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Quest for the dream theme

Ever since Scott Tribe (Scott’s Diatribes) and Debra (April Reign) helped me upgrade to WordPress 2.7, I’ve been trying to find a new blog theme. You’d think, with the hundreds of free themes out there, there’d be something I’d like either straight out of the can or with a few modifications.

But no. It wasn’t that easy. I suspect most themes are designed by young men. Nothing against young men, but fortunately I don’t share their tastes. (Or, unfortunately, their eyesight.) They like sub-microscopic grey text on a black background, and action-packed, cold, hard themes, whereas I prefer a cleaner, lighter, warmer look.

I liked my old theme best, with the sheep and the whiteness and the quirky-pastoral fusion thing going on. I wanted a new theme that could be tweaked to pretty much mimic that look. (Why didn’t I just stick with the old theme in that case? It wasn’t compatible with WordPress 2.7 and couldn’t take advantage of its features and improvements.)

I spent weeks downloading and trying on many themes from many sources, but rejected them all.

Scott made it his personal mission to get me a new theme. He put me on speed dial on Skype. He downloaded even more themes and tried to squeeze my sheep into their headers. But the sheep weren’t cooperating. The ideal header image is a lot wider than it is tall, and the sheep weren’t. They refused to look good.

It wasn’t just the header, either. There were lots of things that bugged me about the various themes. I didn’t like when the Comments link was hard to find, or when each post was truncated so you had to click a link to read the rest of the post. Mostly I didn’t like the colour schemes, graphics, typography, or the ‘feel’ of most themes.

Call me a girl, but I’m just not into raw butt-ugliness.

I was willing to take my time and be patient, but apparently when Scott’s on a mission, he’s seriously on a mission. He was relentless.

Eventually he found a highly customizable theme called Atahualpat. He then proceeded to customize all the things that had led to my rejections of the previous themes. Then he showed it to me, and it was pretty good. But I still wasn’t entirely happy, which I think exasperated him. We both had to remind ourselves that it’s my blog.

I spent some time changing the things I didn’t like while GC made me a brand spankin’ new banner for my sheep.

Finally I pressed the button.

Scott was shocked. I think he had resigned himself to having invested all that time for nothing, since he didn’t believe I would ever push that button.

It’s not perfect, but I’m not a perfectionist (Scott would disagree). As for Scott, he’s a keep-your-eye-on-the-prize, damn-the-torpedoes, get-’er-done kind of guy. If you need someone like that, I highly recommend him. Thanks Scott. :)

As for the theme, what do you think? Do you like it? Is it fast enough? Does it feel comfortable? Is there anything about it that bugs you? Do you have any suggestions for improvements?

40 comments to Quest for the dream theme

  • Um, looks very business-y. Like the sheep tho!

  • @ Chrystal Ocean:

    Business-y? With sheep on top? C’mon.. I prefer to call it a “clean look” :)

    (Oh, and Zoom, the theme is spelled “Atahualpa”) ;)

  • Tom Sawyer

    Everything looks fine except, um…well, ah…the banner. Don’t get me wrong; we all love the sheep. Where would we be without our sheep? But Ms Righty appears sort of, hmmmm…how do I say this? Positively decapitated seems to sum it up. And Ms Lefty? She doesn’t fare much better. Perhaps some “soft & frilly” picture frame would work better than the airbrushed furry necks. Also, the banner text doesn’t feel quite right. Especially the slanted “by zoom.”

    Well, you did ask. Didn’t you?

  • Design, like art, lies in the eye of the beholder. I design sites often for business people and I don’t get that from this look.

    In fact I think it has keep the same “feel” of the previous theme quite admirably.

    And I still love the sheep! :)

  • B-I-L Rob

    I like the new look and love the fact that it is fast.

  • Lissa

    Zoom, I totally agree with Tom Sawyer, he said it better than I could.

  • Me too. Tom sawyer is right. I just don’t think you can have the sheep heads floating in space like that. They need a border so we will get that they are actually whole sheep.

  • Melinda

    We’re terrible I know, but Tom Sawyer is right. The first thing that hit me is that Ms Righty looks a bit like her head was lopped off and is floating in space, or like she’s sticking her neck out of some other dimesion to see what’s going on in your blog. Ms. Lefty didn’t bother me and I liked the slanty Zoom. Other than that, my first impression was that it looked a bit like a newpaper site. I always picture you as a bit more frilly, softer and more artsy like. (I’m assuming Scott’s a boy, so it doesn’t surprise me that he likes it as is. :0)

    Having said that, as long as you’re happy with it, we will be too.

    By the way, do the sheep have names? If not, I suggest a naming contest, just for fun.

  • Deb

    Frilly is definitely not a tag that I would put on Zoom..lol

  • It’s … um… industrial. But yay for the sheep!

  • Oma

    It feels a little empty to me too … and impersonal … and I have to agree with the others about the lopped off sheep heads … sorry … I know you have both (all) gone to a lot of work … I do like the fact that it is so much faster, though.

  • I need to get used to the blogroll. It loads really fast again, but the comments take a long time to load and it spins for awhile before they show up when I post one. Ad in if I’m impatient I need to open a new tab to go elsewhere else once I hit submit comment….and I’m a pretty patient person!

    • I agree that the comments (and anyone who edits them) can sometime take awhile. That’s the one part of the new site I’m still puzzled as to why it takes a tad longer, when everything else seems to “zoom” along (haha. pun intended).

