The Stigma of Using Others’ Themes


photo by Ryan Imel

photo by Ryan Imel

Note: This post may be something only developers will relate to. Any WordPress users might find these thoughts kind of strange.

I always cringe, sometimes inwardly and sometimes outwardly, at the idea of using someone else’s WordPress theme instead of my own. Let me try and explain.

The theme I’ve used more than anything in the past on my WordPress projects is Sandbox, from Andy Skelton and Scott Wallick. I suppose at this point it would be considered a Theme FrameworkTM, something comparable to Thematic or Theme Hybrid. I was a big fan of things like the body class function and the beautiful XHTML markup that stood at its core. At the time I was using Sandbox I wasn’t yet working with child themes to any extent, so I was pretty much digging into the theme each time.

Anymore I build any themes I use or my clients use completely from scratch. At times I will borrow from other GPL licensed functions here and there, usually for code I need not rewrite myself. So for sites like Theme Playground, my personal blog, and all of my client projects, I start from scratch — or, I should say, my own square one.

But some WordPress projects come up here and there that don’t really lend to me taking the time I would need to create something original. When I help a friend of mine put up a blog, or need to build a site for a smaller project, it usually turns toward using someone else’s themes.

Technically Medical logo

Take the case of a project I’m working on with a friend of mine, Nick. We are doing a podcast about medical technology called Technically Medical, and needed a blog to be set up at Go ahead and check it out, it’s on a slightly modified version of the popular WooThemes’ theme called BlogTheme.

This really isn’t about other theme developers, at all. I totally respect the work of other WordPress theme developers and admire much of their work. That said, I sort of twitch every time I “give in” so to speak and use another’s theme.

I realize this is because I am a developer myself, and by nature I must be pretty full of myself, and my code. There are little things that get under my skin (like site titles not being h1s, I’m one of those) but in general I don’t feel like I have a handle on the underlying code of the theme if it’s something that I haven’t built myself.

Am I alone in this, or are there any other developers that feel this way? Again, nothing against these other developers at all, I just get queasy when I have to use their themes.

9 thoughts on “The Stigma of Using Others’ Themes

  1. yeah. i think it’s just the way it is. if you’re end goal is helping your client, then that’s what you’re going to do, even if it means using someone else’s theme to rock it.

    all good. we’re all one family.

  2. I feel the same way. I realize that sometimes using an existing theme is the way to go, but feel that every time I have to do it, God kills a kitten… or something.

  3. I know exactly what you mean, but I’m going to have to go with a “it depends”. 🙂

    For clients, I don’t think it matters so much, at least not for what I do. Then again, I’m not out there touting myself as a theme designer. 😉

    For a designer’s site, then you betcha, I wanna see your own creation. Or at least something that is unrecognizable from the theme you started with. Kinda like what we did with

  4. If I’m doing something for myself – then I’ll sometimes take an existing theme, possibly modify it. But if I’m doing it for a client, then I always rework something, often from scratch. If they wanted a custom theme they should get it, not a hacked together theme that they could have downloaded their self.

    • I absolutely agree with you, Walter. My only caveat would be, like I said, themes like Sandbox or potentially Thematic, that are created to be stepping stones for greater, original works.

      My main qualm with using other themes is for myself, or more personal projects. I would argue, like you, that other people’s work has no place when it comes to showing your own work to clients.

  5. Currently i´m developing my own little theme framework as a base to work from. I used some GPL-Themes as long as i didn´t know enough about integrating jQuery, but by now i´m just expanding my own little library. I just don´t feel comfortable when not everything is under my control, with which i mean i didn´t write (just mod) the code. It´s just hard for me to step into new code with every project, so developing my own base is much more goal and i think this is where most of the theme frameworks started.

  6. I couldn’t even imagine using someone else’s theme for my own project. My projects are like my children and it would just seem wrong not to be the one designing and developing the theme for them.

    When it comes to clients it’s a different story. I’d prefer clients have me design and develop from scratch, but in the end it’s about what they want and what they’re willing to pay for. Sometimes that means customizing an existing theme.

  7. good question here, nice blog you got here ryan, never had the time to drop a line.

    So, i think it’s ok to take someone else’s theme, as long as you need it only for some parts of the code, or design inspiration.
    When i create a theme i like to start from scratch, even if the time to complete the task will double, i have to agree with Steven, my themes are my childrens. But sometimes in raising a children you have to learn from others.

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