10 Nov Theme designers – what you need to know about WordPressMU
First off, I know there has been some confusion over themes for WPMU, but I can say that 99% of the themes out there work in WPMU. They often require some edits for personal preferences, but what theme doesn't? Mostly what I'm going to talk is how themes are used in a WPMU environment. In the case of someone running a WordPressMU install, they want to just be able to drop in some themes and go. If there are a lot of edits needed, chances are the admin will drop it and pick another theme. Having a theme on a WPMU install means exposure - LOTS of exposure.
There are two uses for themes in a WPMU environment. One is on the main blog, or home page. The other use is for the users. That is, members who sign up for a blog.
WordPressMU themes for users
In a WPMU install, the most important thing to remember is that users can't edit themes. See how themes are used on WordPress.com? That's what I'm talking about. So if your theme has a hard-coded area in the sidebar that says something like:
Just edit sidebar.php and put in a little information about yourself.
WPMU site admins are going to have to take that out. Check your theme over for any hardcoded areas that need changing, or any areas you expect the theme user to edit manually.
Themes are also shared between users. This is another reason you don't want hardcoded areas. If I manually edit the theme for one user, all other users with access to that theme see the same files. Which leads me to my next helpful tip.
Widgetize that theme already!
Yeah, yeah, I know... on my own personal blogs, and this one, I like to edit the sidebars myself and tweak things as need. Sometimes it's plain easier to edit the files than it is to mess with clicking and dragging widgets. But on a WPMU setup, that's one of the few ways users have to customize their look.
If there's a header graphic, consider adding the custom header API to your functions file so users can personalize the theme further.
And finally, if you can and if the theme calls for it, consider an options page for extra frills. It's just a nice touch and users will be able to add or change all kinds of goodies in the backend.
I also feel that as the single-user version of WordPress reaches a larger and more non-technical user base, easier theme management from the backend will probably turn out to be the eventual norm.
WordPressMU themes for the home page
Ahhh, here's the good stuff. First off, in my experience, every WPMU Site Admin wants something different on their home page. I'm not suggesting theme designers make a WPMU home version with WPMU-specific code in it. I'm just doing an overview so designers understand what Site Admins generally are looking for.
In MU, the main blog is also the landing page of the entire site. Many admins get a theme with an included home.php file or whip up their own. In this way, the main blog is sort of shuffled off to the background, while the home.php page can showcase some sitewide features.
There are many wpmu-specific plugins and code out there to pull sitewide data onto the home page, and like I said above, everyone usually wants something slightly different. In terms of design, I find that grid or magazine layouts lend themselves well to being adapted to a home theme.
And one more tip.
The last thing I'll mention is theme hooks. Make sure your theme has to proper and standard hooks in it, namely wp_head and wp_footer. On a WPMU site, these are widely used in plugins to insert code automatically in themes for (in some cases) thousands of users.
So there's a general overview. I hope this gives you a little bit of insight into how themes are used in a WordPressMU-driven site. If I left anything out, you have a tip of your own, or even a question, feel free to leave a comment.