Now that blogs are being used by groups of people (be it businesses, organizations, even schools) just as much as they are individuals, WordPress theme designers have felt that need and have created a number of quality magazine–style themes in response. Some of them are good, some are better, and some are simple outstanding. What follows is a look at them, free or otherwise, and what you need to know before grabbing them.
A Quick Note
This post is a part of a series called WordPress as a Magazine, a series here at Theme Playground all about how WordPress is being used specifically as—you guessed it—a magazine. See the full post listing in the series announcement post.
Grid Focus: Reminds Me Of…
When I look at Grid Focus I can’t help but think of Khoi Vinh’s site. This is a very clean, strong black and white theme. I especially love the tiny descriptions under the links in the menu and the footer.
The biography box at the top right allows for a nice description of the site’s purpose right from the start. This is good practice, especially when you only have a few moments to communicate what your site is about. Those sizes of images are classy, and pretty popular for some time now—just see Flickr’s buddy icons for proof.
Grid Focus sports a popular three column spread with a fat center column for a search bar and the user’s choice of links. Good to have, and this probably wouldn’t be hard to swap out with a list of popular posts or special archive lists.
Finally, one of my favorite parts of this theme (and a big part of what sets it apart) is how the post date is set apart. Off to the right with a horizontal rule—not that common, very unique. Posts are a cornerstone of any theme, and to have something that stands out, in a simple way like that, is something that could stand out to readers as well.
Positives of Grid Focus
- Black and white creates a clean blank slate appearance
- Description of site at the top sets the mood for visitors
- A unique footer makes great use of usually wasted space
Negatives of Grid Focus
- The default gray may be hard on some visitor’s eyes
- Again, on color: not too much of it
Links for Grid Focus
Gridlock: Too Hip to be
Square Center Aligned
Gridlock caught my eye right away, namely because I was involved in a recent logo design where one of the discussed fonts was this one, which I believe is deemed Asenine by Dafont.
But the font isn’t the only reason to check Gridlock out. I love the use of color, the lime green and sharp blue work well together. There’s enough white to work with a lot of content/text, but the touches of color break it up.
I have to say I’m not a fan of left–aligned layouts, but that may only be because I’ve tried before and have never been able to get them to work. Grid Focus does a good job, but I can’t say I’m completely convinced of this layout yet.
I do, however, like the post–stacked–on–two–posts thing. It gives a good feel, and may be just the right blend of blog and magazine for the average user. Of course, that has the disadvantage of not appearing quite as much like a magazine to those looking for something very much on that end of the spectrum.
Worth mentioning are the cute
In the Present and
In the Past headings above the most recent post and the second most recent post. I don’t know, stuff like that is cool and usually grabs me. Personality in a theme is a good thing, since most bloggers have, well, a personality.
Positives of Gridlock
- Touches of green/blue create a nice balance
- Cool asterisk for the about box
Negatives of Gridlock
- Left alignment may turn off some
- May not be as extensive a magazine theme as some would like
- Not a lot of use of symbols in the sidebar, something bloggers like
Links for Gridlock
Mimbo: Sounds Like…
In putting together this post, I happened across Mimbo and noticed the design because, believe it or not, I sketched out a very similar idea for a future theme just a day or two earlier. Not that anyone will ever believe me, of course. So good work, Darren, and I promise I won’t follow through with thievery.
While the three feature stories on the right of the header may seem static, they are very much dynamic and how to work them up (along with other features of the theme) are worked out in great detail in the author’s detailed instruction post. Like many advanced theme authors (The Morning After, below, utilizes this method) Darren here is using custom fields to tuck extra information into posts—in this case, images.
Everything called on the front page are dynamic, including a list of the year’s posts, multiple spots of single posts from categories, and a piece of the about page.
Oh, and you have to love the name Mimbo. Kind of like mambo, sounds like bimbo. Anyone know the story on that? Edit:
Positives of Mimbo
- Prominent search bar up top
- Consistent and modest color scheme throughout
- Awesome author box on single post views
Negatives of Mimbo
- Lots of empty space—not sure the best use of resources
- Lacks personality (tough one to verbalize!)
Links for Mimbo
The Morning After: Playground Tested, Playground Approved
To be honest, I have a bit of an affinity for The Morning After. After all, I’m using it for this blog. That in itself should be a review in itself, eh?
The Morning After features a beautifully sophisticated color scheme and subtle design decisions which add to the overall package. One of my favorite aspects is the search bar prominently at the top—similar to the one in Gardner’s Revolution Theme (see below). I like this technique, and paired with the tight menu items underneath.
There is one downside to the current version of TMA, and that is it doesn’t support widgets. This can be a big downside, especially with anyone uncomfortable with editing code. If that’s you, you may need to have someone who can help you out.
Speaking of code: this code is excellently organized and thought through. After using TMA for a couple of weeks now, I have been able to add and adapt this theme to my needs. I’ve heard a bunch of other bloggers praising it, and I can’t imagine letting go of it any time soon.
Positives of The Morning After
- Clean, professional design
- Feature posts and aside lists
- Flexible code structure and expandability
Negatives of The Morning After
- No sidebar widgets
- Some trouble with WordPress 2.3
- Somewhat small text and light link colors
Links for The Morning After
Nautica–Magazine: Blue Like Water
Nautica stands out for it’s strong use of blue, but it clashes in my eyes with the image that was chosen for the header. Simply changing that to a more neutral image would help this theme leaps and bounds.
