Best Design-Oriented Themes

DanikaAtkins's picture

Hi all,

Hoping to get your expert opinions when it comes to off-the-shelf Drupal themes. My understanding is that Zen is considered a pretty good bare bones theme to start, but that it doesn't come with a ton of built-in design elements.

Would any of you have one or two themes you'd recommend to someone who is looking for something prebuilt with design in mind?



I used Omega for a long time

patrickavella's picture

I used Omega for a long time before moving to the bootstrap subtheme. Bother are responsive barebone frameworks. There is a newer version of Omega that I have not toyed with yet as well.

Nope, sorry!

buddym's picture

Sorry, I can't help you other than saying OpenPublic had a dynamite theme. Although, this is a complete custom drupal distribution and not just a theme. Although you could with some moderate work just extract the theme from the OpenPublic distribution. I attempted it at one point but wasn't quite successful.

Personally, I have used Omega in the past, and currently I am using Zen for my website Like you mentioned, Zen is pretty bare bones and from what I remember so was Omega. Although, that was the reason I choose them.

Good luck. Hopefully others will chime in.

Not a good answer

jkavanagh's picture

But I thought this was thought provoking... Why use a pre-built theme?


buddym's picture

I enjoyed that article. I am sure we all have experienced the case of, "when the shortcut becomes the long way" when working with base themes. I know I have.

Efficiency. The bootstrap

patrickavella's picture

Efficiency. The bootstrap base theme gives you a clean canvas that includes pre built responsive breakpoints and access to all of the bootstrap framework.

Omega, similarly offers a blank canvas with a framework that helps you better configure responsive behavior (plus delta is pretty snazzy to use with it)

Building out a theme is easy, but when you're building a lot of websites or working together with others on websites it is highly beneficial to the whole team when there is a standard tech stack to work off of. It reduces knowledge debt and helps corral developers in from straying too far from the common workflow.

My lean is in this direction

JamesCostello's picture

Philosophically, I gotta say this article hits the key points that trouble with me with any base theme, including Omega 3 which I really like. I'm not sure I'm willing to plunge into theming from scratch when it's so inviting to start from a base -- and there are so many advantages in using a base -- but at the same time I dislike all the deconstructing and firebugging that ensue once you adopt any theme it seems. But that may be a tradeoff you can live with and just something I need to get used to. Over the next few weeks and in prep for our Theming Day/Week of May 18, we're going to take a hard look and experiment with many of the themes mentioned in this thread -- Omega 3 and 4, Adaptive, Zen, Aurora, Bootstrap, maybe some others -- in prep for a major Drupal site development here (at CTG). We'll document what we find. Hopefully, we'll arrive at a basis for a sensible decision that fits our needs, rather than what we've been doing so far, which is "this one looks good, let's try it and see what happens."

greggmarshall's picture

Omega and Zen are base themes, and not designed to include any real design, but instead be frameworks for your efforts.

Both Omega and Adaptive Themes have commercial options that are not terribly expensive. As an example, Symphony Themes,, are forty-five dollars and are based on Omega 3. A couple of their themes are on If you don't want to spend the time to build a custom theme, they can be an option. A client used them, even having some low cost customizations done. That company is based in Vietnam so there were some interesting communications challenges, but they were good about getting back (boy is it hard not to use the word responsive in that context). Adaptive themes have commercial options also,

In addition if you search, limit to themes, you will find a number of contributed themes based on Omega, Zen, and other base themes.

As for Jim's article, I know quite a few people who have built their own base theme. The exercise is educational, and you can customize the base theme to match your preferences and workflow. But if you are working in a team, don't forget to budget time for documenting your custom theme...

Drupal Themes

JeffC518's picture

Thanks everybody for their input on this.

I personally prefer to build upon Zen, as it provides an efficient framework to build upon. However, as mentioned, it's "bare bones" on the design front. Since I'm currently the only theme developer here (Z5) we're looking for something to help save some time.

For the more commercial themes, they are usually built on top of a common base theme like Zen or Omega? Having it built on Zen would be a treat for me since it's something I'm already used to.

Jeff (Zone5)

Small clients can sometimes

patrickavella's picture

Small clients can sometimes get by on a prefab theme, but I've found that altering a pre-fab to conform to a clients vision is typically a lot of work dismantling and rebuilding (themes on things like templatemonster do not follow any sort of coding standard much less quality control), it also has a nasty habit of leaving a designer out of the loop.

