The first step to building an advanced, customized site is to get out a notepad and
start planning. Before you set fingers to keyboard, you should ask (and answer) a
• What type of content will your site feature?
• How will your content be arranged, and how will visitors browse your site?
• Will your content use posts or pages or both?
• Do you need to create separate types of posts for different content?
It’s important to think about these questions early on, because you need to consider
how you want visitors to interact with your site. And that, in turn, determines the
kind of changes you need to make to your theme. In the case of Distinct Furnishings,
for example, the site’s job is to display information about the different pieces
of furniture the company sells. Visitors will arrive at the site and browse through
the items that interest them. Essentially, the Distinct Furnishings site is a product
catalog, which is a common type of advanced WordPress site.
Picking a Theme
Every WordPress theme has similar underpinnings, but no two themes are quite the
same. If you start out editing a theme that isn’t well suited to your site, you’ll create
extra work for yourself. So before you commit to a theme, make sure you’ve got the
best, most workable one for your needs.
There are many ways to pick a good theme for customization:
• Some WordPressers pick one they understand (like Twenty Twelve) and use
that in all their customization projects.
• Some web designers pick a theme that’s as close as possible to the final result
they want. This means they have much less customization to do, but it also forces
them to spend time learning the subtly different workings of a new template.
• Some WordPress pros use a heavily stripped-down theme, which provides very
little beyond the core WordPress code. This way, they don’t need to worry about
removing built-in features and embellishments they don’t want, but it also means
they need to supply the majority of the markup and styles that format the site,
which takes time and requires some serious web design skills.
• Some WordPressers favor theme frameworks, which are simple, foundational
themes designed for other developers to extend. The drawback is choice and
complexity: There are many theme frameworks to choose from, and they all
have their own subtly different structure. (To learn more, read what WordPress
has to say at http://tinyurl.com/theme-f.)
The Distinct Furnishings site follows the second approach. It uses the PinBlack
theme (http://tinyurl.com/pinblack), which already has most of the right layout and
formatting in place .
Before you go any further, you need to decide whether you want to work on a child
theme or the original theme files. As you learned, child
themes are always the right choice when you make cosmetic changes to a theme
you love. They’re also a good idea if you plan to make targeted changes to specific
aspects of a theme, while leaving the rest of it alone. But if you plan to make extensive
changes that will require you to modify most of the template files in a theme, a child
theme doesn’t make as much sense. Since you’ll override almost all the functionality
in the original template, there’s little reason to use a child theme that retains its
relationship with its parent.
Once again, there’s no clear-cut answer for all situations. It depends on how complex
a theme you start with, and how heavily you plan on customizing it.
• If you decide to create a child theme that extends an original theme, follow the
instructions in post “how-to-use-child-theme-configurator”.
• If you decide to create a completely new theme that replaces the original theme,
continue reading the next section. This is the approach the Distinct Furnishings
example follows with the PinBlack theme.
Creating a Custom Copy of a Theme
In theory, you can edit any theme in the dashboard without taking any special steps.
But doing so is risky. Eventually, the creator of the original theme will distribute an
update, and it’s all too easy to accidentally install the update and wipe out all your
carefully crafted customizations.
To protect yourself, create a copy of the theme that WordPress won’t ever try to
update. Here’s how:
1. Download the theme files to your computer.
You can do this two ways. One is to use an FTP program and drag the appropriate
theme folder (say, pinblack) from your site’s /wp-content/themes folder
to your computer.
The other option is to visit the WordPress themes directory at http://wordpress.
org/themes. Search for the theme you’re using, view it, and then click Download.
WordPress stores the theme files in a ZIP file. Double-click the ZIP filename to
peek inside, find the theme folder, and copy that folder to your computer (say,
the desktop) so you can edit the files it contains.
2. Open the theme’s style.css file in a text editor.
Usually, that means Notepad on a Windows computer and TextEdit on a Mac.
At the top of the file, you see the header comment with its basic information
about the theme.
3. Change the theme name.
For example, where it says this:
Theme Name: PinBlack
Change it to:
Theme Name: PinBlack_Custom
This is the name WordPress will use in the dashboard for the copied theme.
NOTE PinBlack_Custom is a good theme name, because it clearly communicates that this is a customized
version of the original PinBlack theme. PinBlack2 would be a bad choice, because the person who created PinBlack
might use that name to denote a significant revamp of the original theme.
4. Remove the theme URL.
That’s the line that starts with “Theme URI.” Find it and delete it. This severs the
link between your theme and the original one, ensuring that any theme update
won’t overwrite your customized files.
5. Rename the theme folder to match the theme name.
For example, if you used the name PinBlack_Custom, you might rename the
theme folder pinblackcustom. It doesn’t really matter what name you use, as
long as you change the folder name from the original (pinblack) in some way.
6. Upload the new theme to your site.
You can do this two ways, too. The most direct is with an FTP program, where
you drag the new theme folder (say, pinblackcustom) from your computer to
your site’s /wp-content/themes area.
The other option is to ZIP up your theme folder, and then upload it using the
dashboard. Once you create the ZIP file, choose Appearance→Themes, click
the Install Themes tab, and then click Upload. Select your ZIP file (click Browse
or Choose File—the button’s name depends on your browser), and then send it
off to your site (click Install Now).
Either way, once you upload the custom version of your theme, you can start
7. Choose AppearanceÆThemes, point to your theme, and then click Activate.