


    One of the things I've noticed about "involved" themes with many design features, styling options, etc. is that while it may have easier aspects for the non-tech savvy people that use them, it can become increasingly difficult to pinpoint problems developers may have from a coding perspective (speaking from personal experience).

    Take the Thesis theme for example. It's built around an entire custom framework, and for those whom don't have first-hand experience working within the Thesis environment, they'll have to learn a whole new set of rules and functions to get even one minor change to work properly.

    Not saying that more display features is necessarily a bad thing, but the more complicated the theme gets, the more issues and bugs can potentially arise. I wonder if the trade-off is worth it? Make themes easier to customize for users, or developers?


    You make an interesting point about WP becoming more community oriented. One of the themes I'm working on allows someone to use WP as their own personal forum. I wonder how many features coming to WP 3.0 will include inspiration from MU, and whether MU will still be the right solution for some of the more community-oriented sites already out there?


    Also, about Wordpress' concentration, I think one thing WP devs could consider is restructuring the database to include more than just "Posts" and "Pages". While both of those features do well for blogging and and a few basic "about-like" pages, there could be so much more. Right now, all they have is a table for blogging (wp_posts), and it includes the "pages" as well. I could see each different content type (posts, pages, and even newer types, like audio, video, etc,) getting it's own DB table. It makes sense from a content management perspective.

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    It looked easier on TV Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jamestl2 View Post
    One of the things I've noticed about "involved" themes with many design features, styling options, etc. is that while it may have easier aspects for the non-tech savvy people that use them, it can become increasingly difficult to pinpoint problems developers may have from a coding perspective (speaking from personal experience).
    Actually, many are not that easy to use for non-tech people. You need to know a few things to get them set up properly and working the way they are supposed to.
    Even with the documentation that most come with, there is still no way a novice could set most of them up.
    Quote Originally Posted by jamestl2 View Post
    Take the Thesis theme for example. It's built around an entire custom framework, and for those whom don't have first-hand experience working within the Thesis environment, they'll have to learn a whole new set of rules and functions to get even one minor change to work properly.
    Everyone talks up Thesis, and I think it's a nice theme, but nowhere near as "Godlike" as everyone makes it out to be.

    No matter who you buy from, unless you purchase from the same designer, you have to learn a new set of rules. There is no standard for functions, tags, custom field names, design principles, dimensions, or what functions go in which files.

    It's different every time I get a new theme, I have to learn a new designer and his programming skills or lack of.

    Quote Originally Posted by jamestl2 View Post
    Not saying that more display features is necessarily a bad thing, but the more complicated the theme gets, the more issues and bugs can potentially arise. I wonder if the trade-off is worth it? Make themes easier to customize for users, or developers?
    I usually buy where there is support and I check out the support before I make a purchase.
    I mostly buy form the same designers, or design houses these days, and I have a developers license for another, so I don't venture out too much from the same 3 or 4 providers.

    Quote Originally Posted by jamestl2 View Post
    You make an interesting point about WP becoming more community oriented. One of the themes I'm working on allows someone to use WP as their own personal forum. I wonder how many features coming to WP 3.0 will include inspiration from MU, and whether MU will still be the right solution for some of the more community-oriented sites already out there?
    Wordpress 3.0 and Single user WP will merge and there will be only one Wordpress. So 3.0 will have the capability to be a multi user, multi blog platform, or host a blog community in conjunction with using Buddypress.

    Quote Originally Posted by jamestl2 View Post
    Also, about Wordpress' concentration, I think one thing WP devs could consider is restructuring the database to include more than just "Posts" and "Pages". While both of those features do well for blogging and and a few basic "about-like" pages, there could be so much more. Right now, all they have is a table for blogging (wp_posts), and it includes the "pages" as well. I could see each different content type (posts, pages, and even newer types, like audio, video, etc,) getting it's own DB table. It makes sense from a content management perspective.
    You do have a Media library now that can include video and audio and Buddypress offers the extra community features that you may be talking about that expand WP's capability tremendously.

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    Post Impressionist Array vangogh's Avatar
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    James in general premium themes are usually developed better than free ones. Not that you won't find very well coded free themes or poorly coded premium themes. Having worked with both, premium themes tend to be better.