The best thing for speed and efficiency is always repetition. Whether it's bootstrap or zen or anything else, it's repetition that will make you faster, and it is repetition that will let you grow an army of reusable code snippets.

Zen to Omega

goldieashe's picture

As Patrick points out repetition and familiarity are the key.

I work almost exclusively with Omega 3 currently - but I started with Bartik and Zen. I really liked Zen, but on a dare I looked into Omega 3 -- I have appreciated its mobile first focus and stuck with it. I do look forward to revisiting Zen 5 - as well as exploring Omega 4.

I have to say - from a design perspective, the aspect that I've appreciated about Omega 3 is that you can control so many aspects through the interface; once it and Omega Tools are installed you can create a sub theme through the site interface - under Appearances - and control the region layout, including sidebars, etc. Combine this with the Panels module and you have the bare bones of a pretty flexible layout for a site.

Granted this ignores the issue of storing layout information in a database, something which Omega 4 and Drupal 8 -- for that matter -- work to address; but for getting started, flexibility and something that advance web content editors and designers could also contribute to - I think it's a serious contender.


Zen to Omega

JeffC518's picture

I've heard a lot of good things about Omega. I'll probably roll with Zen since I've already started on it but I'll definitely look into using Omega for other projects.

On the Panels front, I was curious if anyone had tried using the "Edit" module ( which is an "in-place" editor that is supposedly going to be part of Drupal 8 core. It's a really neat idea, but seems to require a fair amount of additional development to "hook up" Underscore and Backbone JS libraries.

Considering the stable Panels in Place module does almost the same thing, it seems like Edit may not be worth the time quite yet. This kind of functionality should help to make it much easier on content editors who aren't all that familiar with Drupal.

Pre-built themes

JeffC518's picture

Patrick: The possible work involved with rebuilding or fixing code is definitely one of my biggest concerns. When they say a theme is "Drupal 7 compatible" it's difficult to know exactly what that means, at least to the site that's hawking it.

Do you have a preference between Zen & Bootstrap?

Bootstrap hands down. It

patrickavella's picture

Bootstrap hands down. It scratches a lot of developer itches like nicer form widgets, better out of the box tables, etc. The bootstrap base theme makes some assumptions but they're easy enough to undo with CSS, or you can roll your own by compiling bootstrap with less.

I have used Zen as my primary before, and I can only assume it's still an equally capable framework. If you're already grounded in it, and it's doing what you need, you probably don't have too great of a need to change.

I would be very interested to hear what base themes others are using.

even, there are options

gbelot2003's picture

Bootstrap, zurb-foundation, are more like pre-made FW's, bouth have good modules to complement the workflow.
Omega 4 is beautiful, and I like it pretty much more than Omega3 or Omega5 philosofy, but thats a taste, anything else.

For commercial there is, pretty usable themes, based on tb_blank, theire own FW, opensource, clean, easy to use.

Also there are good themes, but sometimes with a lot of bugs and you have to take time to understand how they work due to lack of information and documantation, but functionals, and well styled.

The main problem is the themer art taste XD and I think is one of the big problems of Drupal, not performance, not code, but good front-ends, almost everyone is into crapy WP.

-Aprende a Preguntar, Pregunta para aprender- ya que -La educación es cara, cierto, pero la ignorancia cuesta mucho mas - :P

Omega for now

rajmataj's picture

For myself, developing Drupal sites for the last 6 years, Omega does a great job of keeping on the crest of technology while providing a very robust framework to build practically any design. Omega 3 was great for a GUI based layout configuration but that's pretty old by today's standards. Omega 4.x has been my preference over the last year or so and using SCSS in combination with Gulp is fantastic (I'm so done with Compass). Omega is also supporting Drupal 8 with at least an alpha theme. Zen has not arrived there yet.

Bootstrap 3 is great too but still relies on LESS preprocessing so for me, it's out until SCSS is supported, but at least there's a Drupal 8 beta out.

Haven't used Zurb but it's at least well maintained and has a Drupal 8 beta theme out.

As for which one to go with in terms of a predesigned starter theme, it depends on what languages you prefer.