Just because we built free WordPress themes and Museum Themes doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the good work of others. In fact, it’s through watching what’s going on in the greater WordPress theme community that gives us ideas, keeps us on our toes, and informs us of trends and what people are interested in. Here are some interesting free WordPress themes that I like.
In no particular order:
1. P2, by Automattic
P2 is a revolutionary concept for a WordPress theme, namely — make WordPress act like Twitter. P2 live updates allowing realtime commenting on posts. Anyone with an account can post something, and, since it’s WordPress, what you can post ranges from a short tweet, to a full length post with multimedia content. Matt Mullenweg even said that P2 changed the way Automattic communicated.
2. Modern, by Ulf Petersson
Modern has been around for a few years (when it was released in its final 0.9 version, the latest browsers were Opera 9 (beta), Firefox 1.5, and Internet Explorer 6), but it still looks…well…modern. The reason is its minimalist simplicity which gives it a timeless look. The subtle splashes of color against the mostly white and light-gray backgrounds give the theme a playful and welcoming feeling.
3. Motion, by 85ideas
Motion’s dark, textured light and watercolor background and dark semi-transparent borders and frames tell me that this is a designer after my own heart. It’s truly a gorgeous blog theme with a cool ocean-on-a-clear-day palette.
4. Pixel, by 85ideas
Another theme by 85ideas, pixel also uses semi-transparent backgrounds, this time playing with concepts of light and dark. A mostly-dark theme, Pixel has a lot of the same design ideas as Microsoft’s Windows Aero, responsible for that attractive glass-like effect in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Pixel is perfect for a tech- or design-centric blog.
5. Piano Black, by mono-lab
Piano Black is a stunningly beautiful theme that makes you feel like you’re inside the machine. The use of light and shade, dark transparencies, and bright hover colors over the gray and black background allude to LED displays on dark plastic and metal. This theme uses WordPress 3.0 custom menus and jQuery sliding effects for dropdowns, back to top links and a lovely image zoom feature.
6. Retromania, by Jay Hafling
We’re well acquainted with how hard a sell it is for niche themes to catch on. The general rule is to appeal to the critical masses, get lots of hits, links and downloads, but it’s often at the risk of doing something really interesting and creative with design. But by no means does that mean that they shouldn’t be done, and Retromania’s kitchy 50s throwback feel is definitely worth checking out. He even has PSD source files available to download if you don’t like the default header images (of course, you’d need PhotoShop or something else that knows what to do with a .psd).
7. Urban Life, by Jay Hafling
Another one by Jay Hafling, Urban Life shares Retromania’s light grunge, but rather than being vintage-centric, this one has an inner city vibe, with a city skyline in the header (silhouetted in the footer) and a striped band in the header and behind the sidebar boxes evocative of Warning! signs or caution tape. Urban Life also has a built-in contact form (some configuration required), which lightens up the load on your site by eliminating the need to pull in a plugin to do that for you. For those inclined to work in Photoshop, he also has his Photoshop source files available for this one as well.
8. Mimbo, by Darren Hoyt
Darren Hoyt’s name is known in the WordPress theme community, and part of that is a result of this theme. Mimbo is an oldie-but-goodie, packing dual-navbar action, configurable sidebars, and a home page layout that could make lesser news sites weep. For developers, it can be used as a theme framework, upon which child themes can be built. Darren Hoyt is also responsible for TimThumb, the little script that’s been pretty much single-handedly responsible for displaying post thumbnails on blog pages until WordPress added that feature in 2.9. Now almost 3 years old, Mimbo still holds its own in magazine-style themes.
9. Dark Zen, by DailyBlogTips
Dark Zen is a minimalist theme suitable for just about anything you could want to use it for. It has a simple, stylish design with a spacious sidebar, built-in social bookmarking and room for adding banner- and sidebar ads. If you’re looking for something to use as a theme framework for something new, the bullet-proof layout of Dark Zen is a good choice.
10. Structure, by Organic Themes
Structure knocks my socks off. It’s simultaneously bold and minimalist, with huge post thumbnails and multiple columns. In that sense, it’s similar to Mimbo with a bigger featured content area, but it’s taken to a whole new level with the jQuery slider for featured posts (only available in the premium version).
11. The Morning After, by WooThemes
The Morning After is quite possibly my all-time favorite theme, ever. The story goes that the author, Arun Kale, surveyed WordPress users and asked what they’d like to see in a magazine-style theme and The Morning After is the result. Just a few weeks ago, the Arun contacted WooThemes and asked them if they’d be interested in taking the reigns for developing and maintaining TMA, and it is now, officially, a WooTheme. TMA has a unique, slim header image that can be customized for different pages. It’s got different styles for Asides (now called Updates) and built-in post thumbnails. It’s got a little configurable description area above the sidebar on the home page and different page layouts depending on what you’re looking at. It is, in short, awesome.
12. Mansion, by Graphpaper Press
Wow. I’ve seen some interesting grid layouts for themes, and I’ve seen some awesome photography themes, but this one tops both. Bearing more in common with an image gallery than a blog, Mansion creates a mosaic of images pulled from your posts that can be sorted by category. It also comes with a page template for your blog, which takes a similar approach to your posts. Images gently light up when hovered over, as does the navigation area. And all of it sits on top of a black background, giving it a lightbox-like effect.
Of course, I can’t end a post on free WordPress themes without so much as a nod at our own free themes area. And as I said, we often take inspiration from other themes. So, you think there’s some ideas brewing for new themes in our devious little brains? As Sarah Palin would say, “you betcha.”