David Morgan

WordPress Theme Designer & Developer, Brand Builder, Surfer Dude

My 5 Favorite WordPress Themes

I’ve created lots of WordPress themes. As the co-founder, designer and developer of Organic Themes and GivingPress, I’ve been building WordPress themes since 2008. In addition, I’ve created several themes for WordPress.com and WordPress.org.

In this article I’ll share my 5 favorite WordPress themes, and the principles upon which they were built. When building a WordPress theme, I adhere to a couple basic principles:

Minimal Design

Unlike most web design trends, minimal design never goes out of style. Creating a beautiful and functional minimal design is the ultimate challenge.

Minimal design also translates to code. I strive to develop themes with as little code as possible. That’s more difficult than it sounds. I avoid using excessive scripts, overly flashy effects, unnecessary image files and as few custom options as possible. When options are needed, I integrate them seamlessly into the native WordPress customizer. Developing minimally keeps themes light, easy to customize and fast when it comes to load times.

Less is more when it comes to the design and development of WordPress themes.

Ease Of Use

I make themes that don’t require any knowledge of use beyond using WordPress itself. Ideally, a WordPress theme should be ready to use immediately upon activation. It should not be reliant on several options, frameworks, shortcodes or plugins to function as advertised. If some setup is required, it should be accomplished within minutes using familiar WordPress settings.

In addition, the native WordPress customizer should be utilized for all theme options and setup. WordPress is placing a huge emphasis on their customizer, introducing new features with each update. In the future, all themes should utilize the customizer instead of bulky custom options panels. I’m proud to say all Organic Themes utilize the customizer.

The following 5 favorite WordPress themes were created with those principles in mind.

1. Portfolio Theme

My personal site uses the Portfolio Theme. This theme has run the gamut of re-designs, re-builds and revisions since its original release in 2009.

The latest 2017 iteration is everything I’ve ever wanted in a great WordPress portfolio theme. It features a clean and minimal design. The focus is entirely on the content and work. It has a unique, but intuitive layout. Multiple portfolios and slideshows can be created with ease. The typography is crystal clear, and the mobile experience is a pleasure to behold. In addition, the theme setup process should only take a matter of seconds.

The Portfolio Theme has evolved significantly over the past 8 years. Throughout that evolution, it has remained one of my favorite WordPress themes.

  • Audience: Artists, Designers, Photographers
  • Premium Price: $69/yr

 

2. GivingPress Pro Theme

GivingPress Pro is a WordPress theme designed for nonprofit organizations. The theme powers the GivingPress website builder. In addition, it’s the most robust theme I’ve ever created.

Even with an abundance of features and integrations, GivingPress Pro provides a simple and intuitive website building experience for nonprofits. With GivingPress Pro, we created a WordPress theme for people that don’t know how to use WordPress. The result is a theme that can be entirely controlled from within the WordPress customizer — rendering the old WordPress admin experience obsolete. I believe it’s a big step in the future of WordPress themes.

Although the design might not be revolutionary — it is professional, highly customizable and very difficult to break. As a result, the GivingPress Pro theme looks great under almost any circumstances.

 

3. Swell Theme

If you’ve glanced at my blog for more than a few seconds — my love of surfing is obvious. The Swell Theme is my nerdy homage to the sport I love. I even created a separate site and brand for the theme, complete with pictures of Kelly Slater.

While the theme was created with surfing on the brain, there is nothing about the Swell Theme that makes it particularly suited for surfers. However, the Swell Theme is an all-around, tubular theme that is flexible for your needs — dude. My favorite aspects of the Swell Theme are the bold design, clean typography and blog layout.

 

4. Structure Theme

The Structure Theme was originally released in 2009. It was completely re-developed for the fourth time in 2016. The latest iteration stays true to the minimal design and layout on the original, while adding all the latest WordPress functionality and features. Structure is a solid theme.

Structure features a bold minimal design, responsive 3-column layout and endless color options. The content color automatically changes to visible on top of darker background colors. I love the flexibility of this theme. When used for online magazines, the Structure Theme really shines.

 

5. Origin Theme

The Origin Theme is very simple — intentionally. It’s a WordPress starter theme. That means, we use the theme as the foundation for building new themes. As a result, it’s constantly being updated with the latest WordPress features and functionality. In addition, whenever we learn a more efficient way of coding something, we introduce that standard into the Origin Theme.

So while the theme might not be ground-breaking, its simplicity and ability to expand upon make Origin one of my favorite WordPress themes. It’s a great starting point for any WordPress theme developer.

  • Audience: Developers
  • Premium Price: $69/yr

Some website owners change WordPress themes like they change t-shirts. However, a great WordPress theme shouldn’t need to be changed. Maybe updated, but not changed. It should look great now, and 10 years from now. As fast as web technology evolves, such themes are difficult to find. However, the themes on this list are proven to stand the test of time — some of which have been around for nearly 10 years. They have survived the trends and grown with the technology. That’s the mark of a great WordPress theme.

