Theme Tip 22 – Develop a process for creating WordPress themes

One thing you’ll quickly realise when you start building WordPress themes if you’re not careful you’ll end up spending a LOT of time repeating the same tasks over and over again.

When most people start out making themes, I’d hazard a guess that their process goes a little like this:

  • Find an existing free or premium theme you like
  • Figure out how it all works
  • Hack, hack, and hack until you’ve got it shaped into the theme you want
  • Rinse and repeat

And to be fair, this is probably the quickest way of figuring out how everything with WordPress themes works. Once you’ve gone through this process a couple of times, I’d also hazard a guess that the process evolves into something like the following:

  • Mockup your new designs in Photoshop/Fireworks/Illustrator/[enter your design editor of choice here]
  • Cutup design into Markup/CSS/Javascript/Flash etc.
  • Take copy of last theme you created
  • Rename to new theme name
  • Hack, hack and hack until your theme matches your mockup

But let’s be honest folks this process doesn’t scale. Each time you undertake this process, you’ll probably find you keep making the same mistakes:

  • Damn I forgot to style the bloody 404 template!
  • What the hell did I create the .contentwrapleftheader selector for last time?
  • How the hell do I style the comments section again?
  • Insert random repeating frustration that you eventually solve after 3 hours of undoing each line of your theme.

So what’s the alternative. For one, it’s important to build your own theme development checklist so you don’t forget to complete each important step of your theme development process.

Second, it might be time to move to a theme framework like Thematic or Genesis and adopt Parent/Child theme development processes, which typically work as follows:

  • Create mockups as normal
  • Create child theme
  • Customise child theme hooks, actions, filters, and CSS to match mockup

A child theme should inherit a solid parent theme that minimises your risk of making the same mistakes each time you create a theme. You’re also more likely to get through the theme review process first time if you’re using a parent theme that itself is in the WordPress theme directory.

So kids do yourself a favour and spend a bit of time this Christmas to brush up your parent/child theme skills to save yourself some time and heartache building themes in 2011!

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