WordPress Themes - March 12, 2016

What to Learn BEFORE Making WordPress Themes

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So, you want to make WordPress themes? That’s awesome! But, do you know where to start?

Whether you want to sell them or just give them away for free, making WordPress themes isn’t that easy. One may think “Yeah, so all I need to do is edit that theme so much that nobody would recognize it anymore and then I release it” or “I just need a theme boilerplate and I’m in business” but in fact, there’s just a little more than that. And in this post, I’m going to walk you through what you need to learn about before making WordPress themes.

Let’s begin!

Design Theory

Here’s a no-brainer: If you want to make good-looking themes, you need to know what “good-looking” means first.

You might think you’re a natural at designing things. While I can’t say that you’re not (because I can’t possibly know all my readers), I can say this: Even if you’re a natural, you need to learn the theory of design. You’ll be surprised how you will improve your design skills, no matter if you’re a natural or not.

Finally, a quick advice: If you’ve educated yourself on design but you still suck at it, don’t persist in and hire (or partner up with) a designer.

HTML, CSS and JavaScript

Front-end development is an essential skill, just like the other ones I mention in this article.

Some programmers think that HTML and CSS aren’t considered as codedo not believe them. Even though they’re not programming languages, they are indeed languages for markup and styling. Markup and styling is just as important as programming–sometimes even more important. Don’t make the same mistakes as those cocky programmers and learn HTML and CSS, deeply.

As for JavaScript, watch out for it–it has the potential to be the most important and popular programming language in the future. It’s tempting to pass on learning about it and use libraries and jQuery plugins, but your future might depend on it.

PHP, MySQL and WordPress Core APIs

Hey, I didn’t say programming isn’t important.

In order to make functioning WordPress themes, you have to know about WordPress. And its APIs. And in order to learn about WordPress and its APIs, you have to know about PHP. And MySQL. And the relationship between all of them. Learn. Your. Code.

Coding Standards and ThemeForest Guidelines

Speaking of learning your code, do you know that you can’t code however you like? You need to follow standards, and guidelines.

As a guide for WordPress coding standards, check out this amazing series by Tom McFarlin, on Tuts+. And as for ThemeForest guidelines, check out this page on Envato Market Help Center. Again, these are just as important as the other skills you need to master, because if you fail to apply them, you won’t be able to publish your theme on ThemeForest.

Legal Stuff and Basic Marketing

Finally, the two important aspects of making WordPress themes: Legalese (the language for legal stuff) and Marketish (the language for marketing stuff).

On legal things, you must know about how licensing works in the software world. The most important licenses you need to know about are GPL, MIT, Creative Commons (not for software, but for graphics and images mostly) and ThemeForest licenses. (Quick tip: My favorite website about software licensing is TLDRLegal.)

And as for marketing, all I can say is this: If you don’t learn how to market your products, you’re basically letting it rot in the archives of ThemeForest. Customers don’t (and won’t) check out thousands of themes before buying one, so be sure to make an appearance.

In Conclusion

Do not believe anyone saying that making WordPress themes is easy. Design. HTML. CSS. JavaScript. PHP. MySQL. WordPress. Coding standards. ThemeForest guidelines. Legalese. Marketing. Learn them. I’ve given out very few resources for you, and it was intentional because this article isn’t about teaching you those skills, but telling you what to learn instead.

What do you think on this topic? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments section below. And thanks for reading!

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