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The Curious Case of Specialty Themes

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Have you ever needed a website that should be built with WordPress, but also should push the boundaries of this beautiful content management system? Ever needed to create a WordPress website to share code snippets, or set up an online course to sell your knowledge, or build a support system for your agency?

Sometimes, a theme and a bunch of plugins won't work for our project. Sometimes, we need a complete system with a decent design and solid functionality. That's where specialty themes come into play.

What Is a Specialty Theme?

A WordPress theme must be developed to change the look of a website and avoid offering functionality embedded in its core. That's called "invading the plugin territory" and considered as a bad practice since you basically chain the user to your theme with the functionality you offer. Luckily, there is a solution: You can provide functionality through plugins that you require your users to install. To do so, you can use a PHP library like TGM Plugin Activation.

But sometimes, a project requires that design and functionality work together. In this case, we have an exception, and the exception's name, used throughout the WordPress market, is "specialty themes."

How Should We Make Specialty Themes?

If you decide to make a specialty theme for WordPress, you might want to consider a few things:

Have a Very Specific Purpose

You must offer a unique approach in order to present your theme as a "specialty theme". Go bananas if you like (if you're certain that somebody will make use of your theme) and make the most eccentric theme the community has ever seen. Seriously, the community could use some variety in themes.

Utilize Actions and Filters to Make Your Theme Extendable

Actions and filters are part of the WordPress Plugin API, but that doesn't necessarily mean themes can't benefit from them. In fact, all of the most popular WordPress theme frameworks utilize actions and filters (mainly actions) so other developers can extend the frameworks. Follow their lead and make your theme extendable with WordPress action and filter hooks.

Make Your Theme Ready for Child Themes

Here's your "A-ha!" moment if you want to make more of your theme by diversifying design options—make your theme ready for child themes! Build your base theme (like a theme framework) and create child themes to offer different designs.

You Can Use TGM Plugin Activation

If you feel that other themes can benefit from a part of your functionality, go ahead and offer it as a plugin and require it by using the TGM Plugin Activation library. But in most cases, specialty themes' functionalities can't be used with other themes; so it would seem like a vain effort to convert the functionality. 

But keep in mind that developers might create themes after you release your specialty theme, so it's still a good idea to separate functionality from design.

Ideas to Create Specialty Themes

There are so many types of specialty themes which can be made that it would be pointless to try to list all of them. But to get the idea, let's write a few:

  • a job board
  • a question and answer system
  • a help desk
  • a learning management system
  • a crowdfunding website
  • a domain sale page
  • a "coming soon" page
  • a simple online wedding invitation
  • a knowledge base
  • a directory website
  • a contact manager
  • ...and more

As I said earlier, any good idea could be—and should be—turned into a specialty theme. If you think you have a good idea to make an original specialty theme, go for it.

Notable Examples From ThemeForest

There are so many good examples of specialty themes on the internet—mostly in WordPress theme marketplaces. Let's take a look at some noteworthy examples in ThemeForest:

Social Reach: A Unique "Crowd-speaking" Platform

Social Reach Theme ThemeForestSocial Reach Theme ThemeForestSocial Reach Theme ThemeForest

Ever heard of Thunderclap? Thunderclap is a "crowd-speaking" platform that "helps people be heard" by getting enough supporters to share their cause in their supporters' social media accounts. And the Social Reach theme lets you start a personalized website to do exactly this.

Academy: An Awesome Learning Management System

Academy Theme ThemeForestAcademy Theme ThemeForestAcademy Theme ThemeForest

Learning management systems have been on the rise in the year 2014, but Academy has been around since March 2013. With this clean and beautiful WordPress theme, you can start your own LMS and release and sell courses.

Support Desk: A Comprehensive Help Desk

Support Desk Theme ThemeForestSupport Desk Theme ThemeForestSupport Desk Theme ThemeForest

If you're selling a product or giving a service, your customers are likely to seek assistance for your product or service. With the Support Desk theme, you can provide a knowledge base, a support forum, and FAQ pages for your customers.

Domena: A Simple "Domain for Sale" Page

Domena Theme ThemeForestDomena Theme ThemeForestDomena Theme ThemeForest

Specialty themes don't necessarily have to be big, complex themes. Domena is a pretty good example for a simple specialty theme, which helps you set up a "for sale" page for your domains.


I'm pretty sure that there aren't any standards in the world that don't have exceptions. In our case, the notion of "specialty themes" is our exception for theme development standards—even if we create a specialty theme but offer its functionality as plugins, in practice, we're still preventing users from switching themes.

What do you think about this topic? Should we see more specialty themes and bend the standards a bit more, or should we stick to the standards strictly? 

Please share your thoughts with us by commenting below—and if you liked this article, don't forget to share it with your friends!

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