What is a theme?

A theme is a rigid structure aimed broadly at the general public,which a developer has created using all the building blocks of a website. The reality is, the developer wants a high turnover for a theme, without having to offer any support or tailoring services whatsoever.

In Lehman’s terms, a theme is like a pre-fabricated house. It has been developed to fit and work in a certain way. Everything has a place and when it arrives, you follow the instructions and put it in place. The issues come when you decide you want the kitchen facing south instead of north and you want to move the staircase. This is the same with themes, as the developer is just a contractor. They didn’t build it from the ground up. They don’t understand the tolerance of the material or what the implications may be, if they change the rooms around. If you don’t build from the ground up, the foundation is not customised for your requirements and your builder will only truly understand half the code.

Magento and why people use themes

Magento is now widely regarded as the most advanced, well-documented and robust ecommerce platform the market has to offer. Its open source roots allow for countless developers to trial and test new modules, extensions and features, making it a truly collaborative community. This is far removed from when it was all about building propitiatory systems, which ultimately fell down at some point or made the client beholden to the developer. This always left the client with a tough decision: re-develop the site or continue on, down the wrong track.

In Magento’s ascendancy along the way, it became obvious that themes needed to be offered to clients. People often prefer a ‘quick-fix’, and this is where templates and themes come in. An appropriate use would be, for example, an eBay trader looking to make the next step into the ecommerce world or a small retail operation looking to move online. Generally speaking, as the client gains success, they quickly realise the theme’s limitations and Magento’s ability to deliver beyond the theme’s capabilities. By this point, a lot of time, money and energy have been spent, trying to get that theme to do something it just doesn’t like.

Common issues with themes

Extensions and Module integrations – Modules and extensions can be very difficult to configure and can cause other issues within the code. This could cause a huge problem with complex integrations and/or Magento version upgrades.

Architecture – At its core, the website code should not be tampered with, however it often is with themes, as it can provide short-term fixes or mask issues.

Unreliable – website templates and themes are unreliable, as you don’t know how they have been constructed and there is normally very little, if any, documentation to support them. Not all the code will be tracked, so diagnosing and solving issues can become open-ended tasks. This results in the client picking up a hefty bill, with no guarantee that the problems have been resolved.

Responsive – Many themes and templates are not truly responsive. The correct way to build responsively, is starting with the mobile version and building up. As new technologies are adopted into ecommerce best practice and new devices are created, themes have a tendency to break down.

Things to consider when planning your next ecommerce build

  • Does the company you’ve chosen develop from themes?
  • If the answer is yes, and you still want to pursue that option, what is their contingency for dealing with a code base they haven’t fully developed?
  • Remember that if an agency has developed your site based on a theme, it is unlikely a reputable agency will work on the site, should anything wrong.
  • Does the company guarantee bugs?
  • Find out if they use repositories for their code.
  • Ask to see some examples of development environments; this will allow you to see where they are with different builds and how others are being constructed.
  • Be very wary of anyone asking for all the money upfront.