Theme design/tweaking is one of the main reasons (other than unlimited control over plugins) that I decided to go with a self-hosted WordPress install over one hosted at WordPress.com Having bumbled my way through designing the course site for BIPN150, I got some hands-on experience in how to find and modify theme css.
After the course finished, though, I discovered WordPress child and parent themes. There are a few really good theme frameworks, like Thematic and Carrington, but I finally settled on Hybrid. The former two were for some reason daunting to me as a beginner to theme frameworks. One primary reason I went with Hybrid is its creator, Justin Tadlock.
His approach to WordPress development is very practical, and the support in the ThemeHybrids forums is quick and excellent. From his original post on why he created Hybrid:
I needed something that I wouldn’t have to hack up to make it work how I wanted.
Believe me, themes I’ve used here on my blog have been massively more complex than anything I’ve ever released into the wild. Recoding a theme from scratch every time I wanted a different look was not an ideal solution.
Once the theme was at a standard that was good enough for my own site, I started thinking about how to make it good enough for your sites.
One of my main goals for all of this is to have a WordPress powered CMS for managing courses. One crucial first step in this was finding a better way to manage users of a WordPress site, and Justin’s members plugin has been fun to dig around in and see what I can extend or modify.