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Review: Mercia Free WordPress Magazine Theme

This is my review of the free Mercia WordPress blog and magazine theme. Its elegant design and ease of use make it a great candidate for anyone looking to start a blog or webzine.

Mercia is a free WordPress magazine theme developed by the German theme developers, ThemeZee. The company’s portfolio is the epitome of clean and functional design and Mercia is one of their more minimal offerings to date.

While Mercia is a “lite” or free version of a premium theme, it is fully functional and entirely usable straight out of the WordPress directory. The theme is geared towards bloggers and magazine editors in the lifestyle, travel, or fashion sectors, but its simple design means it would work well for almost any subject matter.

Features

A quick look at the feature set for the Mercia theme reveals an all round minimal approach, reflected in both the front end “Swiss” style grid design, and the intuitive and simple admin panel.

All theme customizations can be made via the WordPress admin panel, allowing users to add a site logo, a custom background, insert a choice of 3 magazine widgets on the front page and configure menus – including a social icon menu set.

Other features include a fully responsive layout, full browser compatibility and SEO optimization thanks to clean coding standards.

Installation & Usage

As the above video shows, the theme installs in a matter of seconds. While there are some free recommended plugins to install (produced by ThemeZee), the theme will work straight out of the box without them. That’s one of the biggest appeals with Mercia. It’s very straight forward. No clutter, just clear and logical options.

There is a separate option tab for the theme which provides links to the theme’s documentation and demo, as well as a button to begin installing the recommended plugins. All well thought through.

There is no need to import demo content with the theme. It works with all the core WordPress functions, from the customization panel, to widgets, menus and featured post images. This really helps inspire confidence and means more time can be devoted to creating content.

Design

As mentioned above, the theme works on a simple grid layout making it very intuitive for first time site visitors. The font work is crisp and airy, and makes for a high quality reading experience.

I really like the layout options for displaying front-page posts in both grid and single stream configurations. The modular (widgetized) design makes it easy to add sections to the front page on the fly. So Mercia would be capable of powering a fairly sizeable web publication.

At the same time, the theme can be paired down to a minimum and would work fine for a personal blog. All in all, a big thumbs up for Mercia.

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Integer WordPress Theme Review

Integer was designed by Dmitry Mayorov who runs ThemePatio, and is billed as a “blogging theme that features a single-column layout, clean typography, and overall minimalistic style.”

Integer is heavily inspired by Medium’s paired down aesthetic and for the most part it achieves the Medium look and feel. In fact, in my previous post, I made a tutorial showing how to replicate the look and feel of Medium.com using a combination of the Integer theme and the Gutenberg plugin.

Integer is quick to install and fast to use thanks to its light weight code base. It’s a bare bones theme and therefore a good option for anyone looking to get a blog up and running in literally minutes. It’s also great if you’re not a fan of the endless customization options that ship with most new themes today.

On the other hand, the lack of even the most rudimentary customization options, such as the ability to change font sizes and link colors, can be too restrictive for some. It would have been nice to have an option to change the front page post views to show excerpts only instead of the default full-post setting.

There is a premium version of the theme available for around $39, which gives you some control over font colors and sizes, and offers a two-column home page layout. However, you only find out about the premium version once you’ve installed the theme and looked at the “extra features” tab on the customization screen. It would be really helpful if the developer could make that “lite” vs “premium” distinction clear on the Integer WordPress repository page.

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Bimber Viral WordPress Theme Review

I encountered the Bimber viral WordPress theme about a month ago and I was drawn to it like a moth to a lightbulb.

At the time, I was trawling through WordPress themes looking for a new design for Wpliving, and the Bimber theme just had that immediate punch thanks to its simple layout, clear font work and strong use of images.

Bimber is one of several viral WordPress themes released in 2016 that take inspiration from popular sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy.

Although attracted to the theme, I was sceptical about using it on Wpliving as this is not a viral content site (at least not yet). But after a month of using the theme, I am pleased with my choice and I have received several comments in praise of the new design, including this one by Oliver Dale from wplift.

I thought I’d share my experience of working with Bimber and give you some insight into the pros and cons of this theme. I find the best way to review WordPress themes is through videocasts, because it allows you to see the theme in action. So I made a 2-part video review which covers the following topics

  • Feature Overview
  • Design and Functionality
  • Installation and Usage
  • Summing up the pros and cons

Review part 1

In this video, I introduce the theme’s overall design concept and key feature set, including its emphasis on social media sharing buttons, easy social media content curation and its custom ads and widgets integration.

Review part 2

In the second part of the review I cover the theme installation process; how to set up the theme to look exactly like the demo version; how to customize the theme.

