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I have seen few applications with the ability to change themes, for example, in my case, a HRMS application (there are many such). But, people seldom use custom themes or care about them in such applications. Other applications like Gmail, blogs, etc also allow changing themes, which is understandably needed.

When is it appropriate to include theme option in application? Is there a specific reason for this trend to have started?

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3 Answers 3

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Following facts are good indicators that you may be (I'm just saying may be) should consider theme support:

  • your web interface is mature, each piece ideally fits with any other piece, business logic and functionality is tweaked almost to perfection and you are pretty sure that your application will evolve, without any revolutionary 'coup-d'etats'.
  • users constantly begging to implement theming. Disregarding the fact that your application is awesome, they keep insisting that they'd rather a competitor service, just because they have theming and you have not.
  • your web application is social. There is such entity like users personal page, and it can be reached by other users. Tumblr is a nice example here. But even for social services theming is not so crucial as it seems at first glance. For example, Facebook has (relatively) poor support for customizing personal view, but it's pretty successfull )
  • On the contrary, your web application is too personal. There is a page where user usually spends a notable amount of his time. But once again, we should not overestimate the value of such feature. Yes, gmail support theming, but I can name a plenty of services which support theming, but failed to conquer market. Even google search is de-facto not customizable, though there were some attempts to teach users to customize it more. The same about Firefox personas.
  • The theme is not a theme in a strict sense, actually. Among other things it provides some kind of additional information, most probably not crucial information and definitely not the kind of information users are interested in. Weather forecast is classic example, and abovementioned gmail was pioneer here.
  • At last, you application is a bit more 'theme-prone' if it heavily used from desktop and much more rare from mobile gadgets. This point is more arguable than the others.

To sum it up, think about providing core functionality, then again about providing core functionality, then think about how can you improve you interfaces, then again think about it and only after 10-20 iterations if you still enthusiastic - think about theming.

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good and valuable points!, but if theming is last option? then if in case i had to provide it after a successful app, would not that be difficult rather? (am not sure, but i think it would be while scaling the proj) –  sree Mar 30 '12 at 17:43
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@sree, theming always is a headache but it's definitely better to have a very good interface with one theme than a modest one with plenty of themes. After all, if code is clear, it is most probably easier to implement any feature, especially theming, especially when we are talking about web application (so we are talking about css actually). So don't worry about tomorrow too much) –  shabunc Mar 30 '12 at 23:00
    
haha ya buddy something like that would be better.. :) –  sree Mar 31 '12 at 5:38

The requirement for themeing should come from your customers (either existing or prospective). If they, or your marketing department see a value in this functionality add it.

Some requirements that spring to mind:

  • The application must look like it fits in with the operating system or user environment (i.e. looks like a native Windows application)
  • The application is going to be sold to many customers and each will want their own branding added (this is slightly different to allowing end user themeing though).

I'd agree that most people probably don't use themes beyond the initial "Oh I can set the theme!" moment. Another factor would be that if the theme gets reset when the application is updated users may have little motivation for setting it again and again. I don't have any data for this beyond my own experience.

As for how this trend started - that would be speculation, but one factor would be people "keeping up" with their competition. If your main competitor has a feature then your sales/marketing people pretty much demand that you offer the same feature to ensure that they can't lose a sale over it (no matter how useless the feature actually is).

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@crisF , tnx for wonderful answer, one more doubt sprung up from ur answer , if i have to develop theme after user enquires, how would i cope up with it? should not i have pre plan for the same before starting the app? –  sree Mar 30 '12 at 17:41
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@Sree - if you think that theming is important then you can create the app to support it, but only have one theme. –  ChrisF Mar 30 '12 at 20:15
    
hmm i understand what u r trying to say :).. good idea! –  sree Mar 31 '12 at 5:37

For or organization, we only provide two major themes, internal and external. The only difference is that the header changes color. The idea behind this is customers don't want themes to randomly change on them because most people see a theme change as a different website. If a user(customer) moves from one static page to another (or application), the site should for the most part remain consistent. Inconsistent appearance can confuse users into thinking that they have left the website all together.

Examples:

http://labor.ny.gov/ux/guides/development/index.php - Public/Generic external page http://labor.ny.gov/UX/guides/development/internal-pages.php - Internal Apps/Pages

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tnx for the answer .. –  sree Mar 31 '12 at 5:39

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