How to customize the WordPress admin theme and give it a new look

Everyone knows you can give WordPress websites a completely different look by installing a theme, but did you know the admin back end can also be themed? Here are some great admin themes.

Log in to a WordPress website and the admin pages look the same no matter what the front end looks like. You could have a fantastic theme that wows visitors to your website, but log in and it is a dull and unexciting experience. Who cares if no-one sees it? Well, you have to work with it for a start and there may be other users of your site.

There is nothing wrong with the features and functions of the WordPress admin interface and it does what you need, but some people might wish for a smarter looking design. This is particularly true if you create websites for other people and companies, or if you have contributors, authors and editors on your own site. You may want to brand it and show your logo or the company’s logo, and use a more attractive font and menu system.

The WordPress admin back end can be customized and a smart theme applied, but it is done in a different way to the front end, which visitors see. Admin themes are really plugins. They are installed like any other plugin, either from the WordPress plugin directory or by uploading the plugin from your computer, after first downloading it from the developer’s site.

Not another plugin! Yes, installing an admin theme does add another plugin to your site and it is often recommended that plugins are kept to a minimum for speed, but admin theme plugins do nothing to the front end of a site and are inactive for visitors. They are only active in the back end admin interface. Therefore they should not affect the speed of your site.

Before looking at some admin themes, let’s first see what customisation features WordPress offers. It is limited to choosing a color scheme.

Choose a new admin color scheme

  1. Go to Users
  2. Mouse over your account name
  3. Click Edit under your account name
  4. Select one of the admin color schemes
WordPress admin color selection
Choose the WordPress admin color scheme

If you have two or three WordPress websites, it can be useful to use a different color scheme for each one. It acts as a visual reminder which site you are on. It’s not much use beyond three or four sites and you may as well just set your favorite color for them all.

This is a personal selection and other users who log in see the default admin interface. As an admin, you can change their account preferences though.

Admin 2020

Admin 2020 is a great way to customize the WordPress admin area and give it a new, modern and fresh look. It is visually completely different to the standard WordPress theme and is much more visually interesting. It even adds a few extra features.

There are two versions of this admin theme, Lite (free) and Pro (paid). Both versions completely customize the look of WordPress and they both add extra features. The Pro version adds more though.

There aren’t many extra features in the Lite version, but the Pro version, which is $39 for a single site, adds Google Analytics and WooCommerce integration. This means that in the Pro version you can add panels to the WordPress dashboard that show Google Analytics information like total site users, visits by country, traffic sources, bounce rate and so on. It provides some similar functionality as the MonsterInsights plugin.

Admin 2020 admin theme for WordPress
Admin 2020 Lite admin theme for WordPress

I have been using the free Admin 2020 Lite admin theme and very nice it is, too. To install it:

  1. Go to the Admin 2020 website
  2. Click the Pricing link at the top
  3. Click the Download button in the Free panel
  4. Go to Plugins WordPress
  5. Click the Add New button
  6. Click the Upload Plugin button
  7. Select the file in the computer’s Downloads folder.
  8. Go to Plugins in WordPress and activate the plugin

There is a good range of customization options and the theme can be enabled of disabled for selected roles or users. The background color can be light or dark and the primary color can be selected.

The admin bar can be customized with a logo and background color. The login page can also be customized and a background image selected. This means you can brand the site or simply use a fun image. Some admin elements can be disabled, such as the admin bar and menu items for subscribers or other roles.

If you want to give your WordPress site a new admin look, Admin 2020 is a good choice.

Aquila Admin theme

Aquila Admin Theme can be found among the free plugins at the website. Go to Plugins > Add New and enter the name into the search box, then install it and activate it.

Aquila admin theme for WordPress
Aquila admin theme for WordPress

The plugin mainly styles the admin pages rather than adding new features, but it looks quite nice. One thing that is immediately noticeable is that it changes Posts to Blog in the sidebar. It can be changed back in the plugin’s settings if you prefer it, although Blog is probably helpful and descriptive for novices who are confused by Posts and Pages. Some minor, rarely used interface elements can be hidden.

The colour scheme can be changed and a new logo can be uploaded. This also affects the login page, which uses Aquila styling. This enables the site to be branded for your company or a customer.

Aquila looks good and there are a few useful extras too.

Slate Admin Theme

Slate Admin Theme is a popular choice and is used by over 8,000 sites. It is installed from the directory in the usual way – go to Plugins > Add New and enter the name into the search box. However, the info says that the plugin has not been tested with the latest version of WordPress and it has not been updated for 10 months. I found it worked fine though. However, I would like to see an update and compatibility info update even if nothing changes. (It may have been updated since I last looked.)

Slate WordPress admin theme
Slate WordPress admin theme

Unlike the other admin themes, there are no settings, so the color scheme and branding cannot be changed in the admin interface. At least not in the free plugin. However, they can be customized in the paid Pro version though, which I have seen for $23.

It is a nice, clean, modern design that looks good and it is an improvement on the WordPress design that you may prefer One slight glitch I noticed was that the menu fly-out in the sidebar still used the color set in my user account. It otherwise worked fine and looked good.

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