The large width buttons for navigation is cool, and the highlighting works, and is reminiscent of Grid Lock (above) and that method of styling links. But then the potential sleek qualities of the theme which begin with the menu are lost, to me, when we get to the main content areas.
The content only has room for around 5–10 words per line, which isn’t quite enough to avoid my feeling crowded while reading it. I will say that the single post view opens it up a bit, but all that makes me want is to have more space on the homepage even more.
That, and the links in the sidebar on the right don’t seem to be styled much; kind of boring.
Positives of Nautica–Magazine
- Blue color is nice (I’m a fan)
- Gross image in header— change it right away
Negatives of Nautica–Magazine
- Definitely more crowded than the rest covered here
- Poorly–styled sidebars
Links for Nautica–Magazine
Revolution Theme: Couldn’t be a Ballsier Name
It’s not possible to write about magazine themes for WordPress without talking about Brian Gardner’s Revolution Theme. Brian has caused waves with his theme, and his success can be seen on the showcase page of his site. A lot of people have purchased his theme.
That’s right, Revolution Theme costs a few dollars. But if the alternative is paying a designer to work for you, I could see the advantage in dropping a few bucks. Each installation of Revolution will cost $59.
Revolution is a very simple, highly customizable theme. The front page has a welcome and a short sidebar, plus small feature sections with very attractive wide images. Four page templates come packaged with it, including a feature page, two single post pages, and a three column news page.
If Revolution has you thinking, maybe even your eyes wide, I would highly suggest you read about Revolution News Theme below as well.
Positives of Revolution Theme
- White and black give lots of people ideas
- Plenty of template pages for interesting sites
- Top–notch designers willing to customize it
Negative of Revolution Theme
- Costs a few bucks
Links for Revolution Theme
Revolution News Theme: New and Improved
Okay, so after reading about the Revolution Theme your first question must be
What’s the difference between these two? First of all, I think it’s nice to see a rendition of Revolution with some color—just to show Brian’s capable!
The box above changes its contents dynamically with the buttons.
Well, I’m one of the lucky few who has had hands on experience with Revolution, and from what I can tell (and what Brian has explained to me!) the generic Revolution Theme is meant for all people, especially for the means of customization. However Revolution News Theme is meant to work much easier straight out of the box for those running a news outlet of some sort. Key features include a box that dynamically updates depending on which tab above it is selected (See small screenshot to the right).
And you will definitely feel like the owner of a news outlet, because there is a huge space for an ad above the fold and to the right. I would suggest getting ride o this or moving it. Because otherwise it makes the most important part of your site a den of advertisers. Not quite as bad as one of thieves, but you get the idea.
Overall you get the idea that Revolution could be something for anybody, whereas Brian is set out to make more targeted versions for specific audiences. Just hope you are one of them!
Positives of Revolution News Theme
- Could benefit lots of different groups
- Slick tricks like the tabbed sidebar (bottom left of theme)
- Cool blue color
Negative of Revolution News Theme
- Costs a few bucks (same as RT)
Links for Revolution News Theme
Simplicity: Say no More
Probably the best part about Simplicity is that it has potential to be modified to even greater heights than it currently sits upon.
Only on second glance did Simplicity truly show to be a magazine theme. At first glance it doesn’t seem much more than a standard blog theme. But then again, with a feature post location (with optional image) and a number of places for other posts to sit. The sidebar can hold a paragraph nicely and there are two large places for ads above the fold (with one below). Part of me thinks that’s a bit too much.
It is worth mentioning (since I didn’t catch it at first) that the image right at the fold promoting a website is actually a placeholder for an ad space.
Positives of Simplicity
- Has good potential for modifications
- Good spacing for content
Negative of Simplicity
- Can’t handle a lot of news
- Rightmost sidebar seems a little lonely below the fold
Links for Simplicity
Victoria has a color scheme that I really enjoy, and the structure excites me (from a distance). I really wish I could catch an original demo site to experience it fully. It is available for download, however, so it’s not that it isn’t available. What would be the point of talking about something not available?
I love brown.
From what I can tell, this blog allows for a blog post over the top of two other blog posts, something I’ve always thought would be cool for a blog. But is it cool enough for a magazine? Honestly, it doesn’ seem cool enough to be a magazine theme quite yet. It should be able to hold and display more content on the front page.
Positives of Victoria
- Awesome color, stands out in this list
- Clean style, perfect for certain blogs
Negative of Victoria
- Doesn’t hold much content
Links for Victoria
Ygo reminds me more of a news aggregation site than it does a magazine blog of some sort. I think it’s the four column front page that makes me think that.
Inside pages are only three column, with the large one being in the middle.
The comment styling is pretty unique on Ygo, and was one of the first things I noticed. Sidebars are consistently styled throughout, and you never really have the feeling of leaving the theme’s look and feel. Say what you will of the four column layout, but this one was done pretty well.
One sort of confusion, on the design side of things, has to do with the floral effect up on the right background of the header. I don’t really see this carried into any other part of the design, which makes for a slightly lopsided design. Maybe I should recede my consistency comment?
Positives of Ygo CMS
- Has lots of potential as a link/aggregate theme
- Consistency is maintained
Negative of Ygo CMS
- Unable to post very large images to the front page
- Four columns may be too much; cuts off text