Over the weekend, I started work on my new spare-time project, developing a new theme for this site.

My current theme is, to put it mildly, driving me batty. It started life as a learner theme I developed in my course work for the SkillCrush WordPress Developer Blueprint. Though I’ve put a lot of work into it so far, there is a great deal left just to get it up to speed for what I actually need from my website. While I’d love to keep working on it, I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns: focusing on fixing it up is holding me back. It’s time to move on.

Thus, in the interest of Actually Getting Stuff Done on this website, I’m now working with a free, responsive preexisting theme that, rather than having to constantly bug-hunt and develop, I can adapt to my needs instead. In addition, I find it fascinating to see how a more established developer constructs a theme.

In my (admittedly still limited) experience, child themes are an entirely different kettle of fish than developing from scratch. I have found that it’s a process of discovering design decisions, and exploring what’s possible by trying out what I’d like to implement, and observing what works and what breaks it. It’s become pretty clear that while I can bend a theme to my own preferences, that theme can only flex so far – any changes I make have a ripple effect on the very character of the theme.

For example, I spent Sunday working on a child for Anders Noren’s Radcliffe only to abandon it. As much as I like the simplicity of the theme, it’s a single-column design. Radcliffe’s design is blog-forward, promoting visual hooks and strong titles to entice readers to click on a post. It’s got a beautiful navigation aesthetic for the top of the site, but it pushes all the widgets down to the bottom. Since I use widgets pretty heavily to welcome visitors, promote my social media presence and provide capsule information about what my interests and strengths are, I can’t afford to promote my blog posts above all else as the design intends.

With that in mind, I decided to try adding a left or right column, to blend the visual appeal of its body column with the sidebar I need to effectively convey who I am and what I’m about. Several hours of tweaking and codex-searching later, I discovered that adapting Radcliffe to accommodate just one sidebar isn’t practical the time I have allotted for this project.

And so, I learn and move on.

It’s hardly wasted time, however. The joy of WordPress is that if I find a theme I like, odds are good that the same designer has another one with a comparable aesthetic that suits better. In this case, I’ve simply selected a new theme with which to begin again: Hemingway, another of Anders Noren’s themes with a similarly clean aesthetic and a pre-established support for a two-column layout. It shouldn’t take more than an evening to transition the changes I made to Radcliffe over to Hemingway, and then I can move on to other things.

Aside from experimenting with sidebars, I’d merely re-implemented my landing page and was beginning on colours, fonts and layout for the rest of the site. I also have custom archive, post, 404 and portfolio pages planned, which should be much faster to implement now that I’m not having to reinvent the wheel. If I haven’t broken anything too badly by this time next week, I’m aiming to take it live.

And then, the real fun finally begins: adding some of that JavaScript functionality I’ve been learning. Speeding up my site’s load times. Designing a logo for myself. In short, doing all the stuff I couldn’t do because I was caught up on how much I still needed to do just on my learner theme.

Thank goodness for WordPress’ theme library, and its child theme support. With the shift in focus they permit, it’s not going to be long at all before I can start looking seriously at from-scratch theme development again. In the mean time, I’ll have a fully functional site I don’t have to cringe at.