How To Select A Joomla Template

After people learn about Joomla and decide it's right for them, the next step is finding a template. Templates give your website a starting point and minimize the work involved in the design process. Whether you're looking to upgrade your business website, start a blog or build a community organization website, templates will expedite the process.

Steven Johnson
by | Posted: May 7, 2013 | Updated: April 1, 2014
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Intro Into Joomla Templates

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Picture: Joomla! logo

What are templates? Templates are predesigned website skins used by Joomla to display content the same way throughout the entirety of your website. They have become a crucial ingredient to designing websites. Here are the main reasons why:

  1. No need to hire a designer (or significantly reduces cost)
  2. Easy to implement and upgrade
  3. Custom design updates take place site-wide
  4. There are hundreds of thousands of templates for Joomla
  5. Content Manage Systems thrive on the adaptability of templates

Technical Jargon
For the more technically inclined, templates use MySQL Databases, server side languages like PHP and front end design languages like CSS to display content. Templates are more and more useful the more pages your site has. Say you have 100 pages on your site, years ago, you would have had to update each one of those pages by hand whenever you made a site-wide change.

With templates you can change one line of code in the .php file and the HTML will display that change on every page. For a page to display, a call is made from the php file to the database where it grabs a portion of HTML code. The template engine gathers these bits of HTML code to form a whole page. This page is then styled using a .CSS file (cascading style sheet). Read more about how they work here.

What Kind Of Site Do You Have?

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Picture: Gavick joomla templates

So what kind of template do you need? There are designs for almost anything you can think of and It's important to choose a templates that fits your brand's persona. When figuring out what kind of site you have there are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Decide what kind of color scheme you need to match your brand (it helps to have a logo already).
  2. What template genre are you going for? Here are a few template genre examples: architect, professional dog walker, musician, real estate appraiser, scientific researcher, and there are many others.
  3. Take a closer look at what similar industry websites are doing. It's common to go after the flashy websites because they look pretty, but using a template simple because it looks pretty in the demo can result in disappointment when your business doesn't fit the template's style. Simply put, don't force your business to fit the molding of a template.
  4. Before you decide a template is the right one for you, dig into it a little. Test out the demo. Have some friends or colleagues test it out as if it were your site and get feedback. Sometimes the design seems great but because of poor menu layouts, bad module positions or other unorganized issues, it can turn out to be a bad choice.

What Functionality Do You Need?

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Picture: Warp Framework by YOOtheme

Functionality is a fancy word for tools and/or features. Joomla templates usually come with a set of features. Examples of these features are image sliders, submit forms, module positions, layout options, menu display options and other elements.

Determining what you need will help you when you demo some of these templates. One distinction that helps to know is that a lot of functionality with templates has been moved to their underlying framework. That means if you just used the framework, a lot of the functionality would still be present, you would just lose the design of the site. This distinction can be helpful because it means you do not have to settle on a specific template if the functionality of it's framework is what actually drives the toolsets.

How & Where To Get Templates

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Picture: JoomlaBamboo homepage

Like we've mentioned already, templates aren't going anywhere. As content management systems like Joomla continue to grow in popularity, the more you will see templates being used. There are lots of companies that recognize this trend in the industry and have started very successful businesses that focus solely on template design.

Template Clubs
Joining a template club is a popular way get templates. You always have access to their latest templates, you get technical support, and you can generally trust that they won't build a bad template.

Also, these clubs spend more time with templates than many of the independent website designers. So much time in fact, that the industry has seen a move towards template frameworks (like mentioned previously). A template framework is a set of code, the template's engine if you will, that does not change even when compatible templates are switched while using it.

Essentially, the reason frameworks are important to template companies is because it helps standardize the process of designing templates around them. Once a company has a framework, their templates become more reliable and have better functionality (Read more about frameworks at the bottom of this page).

Support at template clubs is typically much better than from an independent designer. Template clubs build communities around their templates with forum and dedicated support staff. Many issues can be resolved quickly and any bug are patched and sent out through updates.

You will pay more for a template club membership, but what you pay in cash you gain in quality. Your templates will be better designed and backed by a team of Joomla professionals.

