BookerTalk

Changing WordPress Theme: BookerTalk Gets A Makeover

Photo credit: Anna Daudelin via Unsplash.com

The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.

Socrates

After two months of hesitation and prevarication, I bit the bullet last week and changed my blog theme. If only I’d listened to old Socrates I would have done this earlier, saving myself a heap of frustration.

The problem was that I really liked the Mystique theme I’d been using for the last eight years. But there were two things that really bugged me.

One was that I could not get my tagline to be legible in the header. No matter what I did, the words “Adventures with great fiction around the world” were never legible against the background image. Helpful people on the WordPress forum gave some suggestions on how to fix this but it involved something called CSS customisation and frankly, that went over my head. So I just gave up.

The old look BookerTalk

The second problem only became apparent once I started working with the new Gutenberg block editor. Having mastered the basics I wanted to branch out and experiment with some of the more advanced design functions. Though I suspected they would ultimately prove to be more ‘style over substance’ I was still curious about blocks called “patterns” and “tiled gallery”.

But every attempt resulted in the same error message: my theme was not compatible with Gutenberg.

I could have just thrown in the towel there and then. Accepted that Mystique wasn’t perfect but, just like my favourite pair of boots, it was comfortable.

But there was one thought that just wouldn’t go away: Gutenberg, for all its current flaws, is the future. It’s where WordPress is putting all its efforts. Programmers likewise are only interested in developing themes, widgets and plug ins that are compatible with Gutenberg. So anything that isn’t compatible (like my theme!) will get slowly get more creaky and unresponsive.

I decided to make the change now rather than hang on until the bitter end.

Making the switch

Changing the the theme wasn’t nearly as horrible an experience as I expected. The biggest issue was finding a theme that matched my most important requirements:

I thought these were fairly basic needs and there would be many design options available. But I was wrong. WordPress seems to have become more like a website design platform than a text-based blog. So many of the themes are geared towards the needs of businesses or lifestyle bloggers. If you want a blog with high visual appeal (think large images and minimal text) you’re in luck. Photographers, travel bloggers, fitness bloggers are well served. But if you want a blog with more emphasis on substantive content, the choices are limited.

I eventually plumped for a theme called ColorMag which is described as “suitable for news, newspaper, magazine, publishing” sites. At first glance, it looked too image-heavy for my needs but I discovered you can change the layout to replace images with text blocks.

Design template for ColorMag theme

The new look BookerTalk, using the ColorMag theme, is now live. It’s still a work in progress. Though I’ve managed to customise the colours and get the menus working, I’m still trying to figure out how to get the home page to show more than one line from each post. And I’ll probably do some more tweaks to the main menu.

Tips For Changing Themes

I don’t claim to be an expert on WordPress themes but, based on my experience, I thought I’d offer some tips for those of you who may be thinking of changing themes.

  1. Before you make any changes, do some screen grabs of your existing site. Pay particular attention to capturing your current menu and navigation bars. I assumed when I switched themes, that my menu and navigation items would simply transfer across. I was wrong. I had to re-create them. Luckily I had my screen grabs so I didn’t need to rely on my memory for what items went where.
  1. Also before you lost your current theme, be sure to take note of any custom colours you’ve used. Look at my earlier post on text formatting to learn how to discover your colour specification. It would probably be wise also to make a note of any copy you use regularly (like explanations of memes you might do each week).
  1. To discover available themes go to My Sites »Themes. This path will take you to a new screen with “recommended themes”, based on your WordPress plan. I found this easier than using the path of WPAdmin »Appearance»Themes»Add New. You’ll get many more themes to select from in this second method but there is almost too much choice and you can easily get lost.
  1. When you find a theme you think will be suitable, click the image – that should give you a page describing the theme in more detail. You’ll be able to see how much customisation is possible. Pay particular attention to the “features” and “specs” sections which should tell you, for example, if threaded comments are supported; if you can add a site logo and whether featured images are possible. Make sure that your new theme allows for widgets.
  1. Don’t apply your chosen site until you click on the “live demo” option. You need to get a preview of how your content will look in this theme.
  1. Try out a few themes before you make your final selection.

Can You Help?

I’d love to hear what you think of the new design. Did I miss something when I made the switch over? Are there any features that are not working the way you think they should? Any improvements you’d like to see? Do leave me a comment to let me know…

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