What is the real difference between themes?

Are themes really 'specially designed' for different purposes, or are they primarily different only in fonts and colors? I could really use some help sorting this out. I want to set up a site with the following features and would so..so..so.. appreciate any recommendations you might have:
1) Blog - probably the home page, but want static page option.
2) Variable layouts - sidebars and full-page widgets available and assignable to individual pages.
3) Courses (I see you have a plugin for this)
2) Display of Courses - with clickable grid-type display to go to the course - and notification if course is available only to members.
3) Membership - three levels a) everything on site available, b) selective courses and selective pages available, c) prospects or non-members see partial content - 'more' shortcode to offer to sign up
d) visitors - limit content visibility, but have teaser visibility
4) Membership payable monthly or annually .
5) Ability to drip content and /or emails to members and prospects.
I am perfectly happy if Paypal is the only payment option - at least for now.
And of course it must be responsive.

I just read this and realize it sounds like I'm asking you to do all the work....I really just need an explanation of what the real difference is between themes, and are some better suited for some reason than others, based on my needs? I've used ithemes, and developed sites before, so I'm not completely inexperienced... just not sure how YOU do it.

Sorry to be a pain, but I'd like to get started, and I'm not sure where to start.

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for your response.

  • Michelle Shull
    • DEV MAN’s Apprentice

    Hi, Bonnie!

    You are not a pain at all, and this is an excellent question. : )

    Personally, I am a BIG fan of picking a simple theme. You want the focus to be on your amazing content, not on the SuperMegaMongoSlideshowShortcodeSlideabmabob at the top of your page. We can style whatever we need to style with a little custom CSS, starting simple (even super simple, like a default WP theme) means that you can highlight your content the way you want to, not the way a theme designer has decided you should.

    The great thing about our plugins (well, one of the great things) is that they're designed to work with many, many themes. You don't need an education-specific theme for CoursePress, just a well designed theme, same goes for Membership, it will do all the heavy lifting for you, no matter what theme you choose.

    The other reason I'm a big fan of simple themes is that you don't have to worry about your site looking dated when the newest trend goes out of style. If flat design isn't nearly as popular in 2017 as it is in 2014, being stuck with a flat theme is going to be an issue.

    In terms of your payment gateway concerns, we've got you covered. With Membership (and MarketPress, our ecommerce plugin) you can choose from a variety of payment gateways, to cover members from around the world easily.

    Hope this helps!

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