I finish the review by summing up the pros and cons of the theme. Here is my conclusion of using the Bimber viral WordPress theme after 1 month.

Pros

  • Easy to install: from download to activation takes less than a minute. All required plugins and all demo content can be installed with a single click of a button on the theme’s options panel.
  • Easy to use: once the demo content is installed, it doesn’t take long to figure out how to use the theme’s core options. The documentation that comes with the theme is also useful.
  • Clean design: the layout of content is simple and well balanced. There are several options to change the way front page, single page and archive page layouts work. The theme has a professional feel.
  • Visual punch: the theme can be a loud or toned down as you like. The core design elements (layout, fonts, media integration) are well thought through so whatever colour scheme you go for, the content always feels fresh and impactful.
  • Good social media integration: this is the theme’s main selling point. Bimber does a nice job of integrating the Mashare plugin to give readers a range of options to share content.
  • hide or limit comment, share and like counts: this is a very nifty little option that I like a lot. Basically you can set a threshold for when you want comment, share or like counts to appear on your posts. This means you don’t have to worry about your content looking neglected or underviewed.
  • Works well on all platforms: I have tested the theme on an iMac 27″, Mac Mini and 21″ monitor, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, Microsoft Surface and a Windows PC using Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer and the theme worked well on each form factor. It renders particularly well on smartphones.

Cons

  • Mailchimp widget cannot be customized from the admin panel: in order to modify the default text inside the MailChimp widget, you have to edit some of the theme files. I hope the theme developers will change this in a future update.
  • Needs more custom widgets: At the moment, the theme comes with 4 custom widgets, including a Facebook and Mailchimp widgets and custom posts and sticky start point widgets. It would be nice to see Twitter, Instagram widgets and YouTube widgets given the theme’s emphasis on social sharing.
  • No archives, sitemap, contact page template: while all three of these pages can be created manually, it would have been great to see the developers go the extra mile and include some bespoke templates.
  • No fullwidth option for single posts: this is another addition I would like to see in a future update. Having the option to make a single post fullwidth would go a long way in pushing the viral content side of the theme.

In Conclusion

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Overall, I have found the Bimber Viral WordPress theme a pleasure to use. It was very easy to get the theme up and running. I particularly enjoyed the one-click automated plugin and demo content installation option. I also found it easy to customize through the WordPress customize panel. The option set is not exhaustive, but offers enough control to modify the look, layout and overall impact of the theme. I also like the ability to set thresholds for when to show comment, share and like counts. This is a small but nifty feature of theme that I would like to see in use across other themes.

There are a few odds and ends that have been left unfinished, such as the lack of an option to modify the MailChimp widget text for example, but given that the theme has already been given 4 updates since its release, I am hoping these small wrinkles will be ironed out.

If you’re looking for a theme that presents your content with a punch and lets your readers share it with ease then go take a look at the Bimber theme.

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Meet “Create” – a Clean Multifunction WordPress Theme

In this post, I review a premium multifunction WordPress theme by ThemeTrust called “Create.” It is billed as the company’s “most powerful and flexible theme yet” and it is built on the open source Page Builder plugin by SiteOrigin. So let’s put this theme to the test and see if it lives up to the claims.

Background to ThemeTrust

ThemeTrust was established in August 2010 and has released 26 themes to date. The two main types of theme that characterise their work are portfolio and personal blog themes. “Create” is a hybrid of these two styles and part of the ever popular trend in multifunction WordPress Themes.

ThemeTrust is a design company that I always keep an eye on.

Why? One word: consistency.

Looking around today’s premium theme markets, I feel there’s a tendency with some creators to get sucked into the numbers game and sacrifice quality for quantity.

That being said, if WordPress themes were my main source of income, I suppose I would be focused on sales figures too. But I look at this from the perspective of a buyer / user and what I value most in a premium theme is clean code, professional design, ease of use, decent support and fair pricing.

In this sense, ThemeTrust has always struck me as a bit of a different “player” in the premium theme field. They take their time with new theme releases (on average 4 themes per year). A lot of work goes into detail such as font treatment, layout balance, effective use of whitespace, true responsive design and so on.

A quick glance at their portfolio reveals a commitment to simple and clean WordPress themes. This is echoed in their company slogan:

BEAUTY + FUNCTION
Premium WordPress Themes that are beautiful and easy to use!

The one thing I still find a little mysterious though is that it’s difficult to know who is actually behind ThemeTrust. There is no “about” page on their website and no introductory post on their blog. Even their Twitter and Facebook accounts don’t get into any personal detail. Not that you have to put your whole life story online, but it would be nice to get a sense of who’s behind the design work and general running of the company.

