Custom Themes

Custom Theme? Step one: Consider Customizing an Existing Theme!

Many campus units prefer a more custom look-and-feel for their website, while still complying with University branding guidelines. Often this can be accomplished by using an existing theme on  This is typically achieved by modifying CSS, using the Custom CSS plugin. For example, the Center for Bioethics , uses a combination of the ‘Responsive’ theme, along with modified CSS,  to achieve a unique, professional look-and-feel.

bioethics-before bioethics-after


Step Two: Ask us

We’re always happy to hear new creative uses for, but we aren’t always able to accommodate new themes.  So before you get started on one please contact us at  Also read the rest of this page thoroughly.  You might find that what seemed like a simple custom theme comes with more costs that you thought (costs that we are eager to help you avoid!).

Step Three: Theme submission

If you still find you need a custom theme after following steps one and two above you’ll need to make yourself aware of and adhere to the following.

Environment Information

  • runs on  a WordPress multisite installation.  For the most part, theming works exactly the same as a standalone site, especially if you use the latest recommended WordPress functions.  The tests below will point out outdated functions and what functions should be used instead.
  • We are running a version of PHP that does not allow shortcode php.  That means that any short tags like <? will not work, but need to be <?php
  • There are a few PHP functions that can not be used on our environment for security reasons.  These include (but are not limited to) exec, pass thru, shell_exec, system, popen and proc_open.  Most theming won’t have any problems with this, but you should be aware of this limitation if you are trying to doing some very complex php coding.  We’d recommend you stick with built in WordPress functions and check with us if you have a question about something specific.
  • We usually run one version behind the current version of WordPress unless it is a major release.   If you are going to use a function that was just released, please check with us to make sure exactly what version we are running currently.

Review Requirements:

We have a review process similar to that we follow before any themes are added to the network.

  1. All themes should be run in debug mode to see if there are any notices that should be resolved.
  2. All themes should run the WordPress theme check and check to see if there are any required/recommended items that should be resolved.
  3. All themes should run a VIP scan of the theme and look for any undefined functions that need to be resolved..
  4. Themes should not be plugin dependent.  It is okay to use plugins that we already have available on our network, but please do not expect us to add a plugin just for your theme to make it work.
It is best to set up a local install of your theme to test these items out on before submitting the theme to our team for review.  Here are some Mac instructions, and some PC instructions.

Ongoing Maintenance Requirements:

  • Developing a custom theme is a long-term commitment.  Security issues, compatibility and the ever-growing WordPress platform all mean that even if your custom theme is great the day it goes live it will still need constant care and feeding over time.
  • The unit that commissioned the theme is responsible for keeping the theme up to date and making sure it is compatible with any upcoming releases of WordPress.  We will notify all users before a major release.  You will need to send us any updates to your theme before we roll the update out into production.
  • If at any time your theme is found to have a security vulnerability the theme may be immediately removed and replaced with the default wordpress theme until the vulnerability can be addressed.

Submitting the theme for review:

If you have a theme you are ready to submit for inclusion please email the webdotunc team at  Be sure to include the following information:

  • Website URL where this theme is going to live.
  • Technical Contact (Who is going to responsible for making updates to this theme long term if there is a problem?)
  • Affiliated Department
  • Affiliated Department Contact
  • Link to .zipped theme files (upload to Dropbox or something like that and link to it)
  • Any information we may need to know about custom functions, or anything out of the ordinary with your theme.
  • If your theme was based on another theme please let us know what theme you used as your basis.
Please allow up to 10 business days for review.   We have to review it internally and then submit it to ITS Security for further review.

Making updates to your theme:

All updates will need to be submitted to the webdotunc team by emailing  Include the following information:

  • .zip of all files notdng which files have been updates
  • Information about what updates have been made and why

Please allow for up to 3 business days for updates.  If there is nothing major we can do it quickly.  We prefer a batch of updates at once instead of a bunch of small updates.