Surfing On The Gulf Coast Of Florida!?

If you found this post, you’re probably a surfer that’s relocating to the Gulf Coast of Florida. Whatever it is that brings you to the snow white sands of the Suncoast, it probably isn’t the lure of elusive gulf waves.

Before I moved from Maui to Sarasota, I spent countless hours scouting every inch of gulf coastline for surf on Google Earth. Could the rumors be true? Is there no surf on the Gulf Coast?

Man, those sure do look like waves from space!

A true surfer can’t live without swell, and you may just need to know if the gulf can sustain your surf addiction. The good news is, it can. The bad news is — barely. You’ll need a flexible schedule. Waves on this coast don’t last days — they last hours! Read More

Building A Digital Product Business In Hawaii

In 2008, I lived in Waikiki. I was freelancing my creative skills to any takers. I wandered down Kalakaua Avenue, past the Silver Man and caricature artists, promoting my services along the Waikiki strip. If you visited Oahu around that time, I apologize if you witnessed my hideous animated advertisements for parasailing, swimming with sharks or whale watching tours. When I wasn’t creating awful Flash ads, I was designing logos and websites. It was a matter of survival, but I was always working on something bigger.

I tried anything that required only my creativity and a laptop. I co-created a children’s puzzle video game. I sold t-shirts on Cafe Press. I was the lead animator for the first, and possibly only cartoon ever produced in Hawaii. I sold textures for 3D modeling. I created a Hawaii hiking website for my first experiment with WordPress. I learned how to build a WordPress theme from scratch for my personal portfolio. With everything I made, I hoped thousands of people would finally recognize my talent, skills and hard work. I naively thought everything I created was going to be huge.

Until something was. Read More

Cocoa Beach Is Trashy

I was recently driving back to Florida after an awesome week in the mountains of North Georgia with my fiance. It’s a long drive, and checking out the billboards to pass the time is a good way to lose all faith in humanity. There’s an abundance of billboards for anti-abortion, adult superstores, “spas” with trucker parking, and my personal favorite, “Hell? …Oh, I forgot about that.” It’s like Jesus and the Devil are duking it out for advertising space. Closer to the Florida state line, Cocoa Beach starts to join in the fun. Their billboards litter the road side like cigarette butts in the sand at, well… Cocoa Beach.

For the ill informed, the billboards and advertising paint Cocoa Beach as a sophisticated, tropical paradise along the Space Coast of Florida. For those of us that grew up surfing those dirty waves, we know the truth — Cocoa Beach is trashy. Read More

Theme Development: Make Elements With Background Images Match Image Height

Let’s say you want a responsive WordPress theme to utilize a featured image as a full browser width page banner using parallax with content above the image. Something like this:

restaurant-image

The Restaurant Theme using this technique.

To accomplish this, you’ll need to employ the use of a background image. However, background images applied to HTML elements do not inherit the height of the source image. That presents a problem when you want the element with the background image to match the height of the uploaded image. Otherwise, the element will just collapse.

Most developers use javascript or CSS height properties with media queries as a workaround. Most these solutions seem bloated or jittery. Instead, I found a solution that works well. Hacky or not, it’s simple and effective:

PHP
<?php $thumb = ( get_the_post_thumbnail() ) ? wp_get_attachment_image_src( get_post_thumbnail_id(), 'featured-image-size' ) : false; ?>

<?php if ( has_post_thumbnail() ) { ?>

  <div class="page-banner" style="background-image: url(<?php echo esc_url($thumb[0]); ?>);">
    <h1 class="headline"><?php the_title(); ?></h1>
    <?php the_post_thumbnail( 'featured-image-size' ); ?>
  </div>

<?php } ?>

Get the source of the featured image and apply it to a variable. Then, call the image path for the inline background image style. The page title and the featured image are added within the the page-banner element.

Note: The featured image added within the element is what will give the element the same height as the image.

CSS
.page-banner {
  background-position: top center;
  background-attachment: fixed;
  background-repeat: no-repeat;
  background-size: 100% auto;
  width: 100%;
  min-height: 380px;
  position: relative;
  line-height: 0;
}

.page-banner img {
  max-width: 100%;
  margin-left: -9999px;
}

Style the background properties for the element. Then hide the featured image within the element using a large negative margin.

The result is a background image applied to an element that reflects the height of the image and scales seamlessly without the use of media queries or javascript. Now parallax can be applied to the background image and content can be vertically centered within the element.

How Long Have You Lived In Hawaii?

After living in Hawaii for a while you’ll find yourself asking, and being asked this question often — “How long have you lived here?

