Early in the life of this blog I posted about the WordPress theming strategy of “Child Themes.” For those who don’t remember what a theme is:
[A] theme takes your WordPress pages, posts, menus, and widgets and tells them how to look.
A “child theme” is simply a technique that takes a theme you like, customizes parts of it, and leaves the rest alone. This allows for easier-to-manage files and the ability to update the parent theme in the future. It’s a child because it inherits many of the traits of its parent.
There are lots of technical reasons to make a child theme, but it is also a quick way to create a nice design for smaller web projects. I rarely include child theme projects in my portfolio, but I do them from time to time. The design I made for UnSectored was a child theme of Twenty Eleven.
I recently attended a great presentation by Lee Honeycutt at the Seattle WordPress Meetup about making child themes using the Twenty Twelve default WordPress theme. He even put together a resource website on the topic. Lee’s work inspired me to show off a couple child themes of Twenty Twelve that I’ve made for the Tibetan Nuns Project and Northwest Seaport.
Below, I’ve put together some galleries that compare the parts of Twenty Twelve with how I customized them for each project. The original “parent” theme is shown first followed by my customizations of that same page in the child theme.
The Front Page
Twenty Twelve comes with a nice front page template. I added a large banner on one site and a slideshow on the other. Fun aside: While making the three-column layout on the NW Seaport site, I filed a feature request with WordPress that led to an improvement of Twenty Twelve itself. Open source!
Twenty Twelve handles the “Featured Image” on each page nicely. For the Tibetan Nuns Project, I customized its placement.
Twenty Twelve is also “responsive,” meaning it fits on all screen sizes. That means any child theme of Twenty Twelve is also responsive. Here are the front pages of each site on a narrow screen:
Because Twenty Twelve is a default theme for WordPress, most plugin makers tend to test it for compatibility with their theme. That means it works great out-of-the-box with The Events Calendar on NW Seaport. Sadly, in the case of the Shopp ecommerce plugin used on the Tibetan Nuns Project site, I had to do a lot of work to make the shopping cart look good on small screens:
Not the be-all-end-all
There are limitations of child theming of course. You’re still starting with a theme that was designed with certain assumptions that may not align perfectly with your needs. I always recommend a custom designed theme when possible, but sometimes cost, time, or project requirements call for a child theme.