If you are using the free version of WordPress.com, you know there are a certain number of Themes to choose from. Some themes can be customized considerably, and some are quite fixed. I have tried a great number of these themes, and have not settled on any one as being perfect for me. The following are some of my thoughts on choosing themes:
1. I have several blogs. Some are mostly photos, and some are mostly writing. I prefer a darker theme for the photo blog, because I think the photos look better on a darker background. The dark background necessitates white print, which I think is harder to read. So I wouldn’t choose a dark background theme for a writing blog.
2. I think Categories are the best way to navigate my blogs. So I want the Categories Widget to be on a sidebar, either to the left, or the right of my posts. I don’t want the Categories to be way down at the bottom in the footer. I also wouldn’t choose single column themes because they, too, would not display categories where I want them.
3. Probably the most important criteria should be how physically easy it is to read the blog. This is determined by the Font that is used, the size of the font, the color of the font, and the page background. A Font Study done for the Software Usability Research Lab (SURL) at Wichita State University was published in January 2002. It looked at Legibility, Attractiveness and Font Size. Study participants indicated that the most legible fonts were Arial, Courier and Verdana. The most attractive fonts were Georgia and Times New Roman. The best font size depended on the font itself, with Verdana looking best at 10 point size, and Arial and Times New Roman looking best at 12 point. Overall, Verdana was the most preferred font. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
Fonts are usually categorized as being either Sans Serif, such as Arial, Tahoma or Verdana; or they are Serif, such as Times New Roman and Georgia. There are a huge number of other fonts that fall into these two categories. The majority of them, however, are not advised for use on the internet. The reason has to do with which fonts are installed on most computers. Visitors to your site will only see fonts that are installed on their own computer. The vast majority of computers, whether Windows or Mac based, will have the following fonts installed: Sans Serif – Arial, Tahoma and Verdana; Serif – Georgia, Times New Roman.
The size of the font is important too, but I think most web browsers allow the viewer to adjust the size of the text. The color of the text is another issue. The reason books are generally black type on white paper is because this causes the least eye strain. So, if a blog consists mostly of words, black type on a light color background would make the most sense.
4. Many bloggers use Pages in addition to Posts. I like Themes that display the Pages on Tabs near the top of the page. I particularly like the “HOME” tab. It lets the reader get back to the beginning if they get lost somewhere in the blog hierarchy. If a theme doesn’t display Page Tabs, the fallback position is a Widget.
5. If a Photo or Graphic is wider than the column it is supposed to fit in, the Theme will deal with in one way or another. Some Themes will proportionally shrink the photo so that it fits in the space, and still looks right. Some themes just squinch the picture so that it is narrow enough to fit, but leave the length the same. Some themes just clip the offending width off.
6. I’m also interested in how the Theme treats Blockquotes. Many themes just put them in italics and center them on the page. But some themes make the quotes stand out by putting a big quotation mark in front, or a line along the side, or boxing them.
7. Some themes have custom colors, custom headers and/or custom backgrounds. These features can lead to all sorts of strange and wonderful results. The limit to complete customization is the lack of a custom footer too…
My experience with Themes tells me that so far there is no perfect theme for me. I will have to pick the most important features, and compromise on the rest of the stuff. Of course, if you upgrade to Custom CSS, then you have a lot more choice on how your blog appears!