WordPress theme designers annoy the crap out of me

Having discovered that my WordPress 1.5 upgrade broke the CSS and
customized template I had designed for WordPress 1.2, I’ve been
shopping for a new theme at the WRC Theme
site. I’m looking for something clean and simple that I
can customize to my taste.

Having browsed through over a hundred and fifty themes, I’m left with one
burning question in my mind: why are 90% of these themes designed by
utter pinheads who don’t understand basic Web concepts like letting the
viewer control the presentation?

I’ve ranted about the drooling idiocy of pixel-sized fonts before.
Many of these themes not only make that mistake (which hoses anyone in
a screen with a DPI different from the designer’s), they cram the
content into boxes or vertical bands that don’t resize when you
widen or narrow the browser

There are a handful of honorable exceptions: Clasikue. Anarchy.
Curtains up. Dixie Belle. Elvgren. Flex. Fullwidth. Gentle
Calm. Gila. Greenwood. Ice. The three “Journalized” themes. Man-ja.
Operate. Placidwide. Psycho. Rampart. RohitKumar.org.
Sixties. Steam. But by and large, almost all of the more than 250
themes at this site (and elsewhere I’ve looked) make the same basic,
unforgiveable error. They treat the display like fancy paper under
the control of the theme designer rather than allowing the
user’s preferences to control font sizes and the width of the
display area.

It’s the web, you morons! Stop wasting readers’ screen
space with frames and diapered borders. They have better use for
their pixels than all that frou-frou crap.


  1. Hear, hear.

    My pet peeves are two:Text areas which don’t resize and become far too wide when the text size is adjusted for viewability.Designers who devote most of the window area to nav frames and cram the content into a tiny scrolling window, and then have the gall to reload all the frames when the user tries to get rid of it with “Show only this frame”.
    Of course, anyone who designs a site which depends on flash to get to non-flash content ought to be clue-batted utterly silly.

  2. … and I should add blog software designers who:

    1.  Don’t allow even a decent subset of HTML in comments;
    2.  Don’t have a link for a list of allowed/disallowed HTML handy for the user entering a comment; and
    3.  Don’t have a preview, so that the results of the above come as a complete surprise.

  3. I have a similar feeling about this subject myself. I’ve not found a single theme out there I like.

    I copied the default theme to a new directory and attempted to modify the style.css file, thinking it would be no different than what I’d done with the 1.2 version of WordPress (I’m not a programmer, but I try, and usually get the results I want after experimenting).

    Thirty minutes later, I loaded my theme up. My site still looks much like the default WordPress theme, despite my changes. Going to have to keep poking around and see what more I can learn, and see if I can get what I want after some trial-and-error.

  4. So are you still looking for a new theme, or is this it? I tried resizing your text, because it was a bit small on my display, and found that the line breaks made the damn thing near unreadable. What happened? Check the code – you’ve got actual BR tags after every line! The text box doesn’t resize, but even it did it wouldn’t do a damn bit of good if line breaks are hardcoded! What you said in your post is absolutely goddamn right. So implement it already.

  5. Well, I spoke too soon. alexking.org has some OK themes. I picked one and made a change. Looks close to what I was looking for at least.

    Good luck with your redesign!

  6. It’s not just WordPress theme designers. Almost every web developer on the planet does the exact same thing. Some days it annoys me, but I’m mostly resigned to poor web design for the rest of my days.

  7. I’ve run into the same problem. I’m trying to roll my blog from Typo to WordPress but wanted a new theme that was closer what I wanted than the default.

    I found a few that looked pretty good, but they had some odd licensing attached to them. I’m compelled to put the yoke on the nearest web monkey that owes me a favor to come up with something unique/functional.

  8. You are absolutely right, these theme designers should be forced to attend web usability courses, and WordPress’ default Kubrick theme is one of the worst I have ever seen. I also upgraded to 1.5 recently and I am currently testing the man~ja theme from alexking.org (this one). It isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than the default, for now. Perhaps with some modifications it could be improved.

  9. They treat the display like fancy paper under the control of the theme designer rather than allowing the user’s preferences to control font sizes and the width of the display area.

    Amusingly enough, I think this post gives the lie to the rather unperceptive lady Marxist who failed to understand your politics. Reading this I would say that your view of web design is based on an ideology of rational choice – “rather than allowing the user’s preferences” – which is exactly how I read your politics.

