Theme Development in Magento: The Benefits of an Agency

In the world of Magento eCommerce websites, site speed, site usability, and cost of maintenance can dramatically impact your overall success online.

Most often, speed, usability, and maintenance costs depend most heavily on the following three components:

  • Hosting and infrastructure
  • Magento theme
  • Code quality of third-party modules and custom code

Many companies choose to work with Magento Open Source because it offers robust eCommerce functionality without an ongoing licensing fee. Similarly attractive are the numerous themes available for the Magento Open Source platform. Some themes are free, others can cost up to $399, and some are purchased via an ongoing subscription. 

While it is tempting to browse the themes and pick the one that most closely resembles what you’d like for your own site, there are considerations worth understanding before choosing a theme. This article provides our view of how to best manage the selection, implementation, and customization of a Magento theme.

You have two options when it comes to selecting, implementing, and developing a custom theme or frontend in Magento:

  • Option #1 (not recommended): Use in-house developers. While using your in-house Magento development team may seem like the most cost-effective and overall best choice, few internal teams have the depth of experience to filter through the good themes vs the not-so-good themes (hint: reviews don’t cut it). Just the selection of a poorly developed theme can be a big drag on the ultimate performance of your site.

    While most internal teams will be able to customize a theme to make it look the way their designers choose, they may not understand the intricacies that will make it fast, user-friendly, and accessible. Even the best themes still require skilled development.

    In-house developers often wear many hats and struggle to allocate sufficient time to theme maintenance. This can result in substantial delays and bugs when implementing Magento updates, third-party modules, or other custom code.
  • Option #2 (recommended): Use an agency that specializes in Magento development, like IronPlane. IronPlane only works with themes that have proven their value over time for our merchants. Our developers work with our UX and design teams (or our client’s designers) to ensure the theme will be customized to achieve the site speed, usability, accessibility, and maintainability required by your business. Throughout this process, we work closely with your business, using a consultative process where we make sure you get the design and end result that you want, from big-picture site structure and operational workflows to the color and shape of buttons and icons.

    We also work with companies that don’t have a specific design in mind, but specific goals in mind. Companies will say, “we want to increase our average order” or “we need a better mobile version of our site”.

In this post, we take a closer look at option #2, so you can decide whether an agency is the right option for building out your new theme.

Specifically, we look at the 5 benefits of using IronPlane for your theme development in Magento:

  1. In-depth consultative process
  2. Faster site speeds, every time
  3. Improved UX
  4. Critical integrations implemented
  5. Long-term partnership

Are you ready to get started on developing a new theme for your site? Contact us for a free consultation.

5 Benefits of Using Ironplane for Theme Development in Magento

1. Our In-Depth Consultative Process 

All of our clients start with the same consultative process. This is because every client will require different solutions based on the current state of their site, its code, and their goals.

From the start of each project, we focus much of our energy on understanding the business needs, goals, and functional requirements in order to keep our design and development work in the proper context. When we consider the Magento theme being used for the site’s frontend, we dive into specific issues you are having. 

For example, if your eCommerce business is experiencing any of the following challenges, it is a good time to connect with us to get some guidance for the next steps:

  • Slow site speeds
  • High bounce rates
  • Low conversion rates
  • Low average order value
  • Not mobile optimized
  • Not ADA compliant (WCAG)

Following our research and discovery, we map out a plan for theme customization or theme upgrade. Each step we take is reviewed with you for additional clarity and approval. Our ultimate goal is to use our expertise in building efficient, engaging, and converting Magento eCommerce sites to improve on each of your defined challenges. 

Note: For companies that need significant help ASAP, we have our Magento Rescue service, where we can resolve major website issues and revamp your site code. 

By knowing the pains your company is experiencing — and your company’s goals — we can create a solution.

2. We Increase Site Speeds 

One of the biggest benefits of using a Magento eCommerce agency is that when we develop your site, we don’t cut corners. 

Pre-built extensions (offered by and for Magento sites) are widely used by in-house developers because they appear to save both time and money. The problem is these pre-built extensions often result in a slow and sluggish site that takes time, money, and skill to adjust and improve. 

Even if a theme is successfully adjusted or improved, if poorly coded or poorly implemented, there are risks of code interactions that impact the performance and function of the site. This is especially true when implementing Magento updates, installing third-party extensions, or releasing your own custom code.

For example, one of our customers — Custom Picture Frames — customized their Magento theme to create interactive product pages so customers could personalize picture frames as they shopped and update the preview image to see their custom design. The goal of these pages was to increase conversions.

Custom Picture Frames website

However, the new functionality relied on several different extensions, which resulted in slow load times. Those slow load times negatively affected conversion rates because customers weren’t able to use the interactive pages as intended.

When Custom Picture Frames partnered with IronPlane, we developed a custom Magento extension that let them keep their interactive pages while making their site faster and more accessible. We also developed a custom AWS hosting solution to improve website security and stability.

Our developers were able to achieve CPF’s goals through a thorough understanding of the complex interactions between the logical functionality of the backend code and the frontend theme presenting that functionality to their customers. 

Not only did these changes make their site faster and more secure, but these changes, along with other customizations, led to a 108% increase in conversions.

