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WordPress Basics: Themes and Customization

For more guidance on themes, try CampusPress's guide to themes or their guide to custom backgrounds.

This video offers an overview of Themes and customization in WordPress. Themes provide a quick way to make global changes to the way your DartWrite digital portfolio looks and behaves.

Once you are logged into and viewing your portfolio site, you can access themes and customization from the dashboard or by viewing your site homepage and looking for “customize” in the black editing ribbon at the top of the screen.


Changing your site theme changes the underlying rules for how your content displays. Themes can alter:

  • fonts and colors,
  • the orientation of menus,
  • the nature of the homepage,
  • and much more.

You have hundreds of themes to choose from, and each one comes with its own look and feel. We recommend you explore themes by going through the WordPress Dashboard rather than the homepage “customization” option. In the Dashboard view, you can search and sort themes more easily. Test out a theme without committing by choosing “live preview,” and “activate & publish” the theme only when you’re ready to make the change.

Themes demand specific kinds of content. You might notice that many of the themes are designed with specific kinds of WordPress content in mind:

  • A homepage might be designed around a huge, high-resolution image, for example.
  • A homepage might be configured to display a number of recent posts.
  • Links to posted content might rely on thumbnail images rather than titles.
  • And your existing menu might be shifted, collapsed, or even missing.

Keep in mind that your portfolio site may not have the right kind of content, yet. So, using live preview may produce underwhelming results. If you think a Theme’s design is right for you, you can always build the content it needs to function properly after you make the change. That might mean setting the homepage to be a feed of posts, adding an appropriately sized header to the homepage customization, or taking existing pages and transforming them into posts with “featured images.”.


Whatever theme you choose, you have the ability to customize some parts of the theme. To explore customization, choose the “customize” option from the appearances area on the dashboard or view the homepage and choose “customize” from the black editing ribbon at the top of the screen.

Themes come with different customization options. You can expect to be able to change your site title and subtitle through the “site identity” option. Here, you can see the default theme allows me to:
change the image that’s featured on the homepage,
change just one of the theme’s core colors,
and pick whether the homepage is a static page or a feed of recent posts.

Get started customizing

There are hundreds of ways to customize WordPress sites. To get started with customizing your portfolio, log in at