Given the quality of WordPress, it’s no surprise that it’s become the platform of choice for many web professionals.
Due to its incredible popularity, though, the majority of WordPress sites look very similar. It can be hard to find a site without the same-old header, footer, and sidebar that is seen on the majority of themes.
But those sites do exist. If you look hard enough, you can find the incredibly talented designers that take WordPress to an entirely different level. By combining an eye for design, technical know-how, and a sense of “outside-of-the-box” thinking, these designers create customizations that make you wonder how you lived without WordPress as your CMS.
Check out the sites below for 15 of these impressive theme customizations, and see what can happen when you take the standard function of WordPress and step it up a notch. If you’re looking for more ideas for WordPress themes, check WPMU.org who often stays up to date on current changes.
The Alamo Basement
The Alamo Basement
The Alamo Basement is the portfolio site of Illustrator, Kelly K. You should visit this site during different times of the day, as it “knows” whether to display the daytime scene pictured above, or a nighttime version, instead. The header graphic is a creative flash animation, with thumbnail graphics of Kelly’s illustrations below. The home page takes on a very narrow content area, void of the typical sidebar that most WordPress driven sites utilize. The site also features voting hearts you can use to “love” a particular piece. This is a twist on the common voting stars typically found on the CSS design inspiration galleries.
BubblesSOC is the personal web site of Computer Science and Mathematics student, Sidney Collins. Sidney’s blog has a light and feminine design to it that puts a twist on the standard WordPress blog elements. Everything is there as with your typical blog, but the layout is anything but average. I was particularly drawn to the sites primary navigation links. Most sites will display it’s main links either across the top of the page, or in list format in the sidebar. However Sidney has chosen to rotate her links going up across the top side of the page making them pop.
Casimir Lancaster is an Interactive Marketing Firm whose web site takes on a non-traditional WordPress theme design. When looking at the content pages of the site, it is difficult to tell that it is even run on WordPress. This is another site that does not utilize the typical sidebar, and is a classic example of WordPress as a CMS, as it is strictly a brochure and portfolio type web site, without a blog.
GoMediaZine is a tutorial site for Graphic Designers. While this blog utilizes most of the common WordPress layout items, it’s grunge style gives it an unique look and feel. One element that is not common with your average WordPress theme is the use of small blocks with content teasers on the home page. Most often used on magazine style themes, the GoMediaZine site displays the three most recent posts in a single column format with full sized images for emphasis, followed by additional post excerpts in a smaller two column layout with thumbnail images. Most sites display either full content or excerpts in a strictly single column format in the content area. Seeing the multi-column teaser blocks is a refreshing change.
The Horizontal Way
The Horizontal Way
The Horizontal Way is a showcase of web sites that display content from left to right with horizontal scrolling, rather than traditional vertical scrolling. This technique can be controversial, but if done well, is a nice change of pace and an interesting technique to explore — particularly for sites that want to showcase photos or other images. The horizontal format is one that I’ve seen on several web sites in the past, but is certainly not something I would associate with WordPress. The site also offers a free download of the basic horizontal WordPress theme, that you can further customize for your own needs.
The Idiot Behind the Iron Mask
The Idiot Behind the Iron Mask
The Idiot Behind the Iron Mask is the personal blog of Wan Zafran. While Wan’s site does indeed utilize many typical WordPress blog elements, the individual pieces are not positioned where you would expect to find them. Some customizations include placement of the post excerpt and metatdata (such as date, category, etc.) into the sidebar. Something particularly unique is the location of the comment form in the sidebar, as opposed to being placed in the main content area. What caught my eye the most on this site is the Archive page, which places the month and category links in a style that is visually similar to that of Magnetic Poetry.
Łukasz Adamczak is a Web Designer / Developer whose web site serves as both a portfolio and blog. You’ll find that most WordPress driven web sites use one header, footer and sidebar throughout the entire site. What’s unique about Łukasz’s (non-English) site is that it uses unique headers on each of the main sections, featuring a different graphic and text to portray that particular section. My own portfolio site uses this technique as well. By giving each page it’s own unique header graphic, Łukasz is able to maintain the same look and feel of the site, but give it a bit of a twist since most WordPress driven sites don’t take this extra step.
