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Chief Editor at DNNHero.com (DNN tutorial site) and Founder of DeskPal.com (Unlimited DNN help)
After reviewing skins on a weekly basis for the past 3 years, I have seen and assessed over 1000 skins personally. Just trying to give a bit of background as to why you should keep reading this article and find out how I go about assessing a skin to use on a DNN site.
The good news today is that skin sellers have really raised their game and are producing stunning skins, not only from a design point of view, but also from a technical perspective. If you look back just about 2 years ago, it was quite a different scenario, so the majority of skins promoted by the DNN Store on their weekly newsletter already cover the "Must Have" requirements quite well.
I have broken down my skin requirements into two lists:
1 - Demo: If a skin doesn't have a demo, how are you going to be able to assess it? Just check thumbnails? A demo is not optional! It is a mandatory requirement.
2 - Responsive: There will be controversies about this requirement, but let me ask you this: Would you like to have your site looking nice on a tablet or a smart phone? I bet that 9 out of 10 people will say "Yes" to that question.
With the exponential growth of Internet usage via mobile devices, of course you want your website to shine on those devices too. Someone may say that not all sites need to be responsive, and I agree, but if you are a skin seller and you are not catering for the mobile audience, I will have to question the type of product you are putting out. Most likely, with so many great alternatives out there, I will put their skin on the side as the last option.
3 - Page Template: Have you come across a beautiful skin demo before, and after you purchase it you realized you would have a lot of work in front of you before you could see something similar on your own site? I know the feeling. I have been there too. Remember this: A skin is just the skeleton of a page. The actual content needs to blend with the skin to create that awesome site.
With all that said, this is where the "Page Template" or "Content Template" comes in place. This is the sample content that can be loaded onto the site together with the skin to give you the same results as you saw on the demo, and it should be provided to you as a starting point for content population. If you see a very nice demo, you should expect to find in the skin page something that says it comes with "Portal Templates", "Page Template" or "Content Template". With that you know you will be able to reproduce the nice content you were sold on.
4 - Version Compatibility: This may sound obvious, but you have to ensure the skin you are buying is compatible with the DNN version that you are using. If you have a brand new DNN site, this is not a problem.
But if you are buying a skin for an existing DNN site, you should check its version and see if the skin is compatible with your version. Usually skin sellers are very good at identifying which DNN version the skin is compatible with, but in case it is not there, just drop them a note via the "Ask a Question" link located on the top area of the DNN store page.
5 - Modules: I would classify this one as a "Must Watch Out". Sometimes we are checking a skin demo and we see this nice banner slider, image gallery, contact form and even a blog module. You should keep in mind that if you expect the modules you saw in the demo to be included with the skin, you need to buy the appropriate package.
This might seem obvious to some users, but it is usually not that clear to me whether the module I like is part of the purchase or not. How do you know if the skin comes with the module you like? Check the skin package options. If that is not clear enough, which at times it is not, ask the seller which version includes that module.
6 - License Terms: This is an important one that is quite overlooked. Some skins will come with restrictions in terms of its usage. All skin terms will cover the basic usage: at least one site in one DNN installation. But if you are looking to use the same skin on multiple sites in the same DNN or on multiple DNN installations, then you should make sure the option you are purchasing will allow you to use it that way. If it doesn't cover your case, reach out to the seller and see if they can provide you with a license that will cover your needs.
7 - Flexible Color Scheme: Not a show stopper, but it would be a big plus if the skin has a control panel where you can set your own color scheme. It is quite impossible to find a skin that has the exact color scheme of your brand or corporate identity. So a skin that allows you to pick and choose the colors for different elements will help you a lot. You will not need to mess around with style sheet files yourself, therefore, saving you a lot of time.
8 - Animations: This one should be on a "NOT Nice to Have" list. This is my personal taste talking now. I understand that sellers want users to see all they can do in terms of making their skins fancier than the next guy, but there are some sellers that go overboard here! You can get dizzy with so many animations going around on their skins such as Icons spinning around and Text moving from all sorts of directions. Mouse-over that, you may think you are playing a game! Come on! A touch of animation is good but too much, and you will get your site's visitors just distracted. It’s just my personal taste.
Of course a seller could flag their skin using it, and at first look it would be hard to find out whether it truly uses Bootstrap or not without going into the technical aspect here, but let's assume the sellers are telling the truth about that. Just checking the 7 new skins promoted on the DNN store newsletter this past week, 6 out of 7 skins were already using Bootstrap framework. As you can see the skin creators have really adopted that on their new creations.
10 - Good support: I think this is quite important but hard to be sure about. Pretty much all skins I have purchased I had to get in touch with the seller to ask questions about certain features of their skins.
You should check their feedback to see if they have positive reviews. Although that doesn’t guarantee a good support experience, it can be a helpful indicator. You can also try their support by asking questions about their skin before buying it. See if they respond in a timely manner. If they don’t, you should not expect a different experience after the purchase. I would walk.
How about you? What is your "Must Have" and your "Nice to Have" lists? Do you have a "NOT Nice to Have" list? Let us know on the comments below.
This post has been cross posted to DNNHero.com.