With WordPress, it’s easy to change the entire look and feel of your site in just a few clicks – without changing any of the page or post content you’ve created. Your site’s theme dictates things like colors, typography, layout, animations, and more. The WordPress Customizer allows you to change some of these settings individually, depending on your theme.
How to change your theme #
In the main WordPress menu, hover over Appearance and select Themes. This will bring up your themes dashboard, where you can see all the themes you currently have installed. Remember, when you change your theme, your content (ie: your posts, pages, links, images, etc) will NOT be deleted! The theme automatically adjusts your content to fit the new theme.
WordPress comes with three themes as a standard. You can have as many themes as you like installed on your WordPress site, but you can only ever have one active theme. To see what your site would look like with a downloaded theme, hover over it and select Live Preview.
If you like the look of it, select Activate to apply this theme to your live site.
How to customize a theme #
To customize your site using the theme you picked, hover over the name of your site in the top left, then click Visit Site
To get back to the main WordPress dashboard, click the W in the left corner. To edit your site, click Customize.
If you have a classic theme, your customizer should look something like this. While every theme will look slightly different, here are some common options you will see.
- Site Identity is where you will be able to customize the title of your site as well as the tagline. This is also the place that you can add a site icon, which is the browser icon you see when you load onto a website.
- Colors is the place you can go if you want to change the color of your site title and tagline! You can also choose if you want your website to be in dark or light mode! Other themes will give you access to accent colors and more options, but it will usually all be under colors.
- Header Media is where you will go if you want to upload a photo or video to the top of your site. In Twenty-Seventeen, you can also insert a youtube link that will play when someone visits your site, or a static custom photo. In other themes, you might be able to have a slideshow of photos, or when animated gifs.
- Menus are the navigational tool that visitors to your site will use to find the things that you post. After making a custom menu in the WordPress dashboard, this is where you will go to insert the menu into your site, as well as pick which pages will be your home page or blog page
- Widgets are the extra website features that are available with your theme. For Twenty-Seventeen, this includes things like a search bar, comment section, archived posts, and more!
- Homepage Settings for Twenty-Seventeen is where you will indicate whether or not you want to have your homepage be your blog posts, or a custom static page that you created in the WordPress dashboard.
For Domain of One’s Own Users #
If you are using Sites@UMW, you can only pick from a specific set of themes that are already pre-installed. However, if you have your own Domain of One’s Own (DOOO) site, you can download any WordPress theme you want! However, with great power comes great responsibility, so here are a few things you need to know about adventuring into the land of WordPress themes.
Downloading a New Theme #
WordPress comes with three themes automatically installed, but there are thousands of free themes to choose from in the WordPress theme repository. To add a new theme to your site, go to the themes dashboard (Appearance > Themes), then click on Add New.
Here, you can scroll through themes, sorted by Featured, Popular, or Recent, or you can filter through the themes and look for themes related to your subject. You can use the filter checkboxes to, for example, only view themes that are accessibility-ready or have a layout you like.
Once you find one you’d like to try, hover over it, and then click Install.
This theme will now be downloaded to your WordPress, but you’ll still need to activate it to apply it to your live site.
All of the themes that you have downloaded will be under the themes section of your WordPress backpanel. To save space, delete/uninstall inactive themes by clicking on “Theme Details” then clicking “Delete” in the bottom corner. You can always redownload deleted themes later if you change your mind
NOTE: Please be aware that some themes will ask you to install plugins on your site or have a freemium model, where you’ll be asked to pay for full access to all the theme’s features. It’s usually worth reading through a theme’s reviews (if it has any) before you install it. These can be seen on the theme preview page.
Block Themes vs Classic Themes – Which One Do I Use? #
WordPress has thousands of themes that you can choose from, each giving you a unique website and experience depending on what you want your site to look like. There are two different types of themes that you will encounter with WordPress: block themes and classic themes. But what does that really mean, and what are the differences between them?
Block Themes #
“A block theme is a WordPress theme with templates entirely composed of blocks so that in addition to the post content of the different post types (pages and posts), the block editor can also be used to edit all areas of the site: headers, footers, sidebars, etc.” (WordPress)
- Completely customizable: block themes allow for everything on your site to be customized.
