CSS, Skins, and Themes. They're All Lies

Discussion in 'True Programming Stories' started by Dan Allen, May 2, 2018.

  1. Dan Allen

    Dan Allen Administrator Founder Not Banned Radio Button Problem - Leader

    Have you heard the one about putting a skin on a website or other software application? There are people who actually say, with a straight face, as if what they are saying corresponds at least somewhat to reality, that a website theme, skin, or styling (with Cascading Style Sheets) is a layer put on the outside of a website, as if it is a coat of paint.

    This following picture hopefully puts the lie to statements along those lines:


    I know it is poor practice to start defining something by saying what it is not. When it comes to website themes, an exception needs to be made, because the background confusion level is so high and so prevalent, the first thing that needs to be explained is, "A website theme is nothing like anything you ever have been told."

    There is nothing in the Universe like website themes. Nothing like them has ever been invented or created in any other field of human endeavor. The closest thing outside website themes that have any connection to website themes is color schemes. The best way to understand website themes is to forget about color schemes or anything you ever have read or heard until you have made one. When you have made a website theme, this is what you will know:

    A website theme is structural part of a website, the same way web pages and navigation menus are. To make a website, you make various parts of what it is and what it does using different kinds of programming. CSS is among the kinds of programming needed. CSS is poorly named. It got is name from what it did when it was invented. What it does today is so beyond the original idea, the name has become misleading.


    Can we agree this is not a complete definition of theme for a WordPress site?

    Can we agree the definition of a WordPress theme in this clip is not only incomplete, it is incorrect and incomprehensible?

    Can you define or explain “website theme?”

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    Last edited: May 2, 2018
  2. Kirsten Bolda

    Kirsten Bolda Administrator Radio Button Problem - 2nd Demo Parts A and B Founder Not Banned

    I am finding the word 'theme' very misleading, because to me a theme implies a similarity to others of the same family. So when I hear something called a 'website theme' it implies to the uninitiated that all websites are made in a similar way, and that various 'themes' are the only way to differentiate them. I don't see it that way, because functionality of websites varies so widely--some are non interactive portfolio sites with maybe a contact form ( the stuff I was learning about in Blocs) but then others are sites where can do my banking securely or book a flight across the country. If someone tried to tell me these sites merely possessed different 'themes' but were built for these widely different purposes that just wouldn't make sense to me--because what exactly would be considered similar about these different kinds of sites?

    That might be where WordPress is losing its way. What might have started as basic building blocks got more and more complex as people ran their online shopping sites and blogs and classrooms on the same WordPress platform. So now, depending on what you have in mind for your site you need to find a 'theme' to accommodate that purpose. In that sense, the definition of a 'theme' might be a combination of features and layouts that accomplishes the construction of a particular type of website. For example there are blogging themes, or shopping site themes.

    Reading the WordPress definition again, I also have to question what they say about the 'look' and 'presentation' of the content. I think the theme manipulates the content in various ways that goes beyond presentation, because of the ways that themes allow visitors to interact with the site, such as signing up for content delivery via email or purchasing products.

    I think maybe a better word than theme might in order, something like configuration or framework, to better reflect the depth of the differences between the various sites.

    But the question was to define a theme and explain how it is made.
    The way I understand a WordPress theme is as a particular arrangement of the building blocks that make up a website. I think of it kind of like the blueprints for a house. Just like a house has a roof style, an arrangement of walls, and maybe a basement, the WordPress theme might include parts like a header, a given number and arrangement of sidebars, and footer. Then the theme will have slots to put the plugins, the widgets, and might have proprietary stuff like Holly's Thrive software that she uses for her blog, that gives her places to drop in promotional materials in between the posts.
    What's interesting is that that some courses I've taken about WordPress are quite detailed about how one drops these elements into a given WordPress theme, but require that I obtain a particular theme so that I can learn these techniques. I'm not so much learning about WordPress as I am learning about a specialized WordPress theme. ( I thought the theme we worked with was pretty decent, as long as your demands are not overly great.)
    Ah, but how to make a theme? My guess is that is where your php comes in. :) It might make sense to start with one theme, since WP is open source (right?) and then add some specialized features. Like if you had a blueprint for a house, and decided to fiddle with it and add a second story and a three car garage. :)

    This is just a guess from what I've seen so far, but I think there is a range of expertise in WordPress developers, some of whom are dropping images and colors into themes, basically adding some paint and trim, and then there are some who pull the site apart and reconfigure it exactly to the client's specifications.
    My only question would be, if you're going to pull it all apart anyway, what are the benefits to starting with a WordPress theme?

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