An All Inclusive Guide for Aspiring WordPress Theme Designers

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / May 2, 2014


WordPress is probably the most popular CMS; at least as far as blogging platforms are concerned.

It’s totally free and quite easy to use, and the best part is it can be used to create everything from simple blogs to fully functional ecommerce websites. And with all of those freely available themes, it is highly customizable as well. However, many WordPress users find that the free cookie cutter themes can’t effectively meet their needs, so they go for premium themes created by expert theme designers.

Becoming a WordPress theme designer can be a great career that will always keep you in work (at least in the foreseeable future). However, it takes a great deal of focus and dedication to excel as a WordPress designer. Therefore, if you’re looking to grad a slice of the WordPress market pie, keep on reading for tips and advice on how to become a WordPress theme designer, and a successful one at that.

Things to Consider Before You Start

Learning and designing premium quality theme is not easy and it requires a great deal of persistence, dedication, and creativity. Learning how to create an attractive and functional theme will take a great deal of time, and you’re not going to become a sought-after WordPress theme designer overnight. Be prepared to work hard –in fact, very hard – in order to succeed as a theme designer.

Before you think of becoming a theme designer, you must realize that WYSIWYG kind of theme builders have no place in the job of professional WordPress designers. You’ll need to have a thorough understanding of the codes and programming languages used to create the interface, as well as some knowledge of graphic designing and CSS. Much of what you’ll learn as a theme designer will be self-taught … so be prepared to put forth a great deal of effort and practice a little discipline.

You should be ready to stay on the learning curve for a long time to come. The thing is that technology is constantly changing and evolving, and you must be prepared to evolve with the new trends and developments in the World Wide Web. You’ll need to continue educating yourself and keep up with WordPress and coding developments. If you don’t, you run the risk of not being able to keep up with your clients’ needs and stay ahead of the competition.

Finally, it’s important to realize that the most successful WordPress theme designers aren’t the ones who are in this field for quick money. They’re the ones who possess a true passion for their work and more importantly a natural aptitude for graphic design. As an aspiring theme designer you should be willing to go beyond the basics of web design and create highly customizable and functional themes.

How to Learn WordPress Theme Design

As mentioned above, much of what you need to learn for becoming a WordPress theme designer is self-taught. There are a number of resources – both online and offline – that you can use to get started.

Dive into WordPress

What better place to learn designing WordPress themes than WordPress itself? In fact, it is imperative that you know the WordPress codex inside out before you start learning the designing part. Use it, play with it, and customize, in order to better understand. Once you get the hang of the basics, you can try designing something novel.

Study the building blocks

You cannot apply for a contractor job without knowing how to use a hammer. So, why would you try to become a WordPress theme designer with little or no knowledge of the nitty-gritty of web designing and developing? Learn all you can about the essential website coding languages, including XHTML, HTML, PHP, CSS, and JavaScript.

Utilize online resources and tutorials

Finding tutorials about designing a WordPress theme is quite simple and only requires a quick Internet search. The WordPress Codex should be your starting point, which contains a wealth of information for beginners and professionals alike. Some additional resources to help you learn WordPress theme design include WPTuts+ and Theme Shaper, offering plenty of wonderful advice, but that is just the tip of iceberg. Internet is chockfull of tutorials and tips meant for people looking to learn wordpress theme designing.

Crack a book

While you are trying to make the most of freely available information on the Internet, don’t rule out the good old books as a method for learning. There are a number of helpful and information-packed books. If you’re unable to find what you’re looking for in your local bookstore or library, you may need to turn to the Internet (e.g. amazon) and order them online.

Don’t dismiss brick and mortar learning

Even though learning how to become a WordPress theme designer will mostly require you to teach yourself, some institutions have started to offer courses in WordPress theme designing. You can search online for web designing classes while mentioning your city in the Google search and you will find some courses, seminars, or workshops that you can attend.

Learning from trial and error

once you’ve got a grip on the nitty-gritty of wordpress designing, the fun part begins. And that is to start experimenting with your knowledge and skills. In self-learning, practical implication of your knowledge and trial and error approach is very important. You should start from designing a very basic theme and try to move up. 

Learn from experienced WordPress theme designers

one of the best ways to learn WordPress theme design is to lookout for advice coming straight from the horse’s mouth (i.e. the accomplished designers). Many professional theme designers have their own websites or blogs, and they are generously providing tips and tricks for greenhorns. Subscribe to their blogs and follow them on social networks to make the most of this freely available information.

Sign up at online designer and developer communities

whether you’re trying to learn the basics or you’re just stuck on a frustrating error, online developer communities are a great place to turn to e.g. Designers Talk, Digital Point, or CSS Chat.  Members of these communities are often more than willing to help budding developers by pointing them in the right direction. These communities are also excellent places to begin building a network of professional contacts that will help you obtain clients and jobs down the road.

How to find the right jobs

Finding work as a WordPress theme designer can be difficult in the start, but with the right skills and some patience, it’s certainly within the reach, given the enormous demand of premium quality themes. But before you go hunting for clients, it’s a good idea to design and create a few sample themes for the sake of having a presentable portfolio.

Where to Sell:

If you are good at Internet Marketing, your own website is the best place to sell WordPress themes. You can give some away for free and charge for others. Otherwise, sites like Theme Forest, Mojo Themes, or WP Market are some excellent markets for designers to get some quick exposure and start earning straightaway.

Where to Find Jobs:

Start from bidding on WordPress theme designing jobs on freelance websites, like Elance or oDesk. While most of these jobs aren’t great as far as the compensation is concerned, but getting these jobs will let you get a feel of what your potential customers are looking for. In some cases, you may even succeed in getting a long-term client through these types of sites.

Once you’ve gained some experience, you can also try applying for more lucrative jobs. These jobs can often be found listed on online job boards like Smashing Magazine or WPMU dev.

Life after becoming a Reputed Theme Designer

So, now that you’ve learned all you can about building or designing WordPress themes, and you are finally making some cash while doing so, you can just sit back and watch your themes selling themselves, right?


Once you’ve made a few sales and you are starting to make a name for yourself, this is when the real work begins, because sow’s the time to work even harder, learn the advance features, and work on branding yourself. You will have to work to keep your name on the tip of people’s tongues and at the front of their minds when they need a custom theme, much like other theme providers (and there are very few).

Even if you’ve managed to build yourself a little WordPress themes empire, you cannot afford to get lazy. Try to network with other professionals in similar fields and with website owners and developers who may need your services in the near future.

Even after you’ve become an expert designer, your education is not over (in fact, you’ve got a lot more on stake). The coding languages and design principles that we use today could drastically change in next to no time. As a professional theme designer, it’s your responsibility to keep up with the latest trends in this area to offer your clients the highest quality themes and compatibility.

Finally, tweak and update your themes on regular basis. Be prepared to answer users’ questions and update your themes when someone points a bug. It’s this type of customer service that separates the average WordPress theme designers from the most sought-after ones.

Stephen Walsh is the director of Lightship Digital that offers web design and online marketing services to ecommerce stores and SME’s. 

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.