      I’ve got Super Cache on the site.. I’ve got a widget cache on here for Zoom’s widgets.. but neither seems to affect the comments. I’m suspicious it has something to do with the server.. but I cant prove that at the moment.

  • GC

    That’s what I think also, Melinda… the sheep are sticking their heads out from another dimension in a godly fashion watching over the domain of knitnut.net… Their “floating heads” and the airbrushed necks help convey that concept. It really is a “dream” theme.

    The option of a distinct border around the sheep was considered but discarded. It gave the banner a sharp, patchwork feel.

  • Just read the comments, I agree with Tom Sawyer, you need an actual picture frame for the sheep to look out of to help with the small size of sheep in long banner issue.

    Can I make a suggestion? Take your sheep and play with them in your mmultimedia class, do it physically, and then scan your art back in for the banner. I think you might get a fresh perspective on your maniacally wooly headed sheep.

  • Melinda wrote:

    W. Other than that, my first impression was that it looked a bit like a newpaper site. I always picture you as a bit more frilly, softer and more artsy like. (I’m assuming Scott’s a boy, so it doesn’t surprise me that he likes it as is. :0)

    There are lots of themes out there; some of them with pencil crayons as a background theme, but not all are as adaptable as others (see Zoom’s comment about me not being able to fit the original sheep graphic on certain headers for certain themes.) There are also newspaper or news-magazine oriented themes out there, and I can assure you this isn’t one of them.

    Myself, I’d like it if the sidebars and the background had a little colour to them.. but my choice(s) were roundly rejected on that front too ;) As for the sheep.. they’ve got a Picasso’ish surrealistic look to them, in my view ;)

  • I like the other banner much, much better. But I prefer this three-column format. The other banner was like “the real thing,” you know. This one looks a little bit like those air-brushed anonymous models. But, to me, the main thing is the content. The rest (unless it makes reading difficult) is no biggie. I’d say don’t sweat it too much. Try it for a while, see how it feels. Right?

  • Interesting feedback, and some interesting ideas too. I’ll definitely mull it over some more. The thing is, the sheep are imposing some serious design limitations for a 200-pixel high banner. Maybe I should move the original sheep graphic to the basement, and start over with crows. Whadya think?

  • Oh, and another thing – what do you think of the width of the site? Too wide? Too narrow? Just right?

  • Arden

    I love the new look, it’s clean, legible, without being completely cold like so many themes out there!

    The site is a good width for the average user. It’s pretty standard, any narrower and it would be too tiny, but any wider and the average monitor couldn’t display it without side scrolling :D

    I’m not personally bothered by the sheep in their current form, I think it works :) You couldn’t replace them with crows, otherwise what signs would be left that it’s a knitting blog, other than the name? Certainly not the content! ;)

  • [...] it) and it’s very customizable. I was using it to help Zoom over at Knitnut.net re-design her site, and I thought I’d tinker a bit with it and see what I might come up with. Since I still had [...]

  • delaina

    Ok- I love it. Im glad you kept the sheep.

  • seems to work. no immediate gah gag ohhhhh noooooo!

    seriously, tho. looks usability friendly, clean.

  • I’m glad the sheep are still there! The font is the thing that trips me up with this design; it’s hard to read for very long because 1) it’s packed pretty tightly, both horizontally and vertically, 2) the characters’ curvy bits are very small, making it harder/slower to distinguish between them, and 3) the stark contrast between the white and black feels cold to me. A slightly less industrial font with more generous letter- and line spacing in dark gray could do very well.

    • Auntie (and others who share her concern about the font):

      Is there a font on another blog site you like that you think might work here? IF there is, send the blogname. We’ll read the CSS of the page and see what the font is that site is using, and perhaps we can try it out here.

  • Lissa - apparently another one

    I like it. It’s perfect. There’s a lot to be said for “almost exactly the same except a lot better” in my opinion. :D

  • Nancy

    I’m sure you can turn the sheep back into earthly sheep. Crows would be a bit dark, don’t you think? Of course, I can’t even set up a site for a blog, let alone do all the work you’ve done…I’ll always enjoy your blog regardless of the banner, so save your energy for the “creative content” which is GREAT, as always!

  • Gillian

    Contrary to Auntie, I like the font well enough, but find the line spacing a bit too open. I’d like to compact it a bit and keep more white space around it. I do like that comments remain on the same page as opposed to the comment windows that open.

  • Arden

    I appreciate the black on white very much. The spacing between lines is too big, it breaks up the reading, so your mind doesn’t process it the same way it processes more tightly spaced words. It’s why in blocks of text use of serif fonts is often preferred because the little lines help your brain process the words more easily.

    The double spacing, or 1.5 or whatever it is certainly does seem too much though.

    The font type is fine to me, though :)

  • Ooops, sorry, I’ve been fiddling with things which may be leading to some confusion. For example, based on Auntiemichal’s comment, I increased the line spacing. Now I’ve decreased it again. In between those two events, Gillian and Arden disagreed with Auntiemichal. In other words, you’re ALL right!

  • How does your ‘Popular Posts’ sidebar work?

    Is it a WP plugin? Ideally, a widget?

  • Milan, yes, it’s called the BFA Popular Posts Widget.

  • It looks useful.

    As soon as a post wanders out of my ‘recent comments’ list, discussion there tends to die off.

  • Unfortunately, it seems to be a custom component of Atahualpa – not something that can be bolted onto any theme.

  • I think BFA widgets might be specific to this theme, actually. But when I do a search for “popular posts” (from the plugins menu), I see lots of similar kinds of plugins.

  • I found a widget that does what I want. It now resides in my left sidebar.