Help Me Pick a New Look for The Pietist Schoolman!

Ever since this blog started in June 2011, it has used the same WordPress theme.

Internet Archive snapshot of The Pietist Schoolman on July 1, 2011
Here’s the blog as it looked back on July 1, 2011… Not much has changed, has it?

Described as “a classic and popular magazine-style theme that has withstood the test of time,” I liked The Morning After because it squared with my preference for a multi-column, magazine-like look that would make it easy for readers to find posts other than the most recent without having to scroll for screens at a time.

At first, I didn’t really like the font (Arial), but as I explained last May in a post on graphic design, I’ve come to appreciate sans serif in blogging for several reasons, including this one:

…such typefaces were designed to be neutral, capable of supporting many different kinds of messages, and I’m fairly self-conscious about hosting a site whose evenhandedness causes it to stand out from the partisan hyperbole of the blogosphere.

But I think it’s long past time to switch to a new theme.

I’m not nostalgic enough about print magazines to stubbornly cling to their late 20th century design scheme when it increasingly strikes me as out of step. In a media landscape that features seemingly endless amounts of white space, the look of this blog is starting to feel cluttered.

Frankly, I probably would have changed the theme earlier this year but for sloth, and the nagging concern that any change will have unintended consequences for the look of posts written with the old theme in mind.

So as I prepare to give this blog a makeover, I’d like to do some crowdsourcing.

Christopher theme
The very act of blogging is already dangerously narcissistic… I probably shouldn’t go the extra mile and pick a theme that shares my name, should I?

Eventually, I’ll put it up for a vote. But for now, I’d like to ask you to check out the WordPress Themes collection and recommend one or two new options. (Just leave a comment below, including a link to the theme you like.)

A few things to note as you’re perusing themes:

  • I’m cheap enough that I’d prefer a free theme, but I’d consider shelling out some money for a premium theme in the $30-$60 range. (It’s an annual fee, so it’d have to look fantastic for me to pry open my wallet!)
  • You can probably steer clear of the themes in the Photography and Portfolio sections, which are meant for other kinds of sites than a blog whose posts regularly run over a thousand words. (Ditto niche themes related to things like Weddings and Food.) Skip to the Blog and Magazine filters.
  • Given my “cluttered” self-critique, I suspect that more minimalist themes will be front-runners.

And even if you don’t have time to browse a bunch of WordPress themes, please feel free to share ideas for what kind of design you’d like to see here.

After I get some feedback and do some of my own digging, I’ll post some options for readers to vote on later in July. However you can contribute to this process, thanks in advance for your help!


7 thoughts on “Help Me Pick a New Look for The Pietist Schoolman!

  1. I like Libre, Baskerville, and Gateway best. (A responsive design is one of the most important features now, and all three qualify.) I know you’re probably familiar enough with WordPress by now that you don’t want to change, but check out SquareSpace for a fairly cheap alternative that I think would give you a bit more control over the whole website design and experience.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks for kicking us off, Kyle! Baskerville would be a nice way to slip in a nod to one of my favorite tangential topics here: https://pietistschoolman.com/tag/sherlock-holmes. 🙂

      I am pretty wedded to WordPress; if anything, the decision is whether to stick with the streamlined .com version or go to .org and host the site myself in order to get added functionality. But I like SquareSpace and recommend it to others looking to set up a platform.

      1. Your current theme (“The Morning After”) dates back to 2007 and was the first of the “Magazine” themes that started making people think of WordPress as a content management system and not “just a blog” engine. If you switch to a blog look now, that is a big shift for your “brand,” since magazine and blogs imply rather different things about their purpose and audiences, even though this may be a largely subjective discrimination. On the other hand, blog themes like Libre may be minimally disruptive for you to adopt since they look good without a featured image on each post. A lot of blog themes and maybe all magazine themes assume each post will have a featured image, and these will probably need to be at least 960-1024px wide. It will be a chore to update your old material to look good within those parameters.

        Whatever you choose, you will gain from any contemporary theme that is responsive/mobile friendly and built on the assumption of much bigger screens and resolutions than TMA was.

        On the hosting front, there’s a big difference between wp.com and self-hosted WordPress. The big difference on your end in this case too is time/cost. If you go the self-hosted route, the only free theme and plugin options that are worthwhile are the ones that will be supported for many years by a stable company that is making money through a premium version or other services. The biggest time and pain saver will be top shelf managed hosting that handles the primary performance and security issues. Even in that context, installing a lot of plugins for added functionality is a bad idea and may have undesirable results. Less is usually more.

  2. I like Libre, Edin and Apostrophe.
    And to kyle’s point…I’m bias towards squarespace as well, but wordpress is obviously awesome.

  3. Thanks for sharing your professional expertise, Dan. Especially on the WP.com vs. self-hosted choice. I’m more interested in the latter for some digital history projects; I don’t see a lot of value-added for this blog. And your comment does make me want to include “Keep the current theme” as a viable option — more than anything else, the idea of going back through 1200-some posts to bring them in line with a new theme dampens my enthusiasm for a change.

    1. It might not be that bad if you take a structured approach (newest and most popular old items first) while taking the opportunity to revisit your older material. It just is not something you can do automagically or overnight, and it will probably be harder to do on WP.com than it would be on self-hosted WordPress.

      Maintaining the status quo is not a terrible choice either. TMA has held up well, and WP.com will backstop any security issues or major browser faults that might crop up. The basic mobile app functionality WP.com and Jetpack provide compensates for TMA’s main weakness.

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