WordPress themes are what distinguishes one wordpress site from 55 million others and gives it an individual personality. However, for a beginner starting off using wordpress finding a good theme which not only expresses the website’s brand & intent but also is bug free and SEO-optimized is a challenge.
Themes come in various forms – free or premium, there are also theme frameworks such as Genesis, Hybrid and so on which provide basic functionality and hooks (optimized code) and can be extended/customized using “child” themes.
The video below is an excellent presentation by Lance Willett from Automattic and talks about the various facets of the wordpress landscape.
Some of the concepts covered in this video are:
– Frameworks – Starter frameworks, Options Framework and Child Themes
– Commercial Themes and Marketplace
Couple of interesting ways to check for good themes is by verifying if the theme developer has put in a 404 error (and if he/she has put some creative thoughts into it) and by looking at how they have designed the “Widgets” area.