Simple WordPress Themes

I’ve said it countless times before, simple WordPress themes take just as much talent as those with lots of bells and whistles.  You’ve heard about minimal WordPress themes before, but there’s a difference between minimal and simple WordPress themes.  Run a search on ThemeForest for the word “simple” and you’ll come up with 314 results.  Browsing the search results yields a different result, you’ll see some great themes mixed in with junk.  The following is a guide for identifying great simple WordPress themes among the thousands.  Afterwards, there is a list of some of Pingable’s favorite simple WordPress themes so you can see what we’re talking about.

Identifying Great Simple WordPress Themes

1. Simple WordPress themes are easy to use

It’s not just about style, great simple WordPress themes are really easy to use.  Look past navigation, towards clear directive design.  By this I mean the eye is naturally drawn to important elements on the page and not to useless graphics.  The user should naturally know how to progress through the site because they are drawn to the “next step”.  For some sites this is a “read more” link.  For others it is a “donate” button.

2. Simple WordPress themes are spartan

This doesn’t just mean they’re white or monochromatic.  Each component in a spartan theme has utility and purpose.  Some theme designers are baiting customers with a ridiculous number of theme variations.  This is helpful for some people but not for those looking for a simple theme.  A simple wordpress theme has no need for anything without a purpose toward either the content or user experience.

3. Simple WordPress themes are fast

Small file sizes, compressed and minimal images create fast themes.  Why have a simple theme with the speed of a complex one?  Look for the right image types and compression.  Also look at the load speed of the demo installation.  Even a dedicated server will load a bulky theme with a slight delay.  Look for tableless designs that rely almost entirely on CSS and image sprites.

4. Simple WordPress themes are smooth

A simple theme takes advantage of the natural flow of the eye and human intuition.  Jagged and blocky designs make the user work to find what they need.  Smooth designs have a flow that is almost imperceivable unless it is managed poorly.  Sites with many different contrasting colors and no logical layout work against a smooth user experience.  Consider these two examples.

This design is smooth. Despite the color contrast is has a clear message ("War Destroys Children's Lives") and a clear action step ("Donate").
This design is not smooth. Professional? Yes. But smooth? No. The user doesn't know where to go next, and has to work for the content.

Now that you are equipped with four steps for filtering out great simple WordPress themes from the junk, here are some examples using the methods we just identified.  These are both free and premium themes.  Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this post, please share it!

Bueno (Free)

Gridlocked ($40)

The Style (Club membership $29)

 

An Inside Look: Victory Framework

The Victory Framework for WordPress is a new political campaign platform built specifically for WordPress.  And Pingable got an exclusive inside look at the powerful tool.  On the surface, it is clean, professional and stylish.  Inside, it is versatile and highly customizable.  You may also enjoy our review of the best political WordPress themes.

The Design

Pre-packed designs

The Victory Framework political WordPress package comes with three complete designs for your customizing pleasure.  In the vein of omnipartisanship, you can choose from red, blue and white themes.  Of course, these are completely customizable in a completely new way (see color-match technology).  The themes are all professional and different enough to ensure the competition isn’t using the same design.

The best part of the pre-packed designs is that the framework is ready out of the box, with minutes of setup.  Candidates can choose to use an image based logo, or enter text for instant customization.

Color-match technology

One of the coolest features of Victory Framework is the color match system.  Campaigns often choose color schemes very carefully to reflect their districts, beliefs, even the tone of their campaigns.  The color match system lets the webmaster enter colors in the control panel which instantly customizes the design.  Now that is a powerful feature.

Layout

The power of Victory Framework is not in a groundbreaking front-end layout or user interface, it’s in the ease of use and back-end features.  Even well funded campaigns could use Victory Framework with a completely custom design, while taking advantage of the functional features.

The layout is clean and functional while reflective of the traditional campaign site layout.  Content and media are prioritized (see media management) and lead/conversion is a close second.  All three designs that come with Victory Framework have top navigation featuring dropdown menus.

Below the fold the layout mimics the WordPress powered blog we all know.  This is where a traditional campaign website often falls short, communicating real information beyond position statements and tweets.

The Features

Powerful Dashboard

Victory Framework comes with a powerful dashboard that lets you customize Victory Framework in almost every conceivable way.  This includes the design, slider, footer, blog options, featured news, announcements, events and even custom CSS and tracking codes.

Custom widgets

The Victory Framework comes with some custom widgets that help the out-of-the-box readiness.  They include a “Take Action” widget that inserts buttons with any links you choose.  This is helpful for signing up users for events, donations, etc.  The buttons direct to pages of your choosing.  From there you can use any plugin you see fit to provide the actual feature.  Our hope for a future version includes built in functionality for these things

Other custom widgets include social media sharing, Twitter and Facebook widgets to build a true community using Victory Framework as a hub.  These can be infinitely expanded upon by leveraging the massive WordPress plugin repository or, our favorite, the Themeforest Plugin Marketplace.

Pre-packed framework

Rather than filling the content structure from scratch, you are prompted to run a “quick setup” after installing Victory Framework.  This quick setup fills in sample content, pages, posts, etc. so you can hit the ground running.  Just don’t forget to update each piece of content lest people will know you’ve used a pre-set solution!

Media management

Victory Framework (all three pre-packaged designs) comes with a powerful media management feature.  This includes an incorporated media slider with tons of customization options.  You can select the width, slider engine, transition effect, transition speed and lots more.  This is an indispensable tool for campaigns that need to showcase candidate faces and photo ops.

Our conclusion

Overall, Victory Framework is the best solution we’ve seen short of completely custom systems.  If you’re on a tight budget (read: every campaign except national) then Victory Framework can deliver all the features  of the expensive solutions, in an easy to use format.  All for less than $200.  The features are there, the coding is clean and the designs are fresh.  Here’s what we’d love to see in upcoming versions:

  • More designs
  • Integrated features like event management, donation management and constituent capture

When asked about their intentions with Victory Framework, the developers had this to say:

Our intention is to help local politicians be more effective online.  This goes beyond just having a pretty looking- Victory will soon incorporate tools to manage all the data collected from these sites.  Ultimately, we want campaigns to spend less time managing an online campaign and more time listening to and engaging with voters.

In a way, our customers are really the voters themselves.  We want to make it incredibly easy for you to know who your candidates are and what they stand for.  And if you're up for it, to get involved.  We believe that the more information and transparency a candidate offers, the better those candidates will serve the public.  We aim to help those types of candidates get elected with our tools.

We think they hit the mark.  You can check out Victory Framework here, including a full working demo download.