I have a friend who has a background in graphic design. She has taken a particular interest to web design. I am a software developer/system administrator, not a web developer, and I'm certainly not a designer; I couldn't design a good-looking site to save my life. However, I am aware of the technologies involved and the skills that she would need to acquire.

For the first book, I have recommended Head First HTML with CSS & XHTML for it's non-threatening, yet practical approach to teaching. This book introduces the reader to the modern technologies which are used by the browser to display web pages, and explains how to use them. As most of you know, that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Most sites today rely on some sort of back-end (CMS, et cetra). So, any web designer should be able to work with at least one kind of CMS. I think WordPress would be a great place to start (and who knows, maybe even specialise in) because it is highly scalable, yet easy to use for developers, designers, server administrators, and end users alike. It is used by individuals, small businesses, and enterprise. At the same time, it is simple enough to design for that I don't think it would scare her off with too much programming. Disclaimer: I use WordPress for most of my personal sites, so I am more than a tad bias. However, I'm not sure which book/tutorial to recommend to her for WordPress design.

Below is a list of books which I have found, and my thoughts on them:

Head First WordPress: A Brain-Friendly Guide to Creating Your Own Custom WordPress Blog - It explains in plains in plain English what WordpPess is, how it works, and how to use it. I love the format for this purpose, but it has a very short theme chapter. It may be good for supplementary reading.

Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog (Smashing Magazine Book Series) - It is well laid out, and up to date. It has an entire section on WordPress theme development. But, I would prefer a book which specialises in theme development.

WordPress 2.8 Theme Design - This book is written to be a step-by-step guide to designing, building, and tweeking a WordPress theme. But, it's a bit out of date. Could this be a problem?

Build Your Own Wicked Wordpress Themes - I have mixed feelings about this book. Is moderen, design orientated, and nice to look at. However, it bases much of of the work on the Automattic theme framework. On one hand, this minimises hand-coding, making it easy to learn and use, especially for someone without a background in programming. On the other hand, I'm concerned that such an approach might not prepare one for the "real world" of theme development, if one ends up applying for work at a design company, rather than doing freelance work. Is this a valid concern? How widely are frameworks used? As I said, web design/development is not my field, so I don't know much about the industry.

Any help is appreciated.


6 Answers 6


I thought Build Your Own Wicked Wordpress Themes was really helpful. Note that the book actually uses the Thematic Framework for point of reference and example code. A book that has been fantastic, and therefore I recommend, is called Digging Into WordPress.

  • I just looked at the Digging Into WordPress sample PDF and it looks perfect! Thank you! However, I would like to hear suggestions from others as well. Please don't overlook this question just because is has a confirmed answer!
    – Sean W.
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 0:44

Digging Into WordPress is the best book I bought. I still use it a lot to quickly look things up. Their site is very handy too by the way. You also get a lifetime subscription to upcoming (pdf) versions of the book.


Regardless of how often frameworks are used overall, there isn't just one, but many; so, being able to build a theme from scratch is a much more valuable skill, since you're not tied to a certain framework.

  • I suspected this was the case. Thanks for your input!
    – Sean W.
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:38

It's not a book, but I highly recommend a Lynda.com video course called WordPress 3: Creating and Editing Custom Themes. It's only 4.5 hours long, so she could do it in a day or so. One month of Lynda.com is between $25-$37.50, depending on whether you want the exercise files. She probably does.

It's by Cris Coyier, who is one of the co-authors of Digging into WordPress. Chris not only knows his stuff, he can communicate that knowledge.

Both Wendy (my designer) and I got a lot out of this. Chris takes a design from a rough concept, through to a full, multilayer Photoshop mockup, converts it to a clean HTML/CSS static page, and then converts that into a WP 3 template. Although he doesn't go that deeply into using lots of WP's new functionality, he does take you from blank page to something that looks pretty damn good sitting on top of WP. I liked seeing the design process in action, she liked seeing static HTML turned into a real template right before her eyes. She said it took a lot of the mystery / fear out of it for her.

Confession: I didn't know if it would be any good, so I grabbed a torrent of it. As soon as I had finished it I turned right around and signed up for Lynda.com so they would get their money, albeit a bit ex post facto. I definitely think it's worth the time and the money.

Brain fade: %s/template/theme/g I was working on a Django site all day enhancing some templates so ... oh, never mind.


Professional WordPress: Design and Development

I just read

Professional WordPress: Design and Development
by Hal Stern, David Damstra and Brad Williams 
Wrox Press © 2010 (408 pages)

enter image description here

on books24x7 books24x7 (where there are MANY WordPress books) (tip)

Overall I mostly like the Wrox books since they are mostly good as was the case with this one.

I searched the Internet for reviews and overall it gets very good reviews.

  • What did you like about it?
    – Sean W.
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:37
  • It was thorough and not only small tips or links to plugins. It gives a lot of code, i liked the writing style, i learned things from it
    – edelwater
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 1:42

O'Reilly's PHP, MySQL and Javascript http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596157142/

I'm going to disagree on your definition of WordPress as a scalable CMS, but I suppose that's a different discussion all together.

Personally I'd recommend a description of the actual tools used to build the backend, modules, themes etc.. With a WordPress specific book they might know some basics about which little variable gets placed where but it'll take a while for someone to actually understand what's going on. Even if they are quick to pick up what each of those WordPress specific things mean, they're going to have a TOUGH time moving to something that's nothing like WordPress. WordPress is a decent starting point, but I would say the person might want to be able to move past the administrative disaster that is WP.

Again I'd like to stress that someone shouldn't go from basic learning of HTML/CSS to a WordPress specific book as its likely to have them very narrow-viewed if they'd ever like to move on with their lives and grow up into a more robust CMS.

All personal opinion.

  • I think you are not answering the question, but ranting how this is a wrong thing to do. It might or might not be a wrong thing to do in the long run, but trying to make sense of WordPress from the side of pure PHP and MySQL is definitely going to be a nightmare for non-programmer person.
    – Rarst
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 12:16
  • I apologize, I didn't mean to sound is if I was ranting. I was trying to express that I don't necessarily recommend picking one CMS without any kind of PHP or MySQL knowledge when going into web design/web development interest. I don't really think I avoided the question and I'm uncertain of the tone you're using, but my paragraph was intended to explain my reasoning of not suggesting a jump headfirst into WordPress alone. I hope I didn't offend you by offering an opinion.
    – Jon Phenow
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 14:14
  • no problem :) I just felt like pointing out that negative spin of WP pulled your answer away from original question and your (quite valid) point about more general web development knowledge. Basics are good, but it may be hard for newbie to approach WP from that angle. For example SQL queries can be extremely complex internally, it's WP_Query that makes them accessible to less experienced users in WP. And such.
    – Rarst
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 16:38
  • @Rarst good point, and I wasn't trying to pull so far away when I started thinking about how to answer, I think I moved a little farther from the point than intended. I forget how hard it can be to begin the thought process of a programmatic mind. Perhaps start your friend on WP, as you originally suggested and get them to start browsing lower level stuff as well and they'll maybe be able to start piecing things together as they go and understand it at a deeper level. I'm sorry we got off on the wrong foot!
    – Jon Phenow
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 17:05
  • not my question :) just passing by...
    – Rarst
    Commented Feb 18, 2011 at 17:13

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