I’ve lived in Hawaii for roughly seven years. Long enough that J.O.J. newcomers look up to me as a knowledgeable local. Short enough that veterans still question my longevity. You could say I’m at the seven-year-itch.

When explaining that the priorities in my life are changing, I’m asked by some locals, “But you’re staying here, right?

These questions seem meaningless, but they’re actually a gauge of your longevity and commitment to the islands.

You see, Hawaii has an extremely high turnover rate. The islands are like a recycling center for haoles. Because, unless you’re filthy rich or born and raised here, life is a struggle in the islands. No matter how you justify it, it’s really expensive and far from — well, everything and everybody.

There are generally two types of transplants within my age group (25-35) that arrive in Hawaii — those seeking adventure, and those seeking escape. God knows it’s not for career opportunities. Read More

Speed Racer Is A Great Movie, I Swear!

So, what does make Speed Racer a great movie?

The acting!? No!

Spritle and Chim Chim!? No!

The ridiculous over saturation of colors!? Not really.

The heart and soul of this film? Yes.

Speed Racer is an underrated movie. It’s probably unlike anything else you’ve seen. The colors, the transitions, the anime inspired style, flashy effects and campy acting — it was unfamiliar territory in film making. So unfamiliar, that many people hated this film when it was released. I mean, look at the source material for God sakes! It’s based on a children’s cheesy 1960’s anime racing cartoon! What did people expect!? Drive?

I was told not to see the movie. That it was a disappointment. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cartoon as a kid, and I wasn’t particularly jazzed to see it as a feature film anyway. So I didn’t think much of it. I ended up renting the movie randomly from Netflix many years ago — back when I had DVD’s delivered in the mail. I had absolutely no expectations.

I thoroughly enjoyed Speed Racer. So much that I watched it 4 times before returning the disc. Then I bought it.

While the theme might be “racing,” that really isn’t what this film is about — at all. Speed Racer is about family, passion, hard work, small business versus corporate greed, not selling your soul to the devil, fighting the system and making a difference. There’s a lot of good themes here, and racing simply ties them all together. It might be cheesy, flashy and even epileptic at times, but there’s more depth to this film than I expected. Honestly, I tear up at a few scenes. This movie is full of heart.

As an older brother, small business owner, animation major, graphic designer, kid that dreamed of being a race car driver, and a dude that spent most his college education playing Mario Kart on Game Cube with his roommates; Speed Racer might as well have been made for me! It’s like watching a roided up game of Mario Kart with soul — only much better than that sounds!

While it’s far from perfect, if you can overlook the blemishes and blinding effects, there’s a lot more to this movie than meets the eye. Go watch Speed Racer. Go!

Write It, But Don’t Publish That Shit!

dumbledore-memory

Buried deep inside myself is a halfway decent writer. I minored in creative writing, for whatever that’s worth. When I was younger I imagined writing Mark Twain inspired stories about my childhood adventures growing up in the swamps of Central Florida. Ya know, happy stuff. However, these days I sometimes use my writing powers as a tool for venting my anger, grief, fears and frustrations. That’s not a bad thing — unless I published all that shit!

My instinct is to treat my blog as a brutally honest account of the events in my life — as a personal journal. That begs the question…

“Should a blog be a journal?”

Maybe, but a very well pruned journal! Once upon a time, journals and diaries were hidden under beds and locked away in drawers. Those words were not meant to see the light of day, and we were terrified of them falling in to the wrong hands. Blogs and Facebook changed that. Now, our own hands are often the wrong ones.

I’m an optimistic dude. I try to look for the good in life and people. I try not to dwell on the sad times. They’re a part of me, but they don’t define me. Life is too short to fill it with bitterness. When I write as a release, that’s exactly what it is. I’m taking those angry thoughts, painful memories and hurtful people, and I’m letting them go. Some words should be written and burned.

Publishing content is like being Spiderman — with great power comes great responsibility.

That blue “Publish” button shouldn’t always be clicked. Sometimes, that “Move to Trash” button is the most relevant, most appropriate action to take.

My 7 Essential Tools For WordPress Theme Development

1. A MacBook Pro and Thunderbolt Display

Obviously you need a computer, but not just any computer. You need a MacBook Pro with a retina screen and a Thunderbolt display. If I’m traveling or just get sick of working from my home office, I want to quickly grab my computer and work on the go. Having a MacBook Pro with a Thunderbolt display makes that easy. I’ll be working while sipping on a latte in no time!

2. A Local Server

I personally use MAMP Pro as my local development server. I have trouble focusing on more than one project at a time — ADHD and all. However, if you work with multiple clients, Desktop Server may be perfect for you.

Update: I primarily use Desktop Server as my local development server now. It’s way easier for spinning up additional development sites.

3. Atom by Github

I spend a lot of time writing and editing code, so I need good development software. A couple years ago I made the switch from Espresso to Atom.

