Here are my slides for my WordCamp Atlanta presentation, From PSD to WordPress Theme: Under the skin:
This presentation covers how to get from a photoshop design to a theme in WordPress. The sample theme I use in the presentation is actually live at http://psd2wp.circlecube.com. I’m not trying to teach css or html here. I more wanted to focus on the process I usually go through in creating a site or theme. Let’s work on this PDS template design called Corporate Clean, which was designed and published by Zsolt Kacso. I saw this done by a drupal theme shop and figured the wordpress world could use the same. (Also check out Corporate Clean for Drupal http://drupal.org/project/corporateclean and download the design they link to on that page: http://mttdownloads.s3.amazonaws.com/projects/kaolti/corporateclean_psds.zip)
First, What is a Theme?
The basic structure of a theme is usually something like: Header, Content, Aside(s) and Footer.
We know what types of files or templates we need to include in our theme by using the Template Hierarchy is how WordPress determines which template to use on each page. It looks for template files with specific names in the current Theme’s directory and uses the first matching template file listed under the appropriate query section below. (See Joost De Valk’s Anatomy of a WordPress Theme Infographic).
A wordpress specific term that took me a while to get used to was “the loop”
There are many different roads to a WordPress theme.
All themes are not created equal. There are different type and diffrerent qualitiy levels of themes. We can group them into these main areas though (some of which overlap):
- Free – benefit, it’s FREE. Only problem is there’s not a great vetting process and a lot of themes out there aren’t good quality themes you’d want on your site (even if they look nice from the front).
- Premium – although WP is open source software as in free, not all themes are free, some will cost you.
- From Scratch – It is possible to make a theme from the bottom. This could be beneficial if you have something specific you’re not likely to find out there already.
- Customized – A direction many take is acquiring a theme (be it free or not) and them customizing it to make it suit them. Not a bad if you’re starting from something that is nicely done, and you know how to get from a to b.
- Standalone – Traditionally all themes were standalone packages, and the theme folder will contain all associated files.
- Parent-Child – Since WP 2.7 we’ve had the ability to have parent-child relationships in theming! This means that you can have a theme you want to base yours on and separate any modifications you make to it into a “child” theme that will inherit everything else from it’s “parent”.
- Frameworks – Frameworks are themes that have been designed to be used as a starting point or a parent theme. Some have feature rich options pages that allow you to build a theme or site from within the WordPress admin. These really help theme developers to avoid repeating the same code in every theme they make. One caveat to this is that if you’re new to WP, you need to learn all the wordpress specific code as well as any additional code for the theme framework . It complicates the learning curve a bit, but it has long term benefits of speed and ease.
My preferred theme route is using a theme framework. My preferred framework is thematic. Thematic is the ultimate in SEO-ready themes, it is a highly extensible framework which features 13 widget-ready areas, drop-down menus, grid-based layout samples, plugin integration, shortcodes for your footer, and a whole lot more. Thematic as of now is about to get a significant update as well. Resources for thematic include forums, guides, diagrams, tutorials, thematic4you …
Before getting into the design, let’s talk one more fundamental wordpress term: hooks
Hooks are spots in the code that are flagged for us to easily customize how our site or theme functions. To visualize, think about all the thousands of lines of code that gets executed to load a page on a site (yes, there are thousands), and think of it like each line of code is like someone in line at the gracery store checkout . They’d be lined up in order of execution. Hooks are like people in the line that are holding a sign allowing you to cut in line at that precise position to run your own code. There are action hooks and filter hooks in wordpress. Action hooks are for executing your own action at that spot in line, and a filter is about changing something in the line right there. Like if you wanted to insert some ad at the end of every post. You could either add an action that would place it there, filter the post content and add it to the content itself (and you could even filter the content before it goes to the database, or before it’s rendered onto the page). More on action and filter hooks here.
Returning to that added complexity of using a framework, many frameworks will add their own hooks on top of the wordpress hooks. So on top of learning any wordpress hooks you also need to learn the ones specific to your chosen framework where you need to access them. So once you get used to using one framework it may be painful to leave and loose and invested learning in that one. Check these diagrams of thematic structure (blue mandela.com and visualizing.thematic4you.com) including hooks for an visual representation. And the thematic guide to filters and hooks.
Getting from a design in photoshop to an actual WordPress (thematic) child theme while trying not to reinvent the wheel.
The Technical – Actually making the theme
Once you install thematic in your wordpress site, look at the theme directory (/wp-content/themes/thematic/) and you’ll see that thematic comes with a ‘thematicsamplechildtheme’. It’s nice that they thought of this, it gives us a great starting place! We copy that folder, rename it to whatever we want, and place it in the theme directory (sibling to thematic itself). Like so:
The thematicsamplechildtheme has 3 files in it: the style.css, functions.php, readme.txt. I added the screenshot.png file (it will automatically get pulled into the backend as the image of the theme) and made some edits to the stylesheet. Later we’ll add all our styles to the css here, but for now we need to understand that the comment block in the file communicates the details of the theme to wordpress. We need to edit the css file so it reflects our theme properly. The block of text in the comment is formated in a specific way that wordpress will read it and it’s actually pretty self explanitory! All we need to do is update the details. Take special notice of the Template line (it’s what tells WordPress that this theme is a child theme using thematic as the parent), here’s what I’ve done:
Theme Name: Corporate Clean : A Thematic Child Theme
Description: Thematic Child Theme Presentation
Author: Evan Mullins
Author URI: https://circlecube.com/circlecube/
Thematic is © Ian Stewart http://themeshaper.com/
Corporate Clean Design by Zsolt Kacso http://kaolti.com/ http://www.behance.net/kaolti/frame/1498151
Once we have this in place, we go to the appearance section in our wordpress dashboard and select our theme. Then we can then make our edits to our stylesheet and see them live on our site!
Before we go opening a can of CSS, let’s look at a couple things and think big picture. We haven’t yet mentioned what this ‘functions.php’ file is. This is the section where we will do any php related to our theme, in other words our hooks! That includes any wordpress or thematic hooks. This samle theme actually has a couple snippets we can uncomment and a sample filter.
Process & Workflow
My purpose in this presentation was never to show you how to slice a photoshop document into web ready images or how to write CSS. I just wanted to help people get more familiar with or started with building themes. I want to talk a little about my process because when I started theming, while I understood the tech (as in css/html) (although I still had and have lots to learn), the process around theming was somewhat of a mystery. I usually follow a loose workflow/cycle when I’m making a site:
- Layout – Wireframe, get content areas (widgets) blocked out. Getting the right content in the right places, or creating the right places to put the content.
- Structure – Info Archietecture, get the proper post types and think through any needed templates. Getting the right content types. Ideally we should put this code into a theme functionality plugin to separate the functionality from the visual style. Some think it’s best to put that into a plugin so the theme can be changed. But that’s beyond the scope of this presentation, so I’m just going to show you the code to do it and include it in the theme for now.
- Style/Design – CSS, using images and styles to get things visual. Getting the right content looking right.
- Interactive – JS, making any client-side scripts lively. Getting content interactive.
- Population – The plain old and sometimes even boring, data entry.
- Rinse and repeat! This is loose and a cycle, I jump through each of these phases numerous times for each element.
Each of these phases contain different tasks, I’ll include some examples and point out some resources. I don’t want to focus on the exact things to do for any and every situation, but talk more about the way to do things. Basically teach to fish, rather than feed you a few fish.
I think I’ll leave that for another day though. This has gotten quite long!
Video via WordPress.tv