Designing Best Selling WordPress Themes: A Visual Guide

Designing WordPress Themes - Find out what makes a theme sell like hotcakesWhat makes a WordPress theme sell like hotcakes? Is it an abundance of features, a striking design, a balance of both or perhaps, at times, could it simply be attributed to a trusted brand name or designer?

The WordPress theme economy is easily worth millions of dollars a year and does not show signs of slowing down anytime soon, especially as we see the platform becoming more responsive and easily adapted for the mobile web.

If you are a designer/developer and are looking to get into the highly competitive (yet completely open for the taking) world of theme design and development, there’s no place like WordPress right now.

Some might say that there are an ideal set of features and unique design elements that help towards achieving success in sales. Below are a few of these features and elements that you may find to be common in most best selling WordPress themes.

Most Popular Technical Features

Customizable Home Pages

The most important part of any website on the whole interwebs is obviously the home page! With just a couple of seconds to impress your visitor, your buyer will want to make sure they can adjust the most important parts of their home page.

Designing WordPress Themes - Duotive Fortune
Duotive Fortune on Themeforest provides a Front Page Manager
Designing WordPress Themes - U-Design
U-Design on Themeforest offers a widgetized homepage


By now you’ve seen at least 1 theme with a slider, or 500, front and center. With numerous open source options available, some might even see it as a stale feature. But done right it could make the difference between just another slider to an awesomesauce slider!

Designing WordPress Themes - Whitelight by WooThemes
Whitelight by WooThemes offers a Full Width Slider
Designing WordPress Themes - LucidPress by artbees
LucidPress by artbees offers a very fluid and unique slider
Designing WordPress Themes - Chameleon by Elegant Themes
Chameleon by Elegant Themes, the folded arrow icons give a different look

Custom Post Types

Even though Post Formats have been a part of WordPress for some time now, the popularity of ready made Custom Post Types, which cater to Galleries, Portfolio layouts and others types of content has increased. The benefit here is that a buyer is able to get a unique edit screen catered to the Post Type and a unique front end presentation as well. Of course, this depends on whether you as the developer offer them those options, which I think one should.

Designing WordPress Themes - Modernize on Themeforest
Modernize on Themeforest has custom post types, shown here is the Gallery type


Probably the easiest way to make a theme unique is to change the font. With the advent of tons of web based font services like Typekit, Google Web Fonts, Font Squirrel etc…a theme developer is basically spoiled for choice here.

Designing WordPress Themes - Trim by Elegant Themes
Trim by Elegant Themes shows a good mix of fonts
Designing WordPress Themes - Notes by Themify
Notes by Themify, notice the use of font and bold/italic styles to differentiate elements

Color/Background Customization

Options to edit the colors and background of a theme is probably one of the simplest things to achieve, but the effect it can provide once again makes it a top 5 feature that most of the top selling themes have.

Designing WordPress Themes - Scope by Orman Clark
Scope by Orman Clark, features a big background image as a custom feature

Most Popular Design Elements

Magnificent Menus

Everyone loves a snazzy looking menu. Since it’s the primary navigational element, buyers tend to care how it looks. Subtle design choices are always the way to go to make your theme menu standout. Make sure it supports multi-level drop downs! You can even integrate 3rd party plugins that offer mega menu options to kick it up a level.

Designing WordPress Themes - Socialite by SyncThemes
Socialite by SyncThemes, simple, transparent and edgy
Designing WordPress Themes - SmartStart by Smuliii
SmartStart by Smuliii, various colors offer contrast

Typography as Design

The difference between a good design and a great design almost always comes down to the treatment of typography. This can be a very tricky element to perfect, but the payoff is always worth it. Pay attention to line heights, paragraph padding and margins. If you are using web based font services, make sure you have provisions for bold and italic text.

Designing WordPress Themes - Balance by StudioPress
Balance by StudioPress, good typography treatment is the design here
Designing WordPress Themes - Immersion by GraphPaperPress
Immersion by GraphPaperPress, a harmonious balance with various typography elements

Shadows/Inset Effects

Even though shadows and inset effects have been around for some time now, they seem to have become an evergreen design element. Some designers are getting more creative by using transparent effects together with shadows and applying them on text, as part of the general theme design.

Designing WordPress Themes - Simplicity by WooThemes
Simplicity by WooThemes, various shadow and inset effects provide subtle yet important design enhancements


People love icons; they just can’t get enough of them! Incorporating social and custom icons into your design tells the buyer that you’ve put their best interests at mind. Built in options which enable to link a users social profiles give your theme that extra attention to detail.

Designing WordPress Themes - MayaShop by Sara_p
MayaShop by Sara_p has some great icon and sign detailing

Don’t Forget the Footer

Probably the most overlooked area, the footer is one area where some of the best selling themes always come out on top. Custom widgets that fit perfectly into widgetized areas, social design elements, pattern and texture backgrounds are some of the elements that will make your theme standout.

Designing WordPress Themes - eleven40 by StudioPress
eleven40 by StudioPress, a well laid out footer with many custom elements
Designing WordPress Themes - Gonzo by OllieMcCarthy
Gonzo by OllieMcCarthy, a contrast filled footer with a quirky design

What’s Your Favorite?

Now that you’ve seen some of the features and design elements of some of the top selling themes for WordPress, leave a comment below and tell me what is on the top of your list? Whether you are theme-buyer or a designer/developer, all comments are welcome!