- More abilities: not only can you edit everything with block themes, you can also customize new abilities that were previously only available with premium themes or plugins.
- New themes: WordPress theme creators will no longer make themes with the classic style and instead make new block themes. Because of this, you have access to new fresh themes that have never been used before!
- Compatibility: because block themes are relatively new, some plugins and themes are not compatible with this version of WordPress.
- Preview: with some block themes, what you see on the editor side is not always what you get on the live side which can make it difficult to edit your site if you are trying to do precise edits.
- Learning Curve: block themes are notoriously tricky to figure out, and not very user-friendly. There is a pretty big learning curve to figuring out how block themes work and operate.
Classic Themes #
Classic themes are themes that use the old way of customization. These themes, instead of using blocks, have set areas that you can customize using a sidebar. Almost all themes will allow customization of the same basic things (colors, images, text, etc), but some will expand and allow more customization.
- Easier to use: classic themes are more straightforward to navigate and use, and is recommended for newer WordPress users.
- Theme options: because classic themes were the way WordPress operated for over 10 years, there is a backlog of thousands of themes that allow you to virtually design your website however you want regardless of the “limited” customization options
- More guides: classic themes have been around for a long time, so there are a plethora of photo and video guides out there on both Youtube and the WordPress official website to help you achieve anything you want.
- No new features: in the future, WordPress will likely only stick to updating block themes.
- Customization: classic themes limit the things you can customize, so you might not be able to get your website exactly the way you want. Some themes do not allow seemingly simple changes to your site like front color or size. In these situations, it is difficult to work around without picking an entirely new theme, which can be a bit frustrating if you are looking for something very specific
Which One Do I Pick? #
While both have its advantages and disadvantages, the DKC strongly recommends using classic themes, especially if you are new to WordPress. While block themes give you more options, classic themes are much easier to navigate and still do all the things that you need for any personal or school project. Anything that you want to do that isn’t available with a specific classic theme can be done in another theme or with plugins. If you need help with finding themes or plugins to use, visit our Plug-ins and Themes – Recommendations guide.
NOTE: Because we recommend using classic themes, all of our WordPress guides are for classic themes. If the guide doesn’t match what you see on your site, it is likely because you have a block theme
How Do I Tell Which Theme I’m Using? #
Unfortunately, WordPress does not make it easy to figure out if you are using a classic theme or a block theme. What you will likely have to do is download the theme onto your site and look for the key differences outlined below after. You can search the name of the theme into google and find out when they were published. Typically, any theme made and released before 2018 will be a classic theme. Additionally, here are some visual cues to distinguish the two.
Customize vs Edit #
To edit your site, hover over the name of your site and click on Visit Site
Now, when you have a classic theme, you will see a Customize button on the top bar that you use to edit your site:
This is different in block themes, where you’ll see an Edit Site button:
When you are in the editor, the classic theme will look similar to this. While each theme will have different options, there should always be a white menu bar on the right side of the screen:
For block themes, it will look slightly different, and you will be able to activity interact with the blocks on your site:
Theme Recommendations #
- Twenty Seventeen: A perennial favorite of those who are beginning to dabble in customization. It has limited options, but sometimes that is a nice place to start.
- Blank Canvas: Blank Canvas is a minimalist theme, designed for single-page websites. Its single post and page layouts have no header, navigation menus, or widgets by default.
- Astra: This fully customizable theme makes it easy to use for any site. It includes lots of color options, many different fonts, and works well with most page builders.
- OceanWP: This multipurpose theme includes many features you would often find with a premium theme. Some features include full-width pages, image galleries, and various sidebar areas.
- Sydney: This website has a modern design, making it great for a professional-looking site.
- Signify: This theme is perfect if you want a simple and chic website, but also allows for more advanced customization.
By default your site will install and activate the latest theme made available by WordPress. The new themes being released by WordPress are called block themes and they are a radically different customization experience than classic themes. For beginners we highly recommend choosing a classic theme when getting started. All of the recommended themes above are
WordPress has thousands of themes that you can choose from, each giving you a unique website and experience depending on what you want your site to look like. There are two different types of themes that you will encounter with WordPress: block themes and classic themes. But what d