Is it okay to use an existing WordPress theme on a clients site?

What’s your viewpoint on using a bought wp theme as a starting point for a client’s website. Is it a no no or does it make sense?

The Pros: by Mark Hawkins

There are two primary factors involved here when answering this question – ethics and cost.

As a web and graphic designer, my client base ranges from the start-up business to the multinational, therefore the range of services and associated costs varies from client to client.

In an ideal world I would love to be a purist in the designing of bespoke work for my clients, however associated costs dictate that this is not a financially viable solution at times, and thus the need for a ‘bought’ WP theme comes into effect as a starting point. Let me also intimate that the client does not get any less of a service or final business solution, merely not a bespoke designed one. On the flip side it is also supporting other WP based businesses and keeping the WordPress economy going as it my main web solution and one I would like to see evolve further in the long term.

On the ethical side as I mentioned earlier, it isn’t a purist way of designing nor does it create a portfolio piece in this instance, but then again, the real world isn’t always about what we want as designers, but what ultimately will work for the client both from a practical, business solution and a cost perspective.

To conclude, in my humble opinion, I would say yes and no, I would prefer to design from scratch on every single project, but sometimes I have to put my feelings aside and go with the flow. To those purists, It’s not a sell out or cop out, but a practical solution to a business need.

Learn more about Mark

The Cons: by Shane Hudson

You ask “does it make sense,” but I believe that can be reduced to a number of other questions, including:

  • Does it make financial sense?
  • Does it make sense from a development viewpoint?
  • Does it make sense from a design viewpoint?

I am a developer so the second question is easier for me to answer, but I think the majority of people that use wordpress themes do so due to money and time. You can easily undercut people who start from scratch as well as knock sites out rapidly. Take a theme, change colour, add content and branding… done.

Is that a good enough reason to use themes? I don’t think so. Though I must stress, if the client (especially if they are a friend or family member) needs a site on a low budget then I think you should let them know that a theme might be the best way to go. On the other hand, you should never be working from a theme if the client believes that you are creating a professional bespoke website.

So that is a quick overview of the business side of things, now for development. I am a strong believer of “everybody is doing it wrong”! We all work differently, even the most respected of developers rarely write similar style code. Starting from somebody else’s code is always hard, you don’t know what is going on or how it is laid out. Even just on the CSS side of things, you are not in control of specificity and other important aspects of code architecture. It is hard and usually it is easier to start from scratch.

That said, I have experience working with a well respected “Woo Ninja” and so have made many child themes and modified WooThemes, they have a very strong framework and code very well… so I suppose if you do like how a theme is written and feel comfortable developing it further, it is not always a dreadful idea. But in most situations, I would say that writing your own code should always be neater than just using someone else’s as you know what is going on and there is much less code redundancies.

Now all we have left is design. I am not a designer, but I have worked with enough designers to know that a really good design is always hand crafted from scratch. A tweaked theme feels like a tweaked theme, it is often bound to the same proportions and layouts.

All in all, using a theme as a base is only good if you want to help somebody (such as a family startup with no initial funding) to get on their feet.

Otherwise, put the time and effort into making a brilliant website. Code it to a standard that makes you proud. Design it so that it is right for the client. Do it properly.

Learn more about Shane

Other responses

Not sure you agree with one of the points of view? That is what the comments are for :)

  • craig

    as long as yo are not telling clients the site is a custom build then its ok. I tell clients that their site is based off a theme and that I customise it further. I also run which is a Divi theme showcase site … id say at least half of the sites are based on the WP theme by designers for their clients.

  • I love this, thanks for sharing.

  • Rouger fillip

    thanks to for this incredible post

  • Tony Douglas

    Usually people avoid using a pre existing theme on any commercial or important website… obviously no one would like to compromise with the uniqueness of his website. In fact being a web developer, I also would have never recommended using a pre existing theme if your question was about any other CMS, but as you have talked about WordPress theme, then my answer is quite different. WordPress themes are enormously being used on various large and well renowned projects. They are getting very good response too.

  • Done properly, existing WordPress themes offer a real opportunity to create a highly professional website for a lower budget than designing and coding your theme from scratch. Most WordPress companies are very lazy in the way they use themes and create websites that are a pale comparison to the original theme they are based on. If you spent time sourcing well coded themes and analysing exactly what makes the theme demo site look so effective, you can create a fantastic website that is uniquely tailored to your client and doesn’t look like a ‘theme’. If it looks like a theme then you’re not using the theme to its true potential.