What is the Best Starter Theme with in Drupal?
My opinion as to the best starter theme for Drupal is at the end of this post. But before we get there…
In Drupal 7, Bartik is the default theme. You can start with that. But clone it first.
Stark is a theme that comes with Drupal 7 and is for demonstration and debugging purposes as it has the bare minimum. Some would not consider Stark to be a “starter theme”.
If you just want a theme for a basic website (as opposed to a “starter theme”) and keep thing simple and get going without a steep learning curve, try the 8 Recommended Themes for Drupal Beginners as listed in the article by OSTraining.
Starter themes, or base themes, are themes designed for you to base off of and make sub-themes from. You need to be a bit more advance and know how to make sub-themes. Here is a list of starter themes on drupal.org The themes Zen and Omega are quite popular. Here is comparison of a few base themes — as you can see Zen has the most reported installs as of March 2013, followed by omega.
Watch (or read) this presentation by Emma Jane “Evaluating Base Themes” on DrupalCon Munich 2012.
In the presentation, she categorizes base themes into “Adapt”, “Adopt”, and “Annex” — in that order of progression as you learn. In general (there are exceptions), Annex types is best learned after you have progressed through the “Adapt” types.
Zen, Boron, Mothership are Adapt type themes. NineSixty, Square Grid, Blueprint are examples of Adopt. And AdaptiveTheme, Fusion, Omega are examples of Annex. This may explain why Omega have a steeper learning curve than Zen.
Unless you are an intermediate or advanced developer, Omega seem to add too many layers on top of Drupal, which is complex enough. Instead of the Drupal regions and blocks. Now you have Omega’s sections, which contains zones, which contains regions, which contain blocks. And you have an alpha theme on top of drupal. And you have an omega theme on top of the alpha theme.
In the presentation, she presented what the developers of the certain starter themes have said about their own theme. This is interesting and includes comments from Zen, Mothership, Detamo, NineSixty, SquareGrid, BluePrint, AdaptiveTheme, and Omega.
While she does not give a “best” starter theme — because the answer really depends on your particular situation — but I’ll give my personal opinion at this point in time (October 2013) is that Zen is the best starter theme for Drupal. I may change my opinion in the future.
The reason is that Zen is a good mix of adapting Drupal, but do not change it too much. It doesn’t bloat the code too much. Excellent documentation, so it is a good place to learn. Not too simple and not too complex. It is modern (as of this time in writing) in that it is responsive mobile first design. And if you want to use Sass/Compass, you can.
More reasons why Zen might be a good fit can be found in the article Which Responsive Drupal 7 Theme Should I Use? by chromaticsites.com