OK, for this blog and what i want, the Cleanr theme is fine – it is uncluttered, uses a large font, has colour touches, and the widget side-bar, though not seemingly supportive of the zillions of widgets i might want to display there, will do for the purposes i need here – the overall aesthetics override the lack of affordances in that respect.
and yes, i contacted the creator of the theme, and the guy is pretty much offline these days, doing something else. and yes, i acknowledge that i am end-user par excellence: i do not have the time or energy to learn much more than the basics of html and php in order to tweak the theme via the editing panel or in the files on the server.
so, i needed to find a theme that would do for the purposes i now need: one that will provide all of the aesthetic elements i require and one which also provides all of the easy affordances of the sidebar and navigational instruments i desire – and indeed think necessary for the task.
this task involves providing an interface for several groups of undergrad students – many of whom, believe it or not, do not have the experience of using a blog – and 4 different staff members, some of whom also are not blog-savvy. this blog will need to accommodate 200+ student users.
so, as for aesthetics, i need very a low-key, light, clean theme, with no hint of any persona. that means no do-dads, no little pictures, no decorative elements that will suggest any inter-textual connotative meanings. dark colours and dark backgrounds are similarly connotative in this respect, as are intense or cluttered areas, e.g. parts of the design where elements appear ‘squashed’ relative to other elements in the layout. at the same time, i do not seek ultra boring designs made of pale greys on white only, and similarly i avoid pale blues and white as the main thematic elements: i do have to administer the site and so i need something that will not make me nauseous either. in this respect i acknowledge a dislike of blue and white, together, as the main overriding elements of a design. so i also seek something with yellow, orange or red highlights.
at this stage, some of you may be muttering the names of favourite themes under the breath. i have already chosen and kept with Suffusion for one of the student blogs, and it has everything one would ever desire and more for the purposes required. it comes with a very detailed back-end where you can tweak so many visual elements that your head might spin – but at base, the various choices of ‘skin’ (i.e. colour combos) it provides are quite sufficient for anyone’s needs. also, it has been test driven for a while now under harsh conditions, and it seems to bear up very well….
the ‘ harsh conditions’ are that both staff and 200+ students need to be able to navigate easily between pages and dashboard areas, and not break the theme in the process, nor have to keep asking me questions about how to work this thing. so the first requirement is that the theme supports a clean sidebar with many widgets. this sidebar must carry at least a meta panel for easy access to the dashboard, and the side-bar must appear on every page: it is amazing how many themes i tested where pages did not show the sidebar, and it was only visible in the posts page. it must also carry a categories, a recent posts, and a recent comments widget. as well, a tag cloud and a calendar are useful. in addition, the header should be able to display the list of pages very clearly.
with the posts themselves, they need to have a live edit button. so many themes would only provide the ‘edit’ link for the comments. not useful.
and they certainly need to list the contributor of the post way up the front somewhere, at least easy to see, as well as the categories and the tags applied to each post. this is because, with so many students to follow, the categories help to distinguish what group the student belongs to, plus the tags are used to self-identify the poster – since userids may not necessarily be transparent as to student identity. these links also provide a means for cross-referencing and searching for those who might post, but who might forget to categorise or tag their work… so the demands for the theme and its navigational affordances are many.
and, it takes time to go through the myriad of themes on offer, to preview, instal, and activate each on the shortlist in turn, and observe how it works with the material. so the search terms were restricted to
right side-bar, two column, and red.
this turned up many pages of suggestions, and a few were selected. eventually the shortlist was compiled, even though i do not say that the search was exhaustive.
the eventual one chosen was
PressPlay as it had most of the desired features, although the layout and colour were not exactly what i would have preferred.
last year’s theme needs a mention as it worked extremely well, and there was a moment when i thought i might use the same one again, but the need for visual stimulation and recognition of a new year overrode my instinct to stick with Tribune, which i can recommend to anyone with similar needs as my own.
Gonzo Daily was briefly considered but it was too crowded at the top.
Dodo 1.2.1 was also admired except for the picture of the camels which could not be changed easily
The Essayist looked good, but it had difficulties with navigation as mentioned above
Staypressed was also considered, despite the little old printing press cartoon, but again, navigational issues voted it out, and
Typograph was a great disappointment due to its looking just right, but not being able to cope with the long title in the header – if little things like that break the theme, i’m just not gonna bother gambling further.