Self-Help Tips for Designers Starting-out on WordPress

WordPress design is a lucrative field because over a quarter of all websites are using WordPress (yes, I know that you know already), and it’s relatively easy to get into (WordPress and the community helps you all the way through).

If you have finally given in to the lure of designing for WordPress (because the market is growing at a rapid pace), you’ve made a smart move. The one thing you won’t be lacking in is potential projects and new ideas.

So, in the spirit of welcoming you to the Fellowship of WordPress Design, here are a few tips to help make your transition from a regular graphic/web to WordPress designer smooth, hassle-free, and fun.

1. Working Knowledge of Code

No, you don’t need to learn how to write code. That’s not what this is about.

You don’t have to be able to write the next theme yourself using JavaScript and nothing else. But what can help you is a little knowledge of the WordPress front-end languages: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, along with some PHP thrown in the mix. You need to know what they mean, and the purposes of each in context of WordPress, specifically the front-end.

Understanding the basics, possibilities, and limitations of code will keep you realistic so you can create better, efficient, and usable designs.”

Some good starting points would be: Basics and uses of CSS and JavaScript, threading and rendering of HTML tags, etc.

A Cookie Analogy: PHP is the dough, HTML is the cookie cutter, and CSS and JavaScript are chocolate chips.

2. Get Familiar with WordPress Theme Anatomy

Check out this succinct post by Yoast’s CEO Joost De Valk on WordPress Theme Anatomy (you know once you’ve stopped giggling at the heading for this point).

The infographic and text description details what a basic WordPress theme is made of. The post also touches briefly upon other useful topics like Template Hierarchy and The Loop.

Apart from PHP, WordPress also uses CSS and its variants for visual presentation (like the rest of the web). If you have taken a liking to stylesheets (or know some CSS already as a web designer), check out WordPress CSS for more details. This tutorial lists WordPress specific CSS classes and IDs which you will be using to write CSS for your own themes.

3. Examine Existing Themes

What better way to learn than observation, followed by a little hands-on experience?

Some of the best WordPress themes are also free, so there is nothing stopping you from downloading these on your WordPress installation (if you haven’t installed WordPress yet, go ahead and do it. It costs nothing) and tinker with them all you want. Check out the Featured tab in WordPress Theme Repository, download a theme that catches your eye, install it, and then roll up your sleeves.

First, look at the code. In your installation directory, go to wp-content/themes and open the folder of your chosen theme. Check out the files. Template files are all PHP. Stylesheet will be a style.css. There might also be a functions.php file. Open them and examine the code. Pay special attention to how beautifully the code is indented and the separately commented sections to enhance legibility. This should teach you about good practices and coding standards.

4. Try a Framework

WordPress Theme Frameworks are a thing of beauty, and they are available for people who are currently on ‘Beginner’ difficulty settings too.

Frameworks have built in functions and theme options that you can reuse in your own theme. You can think of it like a parent theme, or a solid foundation you’re building up from. They are available for designer (generally drag-and-drop interface combined with lots of space for freestyle).

Gantry is one such framework. Try it and see how you do.

5. Don’t hesitate to ask for help

There are plenty of resources, forums, and super-awesome developers out there who can and will help you out, if you ask.

Remember that there’s one-in- 16-millions chance that your troubles are unique to you. Ask your question on forums, or elsewhere like Stack Exchange, Quora etc.


The one advice everyone should follow is to stay on top of new developments in WordPress core. And that’s it.

Told you it was easy as pie.