Perhaps my favorite site on this list, is the personal web site of freelance Web Designer, Natalia Devalle. Utilizing a dark and grey-scale version of the current trend of wood texture backgrounds, Natalia brings a unique home page design to her WordPress driven site. The site’s primary navigation is incredibly creative — far from the standard row or list of links found on most web sites. Better yet, the navigation “collage” remains constant on the screen, regardless of scrolling. Of particular interest is the lifestream page, which shows recent highlights of Natalia’s activities on Twitter, Last.fm, Flickr and other popular social media web sites. Lifestreams are another emerging trend, with the increasing popularity of social media (something I’d eventually like to incorporate into my own site as well!)
Studio Racket is the design studio of Multimedia Artists, Paul Mosig and Rachel Peachey. Serving as both a portfolio and blog, the site features a unique header navigation which is a flowchart-like illustration linking to the various areas of the site. This is one of the more creative navigation menus that I’ve come across. I’ve of course seen many image based links, but the illustrative flowchart is a nice touch. This site utilizes a few different sidebars, most notably one setup for the home page vs a different one for the interior content pages. A fairly simple customization in WordPress that can make all the difference.
Thomas Haemmerli is a Swiss Author whose (non-English) web site features an incredibly crisp, clean and bright design. I can’t say anything for the content which appears to be written in German, however the design does not follow the traditional WordPress blog layout. There is a nice CSS design to the comment form fields, but otherwise you wouldn’t specifically know that the web site is primarily a blog (other than the dated posts). This is another site without the typical blog sidebars and widgets, etc. The ample white space helps give the site a professional yet fresh feel, that does not scream WordPress.
Twiistup is a California based web site working to “connect people from technology, media and entertainment.” The site features a fresh and colorful design with seemingly floating content boxes, some of which incorporate elements from other social media (such as Flickr and Twitter). The site also utilizes individual page templates in order to incorporate separeate header and sidebar files, depending on which page the user is on.
Web Designer Wall
Web Designer Wall
Web Designer Wall is a tutorial site for Web Designers. The blog, designed and maintained by Illustrator / Web Designer, Nick La, is perhaps the most traditional WordPress site on this list. However the design itself is unique enough that I felt it was more than worthy of a mention. Web Designer Wall has a very light and airy design to it and is far from average. What’s most unique about this site is the use of hand created elements in the form of hand written fonts, custom illustrations, torn paper, etc. With this being a post about WordPress theme customization, Web Designer Wall is the perfect compliment, as there are MANY helpful posts with inspriation, trends and tutorials explaining how to create and customize WordPress themes. It’s a resource that I use on a regular basis, and one you might find to be very helpful as well!
I personally find the web sites above to be incredibly inspiring — so much, so that I’m thinking it’s about time for a re-design of my own site in the near future. The inevitable curse of any Web Designer is the borderline obsessive/compulsive desire to re-create our own web sites on an all too frequent basis!
As inspiration for this post I was fortunate enough to come across 10 Excellent Sources for WordPress Design Inspiration on Vandelay Design. As far as general design goes, there are many CSS design galleries where you can get your fix of web design eye-candy. This article on Vandelay Design, however, pointed me straight to incredible WordPress specific inspiration. All of the web sites featured in this post came from one or more of the sources in the Vandelay Design article.
More Web Design Resources from FreelanceFolder
If you like this list of WordPress theme customizations, you might also enjoy these other web design posts from FreelanceFolder:
- 15 Key Elements All Top Web Sites Should Have
- 30+ Examples of Big, Bold, and Beautiful Website Navigation Menus
- 10 SEO Techniques All Top Web Sites Should Use
- 10 Essential Plugins Every Modern WordPress Site Should Have
- Top 10 Biggest Website Redesigns of All Time
What Inspires You?
Do any of the sites featured above particularly “speak” to you?
Have you seen other truly amazing WordPress driven web sites that, well… don’t look like a WordPress driven site?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below – I’m sure we’d all love to find new ways to customize WordPress!