I stress to every client that I have that I create a customized theme for every project. I don’t work with premium themes. In fact, I have never used a premium theme. And there’s a reason for it.
I would say that a good chunk of theme developers know what they’re doing. They develop a theme that syncs well with WordPress core and try to optimize it for performance. Many of these themes have found wild success on marketplaces such as ThemeForest, WPMU DEV, and so on. That’s great and I tip my hat to those developers.
However, there are other developers that insist on packing their themes with so many features to the point where they’re extremely detrimental. They break with every new WordPress release. The themes are so heavy that they require too many calls in the <head> and thus slow site speed down. This affects search engine ranking performance, considering Google penalizes websites that are too slow.
I understand why developers do that — it makes them more money and builds perceived value. And that’s fine — this is as free, wild, and unstable of a market as you can imagine. Yet, my argument is that the true value of a good theme is not necessarily in what it can do, but how well it performs and how well it serves the purpose of the end user.
A true case study: my HypnosisGroup.com client previously had a theme that was developed specifically for medical practices. The theme really didn’t make any sense because Hypnosis Group is not a medical practice, but rather a therapeutic service. The previous developer thought it was a good idea, obviously, to use the Medica theme. However, the Medica theme was a labyrinth of a custom post type here, a custom field there, and to me, it was just a mess. In essence, I ended up developing a theme that was the most practical for the Hypnosis Group.
Just like a musician’s instrumentation has to serve the purpose of the song that he or she is trying to write, the theme has to serve the purpose of the service, business, or organization that the client is trying to market. That’s why themes are best designed to be as light and flexible as possible, with auxiliary functions being handled by supplementary plugins. Some theme developers may argue otherwise (i.e., pack the hell out of theme), but in reality the theme and the plugin(s) should work together to create a much more functional and purposeful whole. ◼