Read more: Case Study: Custom Picture Frames

3. We Improve Your Site’s UX

At IronPlane, we offer UX design and review. We can either:

  • Perform a UX audit: Our UX audit is aimed at improving the visual appeal of your site and focusing on improving usability and conversions. We take a close look at your website’s challenges and your target audience's buying journey, and we also do competitor research to see what businesses in your industry are doing. The end result is a comprehensive strategy for improving UX throughout your online experience.
  • Create a full UX design: The full UX redesign takes the UX audit findings and builds wireframes and developer-ready designs within the new theme you’ve selected. This work requires ongoing coordination and review with your team to ensure the end result incorporates both the defined UX strategy and the needs of your business.

A site that your customers actually enjoy using is a big win for your business — users are far less likely to bounce before making a purchase. But knowing what type of site works best for your customer base isn’t always clear-cut — that’s why doing user experience (UX) research is critical. 

Beyond ease of use and conversion rate improvements, UX redesigns are particularly good for improving your site’s ADA compliance with accessibility regulations (defined in WCAG international standards). 

By understanding what your customers are looking for, we can design and develop a theme that suits your users.

Read more: Magento Enterprise Developers: IronPlane + 5 Alternatives

4. We Can Set Up Critical Integrations

Developing a theme for your Magento site involves improving your design — everything from fonts to icons to navigation — and the user experience, like Custom Picture Frames did, by giving their customers a better way to buy frames.

But you also need to make sure your frontend communicates with your back end and the rest of your logistics and business workflows.

For example, you may need to divide and sort orders to different suppliers after a sale is made. Or you may want to route specific orders through a fraud detection process.

Here’s an example from a real client: Barbeques Galore wanted to a) streamline its ordering process across multiple selling channels, and b) offer financing and other payment options to help customers purchase more expensive items. 

Both of those issues required work on the theme and the backend of their site. 

To help them accomplish these goals, Ironplane built Barbeques Galore a custom Magento 2 website. Then, we set up an Oracle ERP integration with an M2E Pro plug-in that lets them sell on Amazon and Walmart. We also created a custom catalog of more affordable purchasing methods, including a financing program.

Because of these changes, amongst others, Barbeques Galore saw revenue increase by 325.17%.

Read more: Case Study: Barbeques Galore

5. We Are Long-Term Partners

Developing a theme in Magento isn’t a one-time project. 

  • First, you’re going to monitor the success of your frontend. Is your new design helping or hurting sales? You may want to make changes based on the results.
  • Second, your site will go through design tweaks, new custom functionality, or third-party modules.
  • Finally, any theme will require maintenance as new updates roll out from Magento. These updates may include new functionality which will require a corresponding update to the frontend.

At IronPlane, we are your long-term partners. We not only handle the maintenance of your site, but we’ll continue to brainstorm future business goals and help you achieve them. Most of our clients have worked with us for a minimum of 4 years, with a significant number of them extending our relationship into 10+ years.

Recap: Why Theme Development in Magento Requires an Agency

While we understand the inclination to try developing your theme layout without hiring an outside partner — perhaps using templates or step-by-step guides you found online — the truth is, your Magento theme development project will be better handled by a development agency. 

IronPlane can optimize your site to best reflect your business and improve the user experience, and we can maintain your site as you grow and scale.

At IronPlane, we:

  • Use a consultative process to understand what problems you’re trying to fix.
  • Design and develop a theme that fixes those problems.
  • Keep your site speeds fast, by making sure your site isn’t sluggish.
  • Keep your code secure for future builds. 
  • Improve your UX.
  • Help you set up critical integrations. 
  • Stay long-term partners through updates and future builds.

Contact us for a free consultation.


What is a Magento theme?

A Magento theme is essentially a graphical framework along with design elements that make up the frontend of your eCommerce storefront. 

When people say they’re building a theme in Magento, they usually mean they are starting from a base theme such as Luma or Blank and building on top of it. Alternatively, they could be using a theme they purchased from a theme marketplace such as In some cases, where a highly custom theme is required, they may be building a theme from scratch with custom development.

Themes are stored in directories on your site (each theme needs its own directory). Each theme is made up of components, such as /css, /composer.json, /registration.php, /theme.xml, /theme.js (JavaScript files), and more. 

You can learn more about theme structure and components here.

How many Magento themes are there?

There are thousands of Magento themes. Most of the available themes are based on Magento’s two default themes:

  1. Luma
  2. Blank

For an Magento eCommerce site working with the PWA Studio front end, the default theme is Venia.

Themes are typically found on an online theme marketplace such as where you can find a theme online that fits your needs, download it, and then install it on your Magento store. 

That said… the real question is: Which theme is best for your website? Finding the answer to that question will require strategic research with an experienced agency partner.

What are the key differences to consider when choosing a theme?

Due to the vast selection of Magento themes available, the best way to find a high-quality theme is to enlist the support of an experienced Magento development agency. That agency will consider the following to help select the right theme for your needs: 

  • Theme code quality
  • Compatibility with popular extensions
  • Speed scores
  • A design framework that supports your planned user interface
  • Accessibility elements
  • Costs (theme purchase or subscription; expected maintenance costs)

If each of these considerations are fully vetted on your behalf, the selected theme will likely serve you well for the foreseeable future.

Related read: IronPlane Magento 2 Development Services Guide

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