Atom is awesome! It’s free, open source and highly customizable. The good folks at Github maintain the software, and the active community contributes with useful packages. So you can customize the platform to meet your development style and needs. Assuming you’re a smart developer, you’re probably already using Github for version control. Atom syncs with your Git repositories to track all your changes. Really, I can’t say enough good things about Atom.

4. Adobe Photoshop

I learned Photoshop in high school at 14-years-old. I’ve grown up with the software, and used it for everything from illustration and print design to photo editing and web design mockups. I know the program backwards and forwards. These days I mostly use it for basic resizing of images for demo sites. I probably could find a much less robust program for my needs, but I’ve always been loyal to my Photoshop.

5. A WordPress Starter Theme

Using a good starter theme will get you 90% of the way to a completed WordPress theme. I initially created the Seed Theme to be a starter theme for my development process. However, it had some limitations. As a result, I ended up creating a new starter theme — the Swell Theme. I released a free version available on Github and the WordPress Theme Directory. Also, a premium version is available from Organic Themes.

Update: I’m always trying to create a better starter theme. The Origin Theme is the latest WordPress starter theme I have designed and developed.

6. The WordPress Developer Plugin

No WordPress theme developer should be working without the Developer plugin. This plugin contains a number of essential development plugins including Theme Check, Regenerate Thumbnails, RTL Tester, Debug Bar, Beta Tester and more.

7. Firebug or Chrome Inspector

Firebug is an essential tool for my design and development process. The Chrome inspector is equally as good, if not better. Regardless, use one of these inspectors, and use it frequently. You can practically learn web development just from playing with a good inspector.

There you have it. With a handful of essential tools you can create awesome WordPress themes! Granted, you’ll also need a solid understanding of HTML, CSS, PHP and Javascript — And some killer design skills couldn’t hurt either.

Humility Is For Poor People! Unless You Live In Hawaii.

I’d like to think I’m a fairly humble dude. I don’t like talking about my accomplishments. I don’t like talking about money. I’m not one to brag about my skills and talents. It’s uncomfortable for me — like cold weather. Man, I just like creating cool brands and products that people can use and enjoy.

I find many people in business, particularly on the mainland, are constantly trying to impress others by bragging about how much they have and how awesome they are. That has always pissed me off. Nothing gives me more pleasure than silently kicking ass in business without competitors even realizing it. All the while, pretending I’m a dumb ass redneck from Florida.

I had relatively humble beginnings. My family wasn’t poor, but we didn’t have much when I was young. I ain’t no fortunate son. Nah, nah… I watched my Dad build a successful construction company from practically nothing. I saw my mom go back to school as an adult to get her Master’s in psychology. I watched them both struggle to give my brother and I the best childhood they could — with or without money. They worked to change our stars. That was a better education for us than our private elementary school, magnet high school and college educations combined. It taught us to take risks in life and business, to work hard and further our education, and to be humble about it.

Something I love about Hawaii is that most people here are humble. You probably couldn’t spot a millionaire from a beach bum — unless you know your OluKai slippers from a generic brand. But it doesn’t matter in Hawaii. We all surf the same waves and we all share a love of the ocean and this land. That’s usually a common bond — unless the waves get crowded with egos that don’t belong here. Humility is still a virtue in Hawaii. It’s not a flaw.

I moved to Hawaii 7 years ago with nothing but a car to sleep in. Somewhere along the way of building a life and a business out here, through the awesome times and the really shitty times; I became a local. This lifestyle, this land, this ocean, these people — it suits me. It’s a hold out for humility.

My Experience Creating Premium Themes For WordPress.com

collective-featured

The WordPress.com Collective Theme.

In a few words: Awesome. Educational. Empowering.

My experience working with the team at Automattic has been invaluable. As a self-taught developer, it was exactly what I needed. It’s an education in WordPress theme development directly from the source — the talented folks that have built the most popular website content management system in the world. Their team has taught, and continues to teach me the best ways to approach theme development. The experience has improved our products across the board.

The process has taught me to always have a fallback, and employ conditionals for everything. That’s more than a good lesson in theme development, that’s a good lesson for life. It’s taught me to test, test, test — then test again. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, but it has helped perfect my perfectionism.

Organic Themes has been providing a handful of our premium themes on the WordPress.com marketplace for over a year. And for nearly a year, we have been dominating that marketplace in sales — out performing every major competitor with only a fraction of the products. Read More

Way To Go David! Delete Half Your Sites!

I was messing around a few months ago clearing out old client accounts from my Media Temple account. I deleted a few databases that I didn’t think contained anything of importance — I was wrong. I realized a couple days later that I had deleted my old freelance portfolio site, Muku Studios; the Hawaii adventure blog, Discover Garden; and my parents business website… Read More