When to use a pre-built theme

A WordPress Theme is a required add-on which governs the look and functionality of the website. Other platforms might refer to this as a "template" or "skin".

A WordPress Template refers to the coded structural files for various types, for example a "post".
"Template" is more of a term developers use in WordPress-speak.

Read more about WordPress, themes, plugins and page builders here.

Do you need me? Sometimes you don't..

Perhaps you are contemplating buying a pre-designed, pre-built theme from a theme developer's online shop, or a marketplace like ThemeForest.

You can even use one of many free ones from WordPress.org.

Purpose-designed, pre-built themes can be great if your requirements very closely match what you see in the online demo.


Although it potentially means losing you as a client and / or seeing you again for some difficult work when something needs changing, in certain circumstances I actually encourage people to at least try a pre-built theme.

If it didn't work out then at least it would only be a $50 mistake as opposed to forking out for a whole lot of custom development that you didn't need.


Just be aware that the demo of whatever prebuilt theme you decide on should be as close to what you want as possible. Modifying pre-built themes later is more costly because they are not usually coded to be easily-modified.

They would be coded in one of an infinite number of ways that exist to code a website, which means more digging for devs to do if anything beyond what is handled by the theme's control panel needs changing.

Theme control panels have options for, for example, the site logo, font family, sizes and colours etc.

salient options

The control panel generates CSS and JavaScript code which is universally understood by web browsers to implement styling.

But often as to what exactly can be changed by the control panel of any given theme is tricky to determine, even when building it, and even harder before purchasing it.


So if modification of something was needed, there might be a learning curve + coding time for a developer.

Firstly in simply finding the right control in the control panel, or widget, or customizer, or wherever they hid it this time.

And secondly - upon discovering that there wasn't a control for it - there would be a need to override CSS and JavaScript code, which would in turn involve deciphering whatever unique coding style the developer of the theme used.

Hopefully the theme would be well-coded, but very often pre-built themes are not.

And hopefully the theme has been coded to be modified where you need it to be. Again, it's often the case that pre-built themes are not.

As you can probably tell, that's a whole stack of unpredictability.


A situation can happen where a developer finds that the theme needs more extensive custom coding, but they've only quoted for the other end of the range of possibilities, the case of what initially looked like a quick fix.

In order not to end up in this situation, developers have to account for contingencies when estimating and quoting. A normally-simple 1 hour tweak might take 1 hour or it might take 4 hours.

It's problematic to ascertain difficulty beforehand because - practically-speaking - analysing the theme is the job.

Therefore developers have to quote towards the higher end for modifying a pre-built theme. I usually offer a pro-rata billing model for cases like these.


The solution developers end up opting-for is to pick a favourite framework theme. They are well-coded, designed to be modified, and have very minimal default styling.

Developers stick with this one blank theme for many years, and make it their business to know it inside-out.

They build onto the framework to achieve the design and functionality a client requires.


No limits

There are almost no limitations with a quality framework theme.

Agency web designers can design the website in Sketch or Adobe XD, then send me the designs.

I use a Chrome extension called PerfectPixel to overlay images of the designs on top of the site to achieve a pixel-perfect build. The image matches the end result exactly.

For casual clients I sometimes suggest looking at those pre-designed, pre-built themes, in other words "window shopping" to select designs and features, then I build them into the site in a way that can be easily updated or modified by clients.

This is a higher initial outlay of course, but the result is a much sturdier, highly-versatile website that is easy for developers to modify, and easy for you to use.

I used to be a Genesis Framework user, but since 2015 I've been using the truly excellent Beaver Builder suite of tools.

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