WP Themes: Lessons from LightCMS

I’ve begun exploring the WordPress templates I captured a few days back. Each exploration has two play phases: First I modify some relatively superficial stuff–the copyright notice, the fonts on display, the images–then add and/or subtract fields and widgets. The object is to nudge the author’s template towards my preferences. This leads more or less directly to the second phase, as those changes necessarily teach some sense of the design’s underlying architecture. Besides being useful in itself, this gives me a glimpse of possibilities, and clues about what makes the design worthwhile. This becomes my starting point for study of the code within the templates. I may or may not experiment with structural modifications, depending on whether it seems likely the lessons will repay the effort.

A first report follows.

One danger with templating languages, whatever the environment, is the temptation to build something really elaborate. LightCMS avoids this. One flexible page template handles all the display variants–front page, search, single item, categories, whatever. The great virtue of this theme is its simplicity: There are just a handful of files, and the template’s primary CSS file controls the screen layout by doing really obvious things in a structured, well-organized fashion. Understanding this one’s simple; it’s a good place to begin exploring WordPress, and could well be a useful foundation for a more elaborate structure. I might return to this one when I’m ready to implement my final design.

Or I might not. One problem is that the design’s so simple–it’s well-crafted, but it’s not really interesting. Another is that the CSS template implements a layout that’s so single-minded that significant design changes would require totally rebuilding the main CSS file. I played with that idea for a few hours last week, then decided it was time to move on.