    Frameworks are something different though. You are going to have to spend time learning the framework, but isn't that what you had to do with WordPress too? WP had a learning curve, but you thought it worth learning. There are some very good free frameworks too. The idea with most frameworks is you're not going to edit the framework itself, but instead build a child theme for it.

    Getting back to premium themes I think you're thinking about them in the wrong way as far as how to build one. The first question should be who are you building it for. Who do you expect will buy the theme?

    A WordPress developer is probably looking for a theme that will make their work quicker. They're going to use the theme as a starting point for developing their own designs. They likely aren't afraid to open up files and edit them or even better build a child theme.

    A typical end used probably doesn't want to edit files directly. They more likely want an options panel to make a few changes very simple for them. They probably aren't going to radically change the layout of the theme, but would like to be able to upload a new header image or change a few colors or fonts. Taking it further end users are very different. Some may need an image gallery, others may be more interested in using WordPress as an ecommerce solution.

    Think first about who you're building the theme for and then learn as much as you can about those people, their needs, and what they want in a theme.
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    It looked easier on TV Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    The one thing I would add is, I have purchased premium themes where the designer seemed to purposely make it difficult to edit the theme files.

    Functions seemed to be hidden, instead of out in plain view and the files did not seem organized at all, when you open the files it looks like a big lump of code with no indicators of what is what, or where anything is. No structure.

    Most people that are used to Wordpress have no problem opening files to make changes, and can skim a file to find the lines of code they are looking for...when each file is just one big massive paragraph of code, it makes you want to throw the theme out and use something else.

    Those are very frustrating to work with and I would never buy from those designers again.

    Free theme designers tend to do that a lot, or hide links in the theme without telling you. In the beginning, I have downloaded plenty of free themes that looked great in the demo, only to apply them and see an encrypted footer with sponsored links. That alone is what got me to stop using free themes in the first place.
    Last edited by Harold Mansfield; 05-25-2010 at 05:14 PM.

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    Post Impressionist Array vangogh's Avatar
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    Most people that are used to Wordpress have no problem opening files to make changes
    I completely disagree. Most people who use WordPress are not developers. They're ordinary people who never want to see the actual files running WordPress or the theme, let alone edit them. They use WordPress because it makes it easy for them to publish content. Many would like to make some changes, but they prefer to do that in some kind of WYSIWYG way or by turning a checkbox on or off.
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    It looked easier on TV Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    I guess I overstated that. You are right , most people would rather check a box, but you should design for both kinds of users, or at least make your files readable and somewhat organized for both kinds of users.

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    Post Impressionist Array vangogh's Avatar
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    Which is what I was getting at in my post above. I don't think you have to design a theme for everyone. I agree you should always code your files well and make then easy to edit, but it really comes down to who are you building the theme for as far as what features you include, etc.

    It's no different than developing any other product. You have to decide who it's going to be for and what those people specifically want. Making it easier for someone to make changes through an options panel makes it more difficult to find every bit of code controlling the theme directly in the files. There's a tradeoff and you have to decide which is more beneficial to the specific people you're developing the theme for.
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    Member Needs New Keyboard Array jamestl2's Avatar
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    The first question should be who are you building it for. Who do you expect will buy the theme?
    Well, I already had the groups of people in mind when I decided I wanted to build the particular theme. That was the first thing I thought of.

    Although the groups I thought of that may e interested in the themes I'm creating may be pretty broad. How specific should you narrow your intended group down to?


    Also, some of the premium themes I noticed didn't really seem to be geared towards anyone. Like browsing through Theme Forest for example. Not many seem to have a concentrated target audience, or anything really remarkable or unique or about them. Yet many still have sold plenty and garnered high ratings.

    Everyone talks up Thesis
    I didn't care much for Thesis either, but a few of the clients I did customization work for use it. And even after learning the few bits I needed to know to edit the appropriate changes, it still didn't always produce the results desired.

    themes where the designer seemed to purposely make it difficult to edit the theme files.
    That's another thing that occurred in the back of my mind as well, only I'd figure the opposite was true. Developers may want to purposely make it difficult to edit the free theme features so the person using the theme would either have to seek paid support from the original developer for customization, or be required to purchase an upgraded, better organized theme where the plan costs a small fee.

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