James is a Senior Front-End Developer with almost 10 years total experience in freelance, contract, and agency work. He has spoken at conferences, including local WordPress meet-ups and the online WP Summit. James's favorite parts of web development include creating meaningful animations, presenting unique responsive design solutions, and pushing Sass’s limits to write powerful modular CSS. You can find out more about James at jamessteinbach.com.
This article is for developers who build custom WordPress themes. There are times when buying a premium theme or modifying it with a child theme are fine, but in many situations, there isn’t an existing theme that fits a client’s content needs precisely or that conveys their visual identity correctly.
There are a number of useful blank themes or starter themes available for custom WordPress theme development. Some of the more common ones include Bones, Roots, Joints, HTML5 Blank, and HTML5 Reset. These themes have various levels of built-in styling. Some rely on Bootstrap; others use Foundation. Some include a CSS reset; others simply include normalize.css.
My personal favorite is _s (also called “Underscores). It’s a blank theme maintained by Automattic, the company who runs WordPress.com, Jetpack, Akismet, and Gravatar. This ensures that it stays fresh and up-to-date with current WordPress code standards. In fact, at least 30 updates were made just last month.
Not only is _s up-to-date with WordPress standards, it also stays on top of HTML5 standards. Using semantic tags like
<section>, it presents your content as accurately as possible for search engines. Note: if you’re concerned about layout in IE8 and down, include html5shiv in your theme.
Another thing I love about _s is what it doesn’t have. It doesn’t have a grid system, options framework, or js library. In other words, it doesn’t have bloat that I’ll have to trim later. The only styles it has (besides a reset and navigation) are the ones I choose add. I understand that plenty of people rely on CSS frameworks to speed up development, but I’d rather invest the necessary time in development and speed up the site!
If you’ve used WordPress as a CMS for your clients, you’ve probably had to reassure a client that it’s not just ‘a blogging platform’. The Dashboard, however, doesn’t help. Unless you’ve installed plugins that provide custom post types, all an editor can add are posts and pages. Nearly every client site or premium theme I’ve built has needed something custom: products, events, testimonials, team members, services, locations, and so on.
There are some less-than-ideal ways to provide what your client needs. You can give them strict instructions for using post categories or parent pages to create faux post types (that’ll break as soon as they forget your instructions). You can find a plugin for each custom post type (that’ll introduce more code too, for you to vet and maintain). A cleaner solution is to add your own post types. This article will compare Types and Pods, two plugins for creating unique custom post types to match your (or your client’s) needs precisely.