Aug 102011

I mostly use WordPress for website development, primarily because of the rich supply of plugins. In two recent jobs, I’ve used the Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven themes. A great virtue of both of those themes is the wealth of support available on the internet.

For my current project I decided to extend my experience by using a new theme. But how to decide which theme to use? If you search the internet for sites reviewing or recommending themes, you find lots of rave reviews for this theme or that. But can you trust those reviews? When I looked closely, it appeared most of the reviews included affiliate links to vendors. So the reviewers had a vested interest in promoting the product. This leaves me uncertain how much to trust these reviews.

When I consider any product, be it a website development product or an web hosting service, I look most closely at available support. I look for support forums that are busy and have extended discussions. I consider the nature of the questions and whether they reflect a quality product or one that is well less than perfect. I look at the tone of the messages, and how quickly the vendor responds to messages. I also search the web to find how others view the product.

For my first attempt at the new site, I tried the free version of Flexibility 3. While the theme was interesting and flexible, I found that the code was minified or encrypted. This makes it more difficult for me to determine how to modify CSS for a web site. While the vendor has some good information on CSS modifications, I wasn’t certain how easily I could move beyond the documented changes. The web site focused too much on upselling to the paid version of the product or a more sophisticated product from the same vendor. Finally, my review of the forums was not encouraging.

Next I decided to try Suffusion, another free WordPress theme. While I consider their sample skins to be rather bland, the theme includes a very large number of options and is relatively easy to modify. As a test, I decided to see if I could replicate the site I had created with Flexibility 3. I was able to do this with about 100 lines of CSS. I found answers to almost every problem I encountered on their very active support forum.

I haven’t decided how long I will continue to use this theme before trying another–and I probably will try another. Even if I stay with Suffusion, I will probably completely change the appearance of the site to a lighter color and more open design. It’s clear I could do that with Suffusion.

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