    I don’t say I agree with that viewpoint, and actually here I’m using the term “ideology” in its rather uncomplimentary Oakeshottian sense. In fact, I think it depends on a gross oversimplification not only of what web designers do, and why they frequently do as they do, but also of the, so to speak, transaction, between the designer and me as viewer and of how and why I make choices and, indeed, of the nature of those choices.

    A sidenote: if you’re going to mention “pixel-sized fonts”, you might take the time to deliver a well-deserved kick at Microsoft. Many designers like these and find them useful for a number of reasons. But the major drawback to them is that Redmond’s trashy browser is, unlike every other browser on the market, incapable of resizing them.

  10. state the solution eric, don’t waste your words with anger and pain, just relax and mentor them the master f00 way.

  11. I agree with the spirit of the rant, but any browser that won’t let you control the presentation *even if* the HTML coder has used pixel-size fonts is just broken (and/or obsolete). I’m sure Firefox and ilk do this by now; one of the reason I’m such a big Opera fan is that it’s done it forever.

  12. It seems that this upgrade has done away with the delay between submission of a post, and its display…or have you voluntarily turned off this opportunity for moderation?

  13. PS. an email ‘response notification’ mechanism would be nice too…with a link back to the original post…

  14. PPS. the ability to edit one’s posts would be handy…so my feeble brain could take its leisurely time… ;-)

  15. Alex King who ran the competition also moaned about the fact that most of the themes had lots of bad code, and I guess rewriting the themes is out of the question, but maybe if you slowly work your way through this: http://blogging.typepad.com/how_to_blog/2005/03/comprehensive_l.html, which has 335 links to wordpress themes ;), something might work out?.

    I took the golf layout from Alex in WP 1.2 and worked it into the new theme thingy, although I am not happy with my font choices. But it does what I want it to, if I don’t break it with too many plugins ^^. Good luck, don’t give up on WP, please.

  16. Eric,
    take a look at glish.com/css. There’s a 3 column template there (“holy grail”) that is pretty easy to customise.



  17. I know the feeling. My travelogue theme was completely customized and PERFECT and n the upgrade to 1.5 I needed an additional 4 hours to convert it perfect. But thats just me. :)

  18. Eric,

    I think you are missing some details, like the reasons to do fixed layouts. I agree that many sites could benefit from a flexible layout, which might make the users happy. But I don’t think all sites should have that, not even all blog sites.

    If I view a flexible layout in a large browser window on a screen with high resolution, it is a fairly big chance the text-lines will be too long to be easily readable. I could of course resize my browser window to suit the layout but this is an extra step. It might also be irritating if a switch/jumps between a few different sites with different layouts and which all needs differently sized browser windows. Then I would have to change the browser window size all the time, which I think is irritating.

    And regarding font sized that can be resized by the browser, the problems normally arises when the layout does not resize along with the choosen font size. I think the browser developers should agree on some standard to let the css know what font-size the user wants and what screen size he is using. Thereby it might (I just say might) be possible to create layouts that actually look good and are easy to read almost regardless of the users setting while still not forcing all users to see the exact same thing.

    Many of these adaptions can be carried out on the server side, provided the user makes his or her choices through a form instead of through the browser, but that requires dynamic style-sheets which not all platforms/theme-enabled applications support very well. They are also harder to develop.

    I think it would be nice if the web at large could find a standard for letting the user inform a web site what resolution and font-size he/she likes. This could be done if the browser makers agreed, or if all developers/users agreed om cookies for this.

  19. Just to play Devil’s Advocate, the whole POINT of CSS was in part to allow web designers to create sites that work “just the way they wanted” without making the sites unbrowseable in text browsers like Lynx.

    So you can have site designs that use pixels that, if you just refuse to view stylesheets, are still perfectly navigable, if butt-ugly.

    None of that means that wordpress themes actually achieve that, of course.

  20. Yeah, some WP themes are terrible, the first thing I always do with a new one is like /font\-?(size|style|family):.+?;//

    BTW: Real fun comes up if you have a minimum font size like 13 in your browser. That really breaks some limits.

  21. I like K2, co-designed by one of the same people who designed the Kubrick theme.

    The nice thing about K2 is that it is almost a meta-theme; it allows you to have several “schemes”, which are basically alternate stylesheets you can change without changing the theme itself. To me, it sounds very close to what you said you’re looking for (though I’m commenting rather late, and you may have already settled on a new theme).

  22. The nice thing about K2 is that it is almost a meta-theme; it allows you to have several “schemes”, which are basically alternate stylesheets you can change without changing the theme itself. To me, it sounds very close to what you said you’re looking for (though I’m commenting rather late, and you may have already settled on a new theme).

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