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WordPress Starter Themes

Whenever I need to create a new website using WordPress I’m always struck by analysis paralysis. Do I make it from scratch? Do I use a ready-made theme? Do I use a theme framework? It’s often a really hard decision to make as it doesn’t always become clear until later in the project which method would have worked the best. Luckily, starter themes are a nice middle-ground. They contain enough built-in code which means you’re not spending days creating the same basic template for each new project; they are usually part of an active community which means they are stable and reliable; they don’t contain a lot of code bloat or are packed with features which you don’t need, and best of all… they’re free!

If you haven’t used a starter theme before they are basically a time saving option which sets the groundwork for you to create your own WordPress theme. They are not meant to be used by creating a child theme but instead should be hacked and edited directly into your own WordPress masterpiece. In this post I’ll be looking at 3 of the most popular starter themes you can use today.

Underscores

Built by the folks at Automattic – the people who created WordPress.com – Underscores is a deliberately lightweight and bare bones theme aimed at developers. It has a proven track record (WordPress’s own Twenty Fourteen theme was built on it), an estimated 300,000+ downloads and an active development team / Github repository. It is a secure, stable theme which Automattic say will give you ‘A 1000 hour headstart‘ on creating your own WordPress theme.

Features include:

  • HTML5 templates
  • 404 template
  • Sample custom header implementation
  • Integrated toggle menu for smaller devices
  • 2 sample CSS layouts
  • Organised CSS (including normalize)

Bones

Bones is built on the latest web standards and takes a mobile-first approach to building websites. It comes loaded with SASS (with a library of partial stylesheets already set-up) which means you can easily keep your code organised (especially when working in larger teams) and take advantage of SASS features such as variables, nesting and mixins. It also makes it easy to add Custom Post Types and includes functions for customizing the admin area for clients.

Features include:

  • Built upon the HTML5 boilerplate
  • Mobile first approach
  • Responsive design
  • Comes with LESS and SASS
  • Fallback for older browsers
  • Cleaner header section
  • Great documentation

Quark

Quark is based on the Underscores and Twenty Twelve themes and aims to provide more inbuilt functionality by adding features you would expect from a CSS framework such as a grid system, styling rules and icon fonts. It also includes the Options Framework which allows you to easily create an options panel which clients can then use to customize your theme using a clean and stylish UI.

Features include:

  • 12 column grid system
  • Uses root em’s for font sizes
  • Includes Normalize & Modernizr
  • Options Framework
  • Includes Font Awesome Icons
  • TinyMCE for editing posts and pages
  • A library of page and post templates
  • Shortcodes enabled in widget areas
  • Easy to create sub-menus in navigation

If you’re interested in finding out about alternative starter themes then I recommend reading this blog post by SourceWP who does a good job of listing what’s currently available in 2015.