Our clients don’t always have the time or budget for us to create a fully custom theme design for their project – and in so many cases, it’s just not necessary (why reinvent the wheel?).  While we’re pretty darn quick at it, the detail required to style blog comments, custom page templates, custom bylines and and and … well, those things add up.  So, to speed things up, we generally start with a “base” theme that we use as a blank canvas.

Here are my favorite WordPress “base” themes from which we design.

  1. Thesis Theme for WordPress (affiliate link):  We design 3-5 blogs every month.  We almost *always* use Thesis as our base theme for blog design.  Granted, we generally forego the built in customization options and use our own custom styles and functions, but the off-the-shelf styling is awesome.  For small budgets and small projects, we’re happy to leave it to Thesis.  Great layout, well-considered padding between modules and page elements, simple and easy-to-use built-in functionality.   The $87 price tag for the theme is worth the saved hours of styling. 
  2. Carrington: Theme.co is a free base theme that is built specifically for designers and developers.  We’ve used the X version (just add markup) a few times and it’s a great theme for more robust content management projects.  There are pre-built blog and mobile version, which are awesome for off-the-shelf layouts.  The X theme has a great support and development community so is constantly growing with WordPress enhancements, which we love.
  3. TwentyTen: Oh yeah!  Finally, a default theme worthy of being our canvas.  We literally shred this theme when we use it as a base, but it’s still a huge time-saver in development.  For instance, do you see anything left of TwentyTen at this site?  Or this?  Those are both built on TwentyTen, but you wouldn’t know it – and none-the-less, it saved us hours of time.

We’ve used and customized and built so many themes over the years that we finally created our own fantastic framework that combines the best elements of all of our favorite base themes. Want to get the scoop on popular themes from people using them in real time. Try a social mention tool to track those conversations.

What are your favorite WordPress base themes for your designs and what do you love about them?  What do you think is missing?