So if someone from ThemeTrust happens to read this review and feels compelled to drop me a line with a short bio blurb, then I’ll be happy to update this post…

Create Theme Core Features

Let’s get started with a quick look at the core features of this theme. Here are some of the essentials at a glance:

Features Description
Homepage 6 different layouts, including: Agency, Professional, One Page, Shop, Fullscreen Slider, Portfolio.
Backgrounds Add parallax image backgrounds to sections of the theme; video and image backgrounds.
Page Templates 5 different templates, including: Contact Us, About Us, Testimonials, and Pricing.
Portfolio Layouts 5 different layouts, including: two,three and five column layouts, as well as masonry style layouts.
Blog Layouts 4 different layouts, including: standard, standard full width, masonry and masonry full width.
Shop layouts 3 different layouts, including: full width, with sidebar adn custom.
Miscellaneous Includes popular Slider Revolution image carousel; Google Fonts; Mega menus; boxed or wide layouts; unlimited widget areas; multiple headers; 1000s of icons…
By laying the features out in table form, you get a good sense of the balance of components in this theme. Equal weighting has been placed on the theme’s core templates, meaning that the theme actually does try to live up to its “multifunction” claim.

On the one hand you could quite happily use Create as a simple blog or portfolio theme, or to run a small online shop, because each core function works very well on its own. On the other hand, you can combine these functions using the 6 homepage templates and make use of the theme’s multifunction capacity.

Page Builder

The modular nature of these templates (thanks to the excellent Page Builder plugin) makes it easy to integrate a range of elements from sliders to portfolio and blog entries, about and contact information and widgetized areas too.

Once you have installed the theme and its included plugins you will be able to work with page builder in the default WordPress page composition screen. The plugin operates on a drag and drop basis, separating the various options out into sections. Check out the screenshots of the core page builder options below.

While page builder allows you to control the basic layout components of a home page template, it gives you control over the look and feel of each component. You can modify colours, layout sizes and other options via this plugin.

Slider Revolution

The inclusion of the Slider Revolution WordPress plugin plugin is a big plus too. It would usually cost around $20 to buy it as a standalone plugin. It allows you to create dynamic slider content with multiple actions. You can see the slider at work on the front page of the main Create demo site or in the animated gif below.

The Slider Revolution plugin comes with its own admin section that you can access via your WordPress dashboard. It will take new users a while to learn the functions of the slider, though help and tutorials are at hand within the slider admin panel. Here are some screen grabs of the admin in action:

So all in all, the Create Theme’s feature set is well thought through and comprehensive. ThemeTrust have made the admin side of the theme as pain free as possible using drag and drop interfaces where possible and tried and tested plugins too. As with any multifunction theme today, new users must be prepared to put in some work in order to learn the fundamentals of theme management.

The main Design features

On first glance of the default Create demo, the impression I get is of an elegant, spacious and professional looking multifunctional theme. Nothing is rushed, nothing is brash or out of character, there is an overall sense of balance to this theme which is very pleasing to look at.

I was particularly impressed with the font work on this theme. The font faces, the work on font shadows, line spacing and font size make text a joy to read.

For example, take a look at the bold font work on the intro section of the theme. It is ultra clean and easy to read. The rounded Helvetica font face creates a friendly welcome feel.

design 2

I also like the font and layout work on the different core pages of the theme, including the blog, shop and portfolio pages. Each of these is designed with a strong use of whitespace. Let’s look at the blog page for example.

blog design

The subtle mix of greys and blacks on the text, coupled with the airy use of whitespace, put the blog content front and center. Photos really stand out and catch the eye.

On the shop page, you get a real sense of the overall attention to detail and balance with this theme.

Shop design
It feels classic and professional. There is no excess clutter. Navigation is simple and logical.

The portfolio single posts are beautifully rendered too.

portfolio design

There’s very little there. Just the fundamentals. Image, title and text. It’s simple but effective web design at its best.

In Conclusion

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You might have gathered by now that I am a big fan of minimal design. I think the overall appeal of the Create multifunction WordPress theme is its simplicity – at least on the front end. ThemeTrust have put a lot of effort into making each key part of the theme as effective as possible. They didn’t cut corners. What you get is a theme capable of powering a blog, portfolio, shop or professional website with elegance and style.

The only negative point I can find with this theme is the learning curve involved in setting up the home page templates and designing dynamic slides for the Slider Revolution. But this is counterbalanced by the fact that ThemeTrust offers excellent tutorial and documentation material. Users who are not versed in WordPress can also benefit from well staffed support forums.

