WordPress Themes, Layouts & What’s Important

“…the problem I have with WordPress websites is that they all look the same!” 

In the last 3 years since my company came out of the closet and openly declared our undying love for WordPress, for all of the world to see, I’ve met numerous people who tut and shake their heads when I suggest WordPress as the perfect solution to their requirement.

The notion that all WP websites look alike is usually the front running objection. There are an abundance of reasons why this thinking is back to front, and below I’m going to show you examples of some beautiful WordPress websites that look nothing like WordPress.

Then I’m going to explain why this thinking is ass backwards. First up though let’s turn the beauty-o-meter up to 11 and see what’s possible with WordPress:

Imagination & Professional Design & WordPress =


This is an amazing charity, an amazing looking website, an amazing concept and an amazing brand. Truly an amazing company.

(click to check out the live website)

University of Washington Campus Map

What the guys and/or gals at the University of Washington have done with WordPress here literally blows my mind. If you only click through to one of the websites in this post, it should be this one. (actually you should check out Charity:Water too). In fact this website is more a web app than just a site.

(click to jump)

3F Fashion

I don’t care how much experience you have with the web or what your design preferences are. One thing is certain: you can’t say that 3F Fashion looks like a WordPress website.

(click to jump)

Husker Bar

A nationwide (USA) directory of Husker Bars. Actually this website reminds me a lot of a Directory website we are building for an Irish client at the moment. The massive interactive Google Map is very eye catching and gives an absolutely awesome usability experience.

(click to jump)


A website that looks like it’s something you’d find in Indiana Jones’s satchel. What’s not to like about that

(click to jump)

Breaking Bad

On the off chance that you haven’t yet seen Breaking Bad, I’d highly encourage you to check it out. Brilliant TV entertainment. Either way, not only do the Breaking Bad team make good TV, they also make good websites built on WordPress.

(click to jump)


Quirky and a little different Bonaroo is an American music festival.

(click to jump)


(click to jump)

This website is using a full width theme with very different page templates, and I think it’s fair to say it looks awesome. As an aside it’s also a very quirky cool site and well worth a look!

WordPress Themes, Layouts & What’s Important

I’ve never been able to get a definitive answer (despite asking) to where this idea stems from that all WordPress websites look the same, however I can hypothesise based on people’s responses to my questioning and my knowledge of the evolution of WordPress as a CMS.

2 column layout with left or right sidebar

Back in the day, before there was CSS or usability and digital marketing experts, websites were typically built with a header image across the top of the page, a column on the left for navigation and a bigger column on the right for the body content of the website.

When WordPress was launched initially it was launched as a Blogging platform. Blogging was all about content so it was designed with a navigation column on the right, so the content was the first thing that eye and the search engine read when it arrived on a website.

Web design and the technologies that allow us to create beauty on the web (CSS and jQuery primarily) have come on leaps and bounds since the time when everything was restricted by what was possible.

Nowadays by and large the only limitations to what’s possible with design and WordPress is the imagination of the designer and the skill of the developer. Certainly you don’t need to have a 2 or 3 column layout where one of the columns is primarily for navigation.

However, I could make a usability and even marketing argument why you might want that.

Style over substance

A number (twice) of times I’ve heard this declaration of dislike for WordPress looking websites, the words have spilled from the mouths of people in the visual industry. Naturally how a website looks is important to this type of person and business.

However both times when they said it, I was reminded of a presentation Rand Fishkin delivered where he used dating website behaviour as an example of how you shouldn’t conduct your SEO and marketing in general. The analogy is equally applicable here.

Essentially his argument was as follows: on dating sites both men and women typically use height as a filter to weed out the people they don’t want to contact. Men go for shorter ladies and the reverse is true for women. So if you are a short man or a tall woman you get less messages.

So the question is, if you met the perfect partner for you; beautiful/handsome, had common interests, shared your values on things, had eyes you got lost in every time you looked at them and they were someone you felt a magnetic attraction towards and admired greatly, but they were the “wrong” height, would height still be important? Probably not for most people.

The same is true of web design irrespective of your CMS choice.

Yes websites should be beautiful and something you should be proud of, whatever that means for you and your business, but what’s the real reason you have a web site in the first place?

I’m going to hazard a guess it has nothing to do with how many columns the finished site has.

In fact I’ll go one farther, and suggest that the primary reason you should have a website is so that your company makes more money. A company website built for any other reason is a waste of money in my book.

So if you are prepared to agree with me on the above, then I urge you to consider Usability and Marketing as well as Design when you are signing off on your next website designs.

What do you think? Am I wrong? Is design the most important factor?