How Template Pricing Works

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Picture: RocketTheme subscription prices

There's not one simple way to understand pricing with template companies. Some offer unlimited templates for a flat monthly rate, some charge a yearly rate for a set number of templates, and some charge you a one time fee. To help with your search you can start by asking yourself a couple of questions.

  1. Am I going long term upgrades, support, or a new template from the same company? - This determines the subscription length you can plan for.
  2. Am I tech savvy enough to handle template issues if they arise? - Helps you decide if you need technical support.
  3. Am I going to need more than just a template? Maybe an extension or added functionality? - Choose whether you can make it with just a template or if you will need added functionality.
  4. How much does my budget allow me to spend? - This could be the easiest way to decide on a template or club. If you have to be under budget, they your choices will narrow down.

Making The Final Decision

Making the final decision is a choice made after researching your template thoroughly. This guide should help, but most of website details will be up to you.

To Recap, We Covered:

  1. Intro Into Joomla Templates
  2. What Kind Of Site You Have
  3. What Functionality You Need
  4. How & Where To Get Templates
  5. How Template Pricing Works

Hypothetical Decision Making Process
Lets walk through a hypothetical situation following the steps aboe. Lets say I have a real estate consulting business. It's a relatively small firm of about 10 people and my budget for a website is around $5000.

  1. I have started to read about joomla templates in the first section and decide a template is definitely what I need because our firm will not want to hire a full time or part time web designer.
  2. I move on to the next section and determine I would be best with a real estate style template with a minimalistic design and color scheme. It will have only 15 or so pages that will see most of the attention from visitors. Some of the modules will display featured content and there will be an image slider on the home page.
  3. Now that I know what genre of template I need, I figure out the functionality. I decide that my website will need a flexible main menu in the header that can display multiple rows, on the home page I will need a slider, and I will need a place to put Google Analytics code easily.
  4. Next, I learn how to find and purchase templates. I choose RocketTheme because they have a free Framework that I can use as a base for any of their templates that I like.
  5. I decide to purchase a membership that is a yearly plan that costs me $90 and gets me to get immediate upgrades to templates and expert technical support. I can also use up to 3 of their extensions as part of the membership.

More About Responsive Templates

We haven't covered anything about responsive templates in this article yet, but it's an important concept to know about in Joomla website building. The term 'responsive' refers to when a website dynamically adapts to the size of the browser viewing it. This is very popular because a growing number of internet surfers are using mobile devices to view websites. As time goes on, all templates will be responsive. Early adopters have already been making improvements to this technique and it appears that it's here to stay.

How Responsive Design Works

A line of code is added to the CSS file that says "If the screen size is between 481px and 767px wide, use the following code". Of course it doesn't read like that. This is the exact line of code: "@media only screen and (min-width: 481px) and (max-width: 767px)". All code below this line will override it's counterpart when the screen size is between those two sizes. This allows you to resize buttons, text and format everything to display correctly at the given size.

More Info About Frameworks

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Picture: Gantry framework website

Frameworks
So we talked briefly talked about frameworks, but there is more to know. Frameworks have come about in order to consolidate custom template functionality in a simple, easy to use code base with tools and features. Frameworks are what give most templates their power and flexibility in terms of functionality.

For designers: it starts the design off with a strong foundation of code to work with. Most of the frameworks have settings in the backend which allow you to set up colors, logos, menus, modules, layout and responsiveness all from one control panel. Also, you can switch between multiple custom templates all from within the framework control panel.

For developers: it is much easier to update code, implement new features and get rid of outdated code. You can manage your template code better by having one override's folder to hold all of your code. Frameworks integrate with Joomla and add extra options like caching, file compression and more. You can also get extensions that are part of the same family which work seamlessly with the framework.

Pros:

  • Fast, easy implementation of code and updates
  • Overrides keep your customizations separate from template code
  • Control multiple template options
  • Code stays up to date with industry standards
  • Updates and fixes give templates longevity
  • Increase performance

Cons:

  • Must learn to use it
  • Don't always need extra functionality

Joomla Template Resources

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