Rearranging the furniture … again

Black Letterhead theme
Black Letterhead theme

Yes, this is becoming the theme-of-the-week blog. I can’t help it, really. I think it must be that infamous female urge to periodically rearrange the furniture. That and the fact that every WordPress theme has its limitations. None is perfect; I’ve had gripes with all of them, some more than others.

The one I was using previously, Black Letterhead, was very handsome, very serious, and very dark. The dark part is what finally got me. Reverse type — light-colored type on a dark background — has notorious readability problems, especially in large blocks of smaller type. The text seems to “shimmer” and that’s bad if you plan to read a lot. I decided it might be off-putting to some readers; certainly it was hard on my old eyes.

A lot of the themes employ cyan-colored type — way too much of it. I don’t know why. It’s not pleasant to read; it makes cyan a primary color component of the blog, even if the head is customizable. Blocks of text like the posts themselves should be set in black, period. Heads, links, accents can be other colors, but for readability, text should be black; anything else is distracting as well as harder to read.

Connections theme
Connections theme

I’ve used this theme, Connections, before. I’m not wild about the colors and they certainly don’t do anything for my current orange-toned header. On the other hand, it’s not cyan and I really like the date block at the top of each post. You can show the day of the week and the time of the post. That information really nails a post for me.

I’m still tinkering with the date formatting. If I resorted to the mm/dd/yy format, I could get the date on one line. However, outside the U.S., many nations use the dd/mm/yy format. It confuses me occasionally, so I assume others might have the same problem. I opted out of the 24-hour clock for the same reason; that clock may be second nature to a lot of people, but I am forever thinking, “Okay, it’s past 12:00, so I subtract 12 to get the actual time.” Trying to use Greenwich mean time confuses me even more. I’m in the Mountain Time Zone, which is -7000 Greenwich time. But when we go to daylight savings, will that become -8000, or -6000? Or does Greenwich change too, so I’m always at -7000, no matter what? Is it really that complicated, or I’m I just getting old? (Rhetorical question; don’t answer that.)

The archives access in this theme is pathetic; I’m gambling that most people don’t look at the archives anyway. All you get here is a poorly designed widget with a drop-down list of months. With Black Letterhead and a few other themes, there’s an archive page template that lists all your posts by both month and category, plus a list of your 25 most recent posts.

The Search widget with this theme is poorly designed, with no options for changing it. It looks like an afterthought.

On the up side, this theme offers flush left (aligned left) text, which is really the only acceptable option if you want to ensure proper word spacing throughout. I won’t use a theme with justified type, period. San serif fonts used to be preferable to this theme’s serif font on computer screens, but with today’s higher resolutions, it’s less of a problem. (Historically, serif fonts are considered more readable, because the serifs direct the eye and help define letter and word forms; those serifs tended to drop out or blur on older computer screens.)

The lists in the Connections widgets are nicely done, with a distinct tic for each item. In many themes you can’t distinguish one item from the next.

And of course, by now you’ve deduced that I like themes with customizable heads. I may get over that one day, but I tend to doubt it. It’s the only way you can put your own stamp on a free WordPress theme.

Additions, 2/15/09:

I also look at how a theme handles block quotes, which I use a lot. Stylistically, a block quote should be indented from both margins, period. The type should be the same size and color as the text before and after. I don’t mind a decorative device, such as a quotation mark, to emphasize that the block is a direct quote, but the reading should flow easily from text through quote to text. There’s at least one WordPress theme that sets off block quotes in boxes, and that’s poor design. A block quote is meant to be read as part of the text of the article; it should not be set apart in a box like a decorative call-out.

Ease of navigation is another important consideration. I prefer themes where the sidebar is always shown. This makes it easy to explore the blog without first having to return to the home page for navigation aids. I don’t like designs where, once you’ve clicked to a specific article, your only navigation options are the previous or next post. Also, there should be an obvious “home” button. Readers not familiar with WordPress themes may not know that clicking on the header will usually return them to the home page.

Comments are very important and should be as reader friendly as the text itself, not in smaller type or odd colors. Links to read or add comments should be readily apparent.

On multi-author blogs, the author’s name should be clearly noted at the top of the post. I have mixed feelings about categories and tags appearing at the top of a post. They clutter the heading and I’m not sure anyone reads them. Given a choice, I’d put them at the end of the post.

I won’t deny there are times when I miss Blogger. They had some themes I really liked, and you could get into the code to rearrange things, change colors, etc., for free. Also, there are fewer limitations on scripts and third party widgets, etc. Unfortunately, the last time I checked, switching from WordPress to Blogger was virtually impossible, compared to the ease of switching from Blogger to WordPress.

2 thoughts on “Rearranging the furniture … again

  1. You are speaking my language. I also change the header like I change my panties- I can’t help it- I’m never happy with it!

    Your blog is layed out quite nicely here and the new header is so pretty!

    I wish I could find something and just stick with it, but that’s NOT gonna happen any time soon. Maybe when I get my own domain and have more control. Right now, I’m completely at WP mercy. Oh well, it’s free- I cannot complain 😉 (OR CAN I?) This is America after all, LOL!

    [Ah, but you see, we aren’t complaining. Ours is constructive criticism from serious graphic artists.]

... and that's my two cents