Watch Me Design a WordPress Theme: Colors, Fonts, and Design Decisions

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NewsPlay, header designed

Yesterday was a really eventful one for the design and development of NewsPlay. I can’t take all of the credit, either. There were quite a few friends and readers involved in different elements. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I lost a lot of sleep developing this concept. And I think (hope) it was worth it. I’m still a ways from complete, but I think it’s finally something worth looking at and talking about.


Current state of design for NewsPlay, small

Borders and Color Palettes

I always have trouble with color choices, and this case was no different. I was chatting with someone I work with at Aspiring Indie about it (via Campfire) and she made a good point.

Color discussion on Campfire about Newsplay

She made a good point. If I want this to really take on the look and feel of a newspaper (and be mold-able by others) I need to keep the canvas somewhat open. Thanks, Ashley!

Oh, and I’m really excited about the border style. It’t pretty unique (that’s what she said) but it’s really growing on me.

…that’s what she said.

Teaser Images in the Masthead

This one really took some playing with. I mentioned this in an earlier videoblog, but basically I want the top section of this theme to operate the way the topmost portion of a newspaper does; that is, to highlight stories within the publication.

Here’s what I started with.

Beginning the teaser design process for NewsPlay

That’s from the gray box design I started with. From this I went through a few different renditions. Least of which was this.

Designing the teasers for NewsPlay

Pretty nasty, right? I should get points for disclosure in showing you the steps I take!

After some design and deliberation, though, I came to this. I think it’s a pretty cool way of showing off what’s new.

Designing the teasers for NewsPlay

Oh, and thanks to Scott from Phoreo for pointing out that the color in the header was tough to read. Fixed it, for the sake of eyes everywhere.

I like this way because it gives lots of space, has a nice tight size of the display image, and doesn’t take too much away from the header. What do you think?

The Sidebar, Before and After

I had some nice feedback from readers in my last post regarding the sidebar, and hopefully this will reflect some of those ideas.

Sidebar, before and after for NewsPlay, small 

Click the image for a bigger version.

I’m playing with the idea of adding the date and breadcrumbs to the top of the sidebar, thanks to the suggestion from Neil in the comments the other day. It’s not quite in the header, Neil, but I’m hoping it might pull off a similar effect. Thoughts?

I really like this way of bordering (is that a verb?) the images in this theme. What do you think?

Choosing Fonts

Typography truly can make or break a design. I will talk about keeping a vertical grid later (something which greatly improves a site’s design) but right now I want to explain the decision to switch from sans-serif to serif on this theme.

One reason for the switch is that serif type better reflects print typography, in that many printed publications will use serif since it’s (arguably) easier to read on paper. Another reason for the switch is that I think Georgia looks prettier than Helvetica for this theme. Screens below.

NewsPlay with Helvetica 

Using Helvetica.

NewsPlay with Georgia 

Using Georgia.

As always, I’m open to suggestions. And changing this part of the theme will always be pretty simple, thanks to the beauty of CSS!

Thoughts Moving Forward

This post was much easier as a regular text post than a videoblog. I look forward to some more screencasting as I start cutting the theme together, but that’s a few days away right now.

Here’s the most recent PSD, as recent as the one sitting open on my laptop. I’ve incorporated Ulrich’s thoughts and contribution into this new one, so be sure and take a look. This is starting to take life a bit! (Thanks for the ideas, Ulrich!)

I will be experimenting next with a fluid two or three column option. What this means is I will want to have a design that looks good in a number of different ways. We’ll see how it goes, but I think it will really make this theme. Oh, and of course it will be built on Sandbox, if anyone is familiar.

Thanks for reading and participating in my little experiment here. I look forward to more feedback!

Other Posts in This Series

95 thoughts on “Watch Me Design a WordPress Theme: Colors, Fonts, and Design Decisions

  1. I´ve read the magazine series and watched this unfolding with quiet enjoyment, until now ´cos I have to say it: That whole thing is so damn great!!!

    I tried to wrestle with such theme for myself, but have not come further than a sketch…

    Keep up the brilliant work!

    BN

  2. You’re welcome. I can see that you’ve been up all night on this one. It’s amazing how fast you work.

    The border style is brilliant. Keep that.

    Regarding fonts. Be very careful to choose a font thats standard on 99% of the PC’s out there. I’ve seen a lot of nice designs go up in smoke because the designer choose a special font, nobody knew about.

    This is a great idea to put the process “out on display” and let people participate ind the design. When your done with this one how about a “business design”? Or some other branch who might be using WordPress as platform.

  3. Love the barcode!
    It’s looking great Ryan. The sidebar is really coming along. I wonder if there is a place there for something like Twitter which could be used for newsflashes or site news.
    I think you are right about the font. The Guardian is a sans-type brand but even it goes serif for its online site http://www.guardian.co.uk/

    Which reminds me, some users might expect to see a search box near the top. Maybe where the about text is.

    As for the footer, if the design wasn’t already quite image-heavy, that could be the place for a Flickr stream.
    Ah, so many decisions. I hope it’s not distracting you from eating turkey 🙂
    Great work.

  4. I agree with Neil. A searchbar is missing. I’ve made some minor changes to the sidebar and header. At the sidebar, i’ve made the comments and categories mouse-over effect the same.

    A little more whitespace at the header to make it less “heavy” on the eyes. Thats all. Take it, use it.. Or throw it away. Oh and happy thanksgiving.

    Download the PSD-file here: http://bojko.dk/design02_ubo.psd

  5. Ryan, it’s looking pretty good. I’m a big fan of that darker orange color you’re using on an otherwise black & white theme.

    I’ve seen some time-lapse or fast-forward type videos of people drawing in Photoshop and the like. Maybe that would make for an interesting way to do video.

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  9. I have always like series that lay out each step to a final product. Compelling read.

    I totally agree with you on the Georgia font choice. Looks a lot better.

  10. I´ve read the magazine series and watched this unfolding with quiet enjoyment, until now ´cos I have to say it: That whole thing is so damn great!!!

    I tried to wrestle with such theme for myself, but have not come further than a sketch…

    Keep up the brilliant work!

  11. I’ve seen some time-lapse or fast-forward type videos of people drawing in Photoshop and the like. Maybe that would make for an interesting way to do video.

  12. One thing I miss on your design is the searchbox. I think it’s a very useful thing to have nearby, specially on a magazine-style website 😉

    Hope it helps!

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  15. Ryan
    This is excellent. I love the clean style of the ‘Guardian’ and how your theme mirrors this but retains its own unique perspective.

    I am watching this development with interest and will be keen to see the finished product. I have to admire designers like you as I won’t know where to start!

    Content in blogs in one thing, appearance is what makes blog ‘ gold’

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  17. I love following a series that explains and discusses each step of the process culminating into a final product. This is always the best approach to doing things and getting proper feedback. The Georgia font choice is the better choice, it just looks better.

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