This interview with Elmastudio was long time coming. But it was worth to wait. I have followed their work for years and they build very attractive and creative WordPress themes.
This is part of the WordPress theme shops interview series. I hope you have some time to read Elmastudio’s story, who they are, and what they do.
Sami: Who is behind Elmastudio and what is the history about Elmastudio?
Ellen: Hi, we are Ellen and Manuel from Elmastudio. We are a husband and wife team from Germany (now living in New Zealand), who build WordPress themes and blog about WordPress since 2009. We started out as freelance web designers and created a blog to share all things web design and WordPress that we learned along the way.
After designed two free themes for our blog readers and for WordPress.org, we created our first Premium WordPress theme in 2012. From there on we created more and more themes and now have over 30 WordPress themes on our Elmastudio website.
We just love our work and we love that we are able to work together every day and do work and theme designs that we really love ourselves. We also love to help others to create their own websites and it’s always so much fun to see our work being uses by so many people.
Sami: What kind of themes you build? Is there a target audience for your themes?
Ellen: We started out creating blog themes, since we also blogged on Elmastudio and our readers where mostly bloggers themselves. After a number of themes we wanted to try something a little different and opened up to new theme ideas, like business and portfolio themes and later also eCommerce themes. I think since we both come from a design background, we focus a lot on web design and we love minimalism.
Therefore a lot of our theme users are designers or other type of creatives as well. But of course since our themes have a very minimal design approach, they can be used for a wide range of websites and we love that our theme users have websites with a lot of different topics. We have a lot of users who are travel, tech or food bloggers, small business owners, freelancers or photographers.
Sami: Showcase 2-3 of your themes that you are most proud of.
Ellen: Oh, that’s difficult! Of course we love all our themes and they all come with some history and remind us of the time we created them. But since we always keep learning new things, too, of course we love our latest themes a lot.
Especially with our latest theme Uku, we tried something a little bit new for us. We wanted to be able to work longer on one theme, instead of switching to a complete new theme design after completing a theme. So Uku has more theme design and layout options compared to our other themes, which is a lot of fun for us to create and continue to work on.
Our probably most famous theme is Zuki, since it became really popular on WordPress.com as well and a lot of people use it for their Magazine style blog. I think at the time we created Zuki, there weren’t a lot of themes out there, which had a similar design approach and a Magazine-style layout that is more flexible than the classic WordPress blog design (which we love to, for instance in our Cocoa theme).
Then Weta was also a little bit special for us as well, since it was our first eCommerce theme. That was kind of scary for us at first, because we felt that online shops have to be very technical. But we started to get more and more into designing for WooCommerce and now it’s a lot easier for us now.
Sami: Where do you get inspiration for design and code?
Ellen: From a lot of different places I think. We love to browse through Magazine and art book stores to find inspiration outside of the internet. It is very helpful to get out of your familiar world. Technically we also have to see what other themes are offering of course, but besides that we don’t like to look at other themes that much, since we find it distracting.
We love to look at design inspirations on Pinterest and other design inspiration websites, too, just to get us started with a first idea. Once we have developed a design idea, we try to focus with our own design and again don’t look too much around us.
Sami: What is your business and marketing strategy?
Ellen: From the very beginning we wanted to be able to sell themes mostly on our own Elmastudio website. We felt that this way we were able to create our own prices and offer bundles, specials or discounts whenever we wanted.
But we started to create two free themes first, before selling our first Premium theme and we also sell a number of our themes on WordPress.com. We are also always option to try new things. I think this is very important, too.
Sami: How is your theme business doing and do you have other business? Any numbers to give?
Ellen: We really love our work and feel blessed every day to be able to work with so much freedom and do work that we love and that other people love to use. That was always the main focus why we started creating our own WordPress themes in the first place and there was never a day we didn’t like our work.
To be honest numbers where never our focus as long as we were able to continue with our work. I believe if you look at the numbers of your own business too much, you can’t create the best work you are able to create (I know it sounds a little bit naive, but it always worked for us). So we always worked on keeping our work and our output in our main focus and try to create the best work we can possibly create.
Sami: Any specific workflow how you build themes? What kind of development tools you use?
Ellen: We always start with a theme concept and then try to find the best design idea for this specific website concept. This takes a little while and is also always the most stressful part of our theme building process. Once we settled on a design idea as well, it gets easier and we start building section by section of the web design. Manuel does all the design work in Sketch. From the very beginning we work together to find the best solution from the design and the development perspective.
Then I start to code a rough version of the theme design as soon as possible, just to test things out. I use Atom as my editor and we mostly work with Chrome as our browser, when developing themes. When the design is more polished and we also have the mobile design ready, Manuel transfers all design templates to Zeplin, which I love as a developer.
Zeplin makes it easy to work together as a designer/developer team and I can see all the information I need for my code right in Zeplin. We have kind of our own version of a starter theme with _s as a basis, but we also come up with new approaches depending on the needs of each new theme.
Sami: What are your future plans? Do you see themes changing in some direction?
Ellen: From my perspective I think the tendencies are that a single theme can now be way more complex then it used to be. And in one way I like that, since it makes it possible to develop and work on a theme for a longer time. But I also like clean, small and simple theme for one specific purpose and I think they will also continue to exist and make sense to use for a lot of people.
So I believe there will be a lot of different themes out there in the future, too, and that is also the great thing about WordPress. There are so many users with very different needs, so it’s possible to create a number of very different themes that all find their fans and user base.
Sami: Any other tips and tricks you want to share for users and for other theme developers?
Ellen: Again I think the most important thing is that there is no right or wrong theme, but rather it’s important to find the perfect and best fitting theme for your own website. For theme developers that means too, that there are endless options how to build WordPress themes and we just have to find the best way that works for us and our theme users.
I think it’s important to believe in your work and in your way of doing things and not get irritated by the work of others too much. There are so many different WordPress themes out there, that it’s more and more important to find your own approach and your own personal niche.