All in all, I think this is a home run. Great job ThemeTrust!


As with all the theme reviews on this blog, my interest lies in that tiny group of themes that extend WordPress functionality through design innovation. In short, I’m looking for game changers. If you would like to recommend a theme for review, please get in touch via the contact form and I’ll be happy to consider your work.

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The Hardy Portfolio Theme Review

The term “visual identity” is generally used in the corporate world as a euphemism for branding, and often doesn’t amount to much more than the consideration of logo design and a corporate colour scheme. To me, this is a restrictive and unimaginative use of an expression that can be redeployed to suggest something far more creative and complex. Continue Reading

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Introducing the FLSCR Horizontal WordPress Theme

This is a follow up post to a video I made some time ago about a fantastic website called HorizontalWP.com. It’s a premium WordPress theme website run by Greg Ponchak and devoted entirely to minimal and functional horizontal WordPress themes.

Greg was kind enough to send me a demo version of one of his themes. It’s called the FLSCR theme and in this video I take you through the ins and outs of the theme from installation to end usage. It is one of the most user-friendly themes I’ve come across in quite some time.

As with most of Greg’s themes, FLSCR is best suited to a simple portfolio. It would work well for a photographer, graphic designer, painter or any other creative person looking for a clean blank canvas to showcase their work on. For the demo site in the video, I made use of a series of snapshots I took on a recent trip to Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island).

What I like the most about this theme is the way it automates the image and text processing. Images of all sizes can be uploaded and the theme will resize them to an optimum size. Any text that appears as overlays on the images including links, titles and caption text will change colour according to the tone of the background image. If it’s a dark background, you’ll see light text and vice-versa.

All in all, it was a real pleasure to work with this theme and I strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a simple portfolio solution. My thanks once more to Greg Ponchak at HorizontalWP.com for providing me with a demo copy of the FLSCR theme.

Stay tuned for more reviews to come. Also, if you have any requests for things you’d like me to cover, either leave a comment below or send me a quick message via the wpliving contact form. Catch you next time.

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3 New Responsive and Minimal Free WordPress Themes for September 2012

What can I say, I’m a sucker for free WordPress themes. I guess that’s what comes with being an old-school WordPress user. So in hommage of all those brave web designers producing free themes for the benefit of the WordPress community, I decided to make a video about 3 new responsive and minimal free WordPress themes.

These themes have several things in common, firstly they’re all responsive layouts so they will automatically resize to fit whatever screen size you’re using them on. Secondly, they are all very minimal, clean and bright themes with a professional feel. They are best suited for personal blogs. Thirdly, they are completely free to download and manipulate. Each one has been released under a GPL license. Finally, they have all been released on the WordPress.org theme repository. This is important because it means they’ve been checked for malicious scripts. So use them with confidence. Continue Reading

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WordPress Twenty Twelve Theme Review

In his recent annual review of the “state of the word“, co-founder of WordPress Matt Mullenweg spoke about the tremendous development that WordPress has undergone since its inception back in 2003. Its user base has radically expanded as has the breadth of its applications across all areas of Web publishing.

We’re currently at WordPress version 3.4.2 and in his speech Matt spoke quite a bit about the forthcoming update 3.5. As part of that update WordPress will include a brand new default theme. This marks the 3rd template following Kubrick and Twenty Ten. The new theme is aptly called Twenty Twelve and the lead designer responsible for bringing it to life is Drew Strojny, founder of the premium WordPress theme company The Theme Foundry. You can check out Drew’s presentation at WordCamp San Francisco 2012 here.

In this review, I take a look at the key features that characterize this theme, I look at the admin side of the theme thanks to a work-in-progress version that I’m running on my test site and I offer a few comments on some of the subtleties that make this a truly viable, out of the box solution to anyone looking to set up a free and fully-functional web site in a matter of minutes. As always, I’d be interested to hear what your take on this theme is. Are you as enthusiastic about it as I am? Or is it lacking something? Either way let me know in the comments below.

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Back in Black: Introducing Eclipse, a Free WordPress Theme

In this video I take a look at an excellent free WordPress theme called Eclipse, an example of a theme that puts dark backgrounds, colours and fonts to effective use.

With so much emphasis in the theme world on so-called “clean” and “minimal” design, and a fetish for “whitespace”, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the fact that other colour combinations can create just as effective designs.

This is an ode to black and I draw parallels with a couple of professional portfolio websites, created by professional designers, in which dark tones are put to powerful use.

Go check out the demo version of the Eclipse WordPress theme then let me know what you think about this theme and whether you have a particular preference for one colour palette over another.

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