First of all, you have to establish some things about your visitors profile – if you have business clients, you go with a business theme. If your clients are young hippies, you’ll pick a totally different WordPress theme.
Let’s suppose that:
a. You are looking for a business theme;
b. You want to make a web site, rather than a blog from WordPress;
c. Your customers are very quiet, and calm and don’t appreciate aggressive tones;
d. You have a simple web site.
How to pick?
A. Number of columns
If you have a very simple presentation web site, with no more than 10 pages, you should pick a layout with two-columns or even go for a theme with one-column only (for a presentation web site). Do you have a presentation web site with either more than 15 pages or you wish to have on each page things like a contact form, a slideshow with pictures? Then you may wish to pick for a three-column theme.
If you have a simple web site with 5 pages, you need a one-column theme. If you have between 5 and 15 pages, or you wish to have an element present on each page of the web site (an ad, a contact form, some call-to-action like a newsletter), opt for a two-column theme. Having a complex web site? Opt for a three-column web site.
Bottom line: look for one-column or two-column themes and avoid three columns themes for simple web sites. Do look for three-column themes on complex web sites.
B. Color themes
I suggest avoiding themes that put emphasis on dark colors. For further diving into the subject, I recommend these readings:
- Color Preferences in Web Design
- Using Color in Web Design
- Light text on dark background vs. readability
Long story kept short, dark colored text on light backgrounds are easier to read and are generally considered more trustworthy.
I also prefer avoiding either high-contrast themes (black on white is a powerful contrast, while gray on white is a less powerful one) or powerful colors (intense yellow).
Bottom line: look for themes with predominantly light colored backgrounds.
C. Things to consider
If you have a web site with a lot of pictures (each page / blog post has a picture), you may wish to opt for a magazine-style WordPress theme.
Also, if you can cut something from a web site / blog design, then cut it. I personally like a simple web site – one menu? Fine. Two menus? Fine. Three menus? No-no. Also, avoid banners if you can, avoid adding a blogroll (put the blogroll in a separate page, with description of each link you give out), avoid using unimportant widgets (I have yet failed to find a useful widget). Make it easier for your reader to find information, thus don’t complicate the design. This doesn’t mean not having a single call-to-action. By all means, put a “Call us now” button, put a newsletter subscription service, add a link (link, not widget) to Facebook or Twitter, but keep things simple and not more than two (I recommend one) call-to-action on a page.
D. What can be changed in a WordPress theme?
If you see something in a WordPress theme that’s text, that usually can be changed / removed easily.
all you see is text. Even the search button is text. Text can easily be changed in WordPress themes. If you wish to remove any text, move it around, it’s fine and easy.
I marked all the elements that are pictures (in the first picture the background, the title, the RSS / Twitter icons, the search button – not the search text, but the search button – the emoticon and the avatars, while in the second picture the Older entries button and again RSS / Twitter – only the icons, not the surrounding text).
Now, what can be changed in a theme?
a. Text – easily anything;
b. Images – if you wish to replace them with other images for which you have copyright – that’s easy;
c. Images – if you wish to transform them (so for example, change the “Fii eficient” title to “Be efficient” – well, that’s a bit more complicated); Another not-so-easy transformation would involve changing the colors of images (making a blue image look red is easy; Making a blue image look red and still have a natural look, not a distorted one – that’s hard);
d. Images – adding a logo; Not very easy, but not that hard; And since it’s important, it must be done; On the other hand, changing an existing image into a logo of same size – that’s easy;
e. Structure – The themes above are two columns; Want to make them three columns or one column? That’s not that easy;
f. Structure – Do you wish to remove the header (title) totally, do you wish to remove some parts of the columns? That’s rather easy;
g. Colors – Do you wish to make the blue pink and the black gray? That’s a bit hard, but can be done; Pay attention to matching colours;
E. Paid or free themes
If you aren’t bothered that your theme:
a. Has no technical support;
b. Must keep copyright notice in the footer (I’m assuming you’re ethical and don’t remove this, even if you technically can do that);
c. Is used by other people in the world (we’re talking about thousand of other web sites for popular themes);
Then you can opt for a free theme.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to pay for:
a. Technical support and upgrades (though editing the themes will make updates hard to implement each time there is a theme update);
b. Lack of copyright notice;
c. Limited usage by other web sites (much fewer persons pay for themes);
Then go for a premium theme.
If you really want your theme to be unique on the web, opt for a custom design.
F. What free themes to pick?
There are literally thousands of theme to pick from. I put only one criteria (to be released in 2009 or later) and got this list of themes:
a. A collection of theme collections (yeah, that’s a lot) – 2009 WordPress Themes Collection;
b. A list of themes for 2009 – The Best Free WordPress Themes of 2009;
c. A list of 10 themes of 2010 – Top 10 Free WordPress Themes for 2010.
G. What paid themes to pick?
If you want a custom design, have a look at this search.
If you want to buy more than a single theme, I suggest you to have a look at this article on Top 10 Premium WordPress Theme Providers and choose a WordPress theme provider which can offer you a good price for buying more than one theme.
I also can’t help stop mentioning WP Zoom, for their great support for my theme.
Finally, if you wish a see a demo on what you can do with a WordPress theme, see this web site. (you can always pick another theme from the sidebar)