January 21, 2011

My take on the future of WordPress themes, 2011 edition

The guys a WPCandy didn’t think to include me in their future of WordPress themes post, which says something about how active I’ve been in the WordPress community the past year or so I guess. After all, I’ve just sold tens of thousands of WordPress books and release free themes and…

Nah, just kidding. I’m pretty low key and I like to keep it that way. The post sparked my mind though, so let me give you my thoughts about the future of WordPress themes this year.

On commercial themes

First of all, please kick me in the nuts if I call commercial themes “premium” again. It’s a stupid term and it stuck from way back. There’s nothing in a commercial theme that makes it “premium” per se, either it is good or bad. Free themes can be “premium” in the sense that they’re great, so letting commercial themes, sometimes being crude cash-ins on a theme marketplace, hog that term is a bad idea. Commercial themes it is then.

2011 will see more commercial themes.

Why? Because people are making money, and this seems as an easy way to do it. I would like to say that there will be an official marketplace or something like that, but I doubt it. Maybe something for wordpress.com, which would be nice I guess, but I kind of doubt that too. Commercial themes have a huge drawback in the fact that they’re not allowed in the wordpress.org themes directory. Should that change? I’m not sure, I don’t mind people making money but I’m a bit wary about these things myself.

And no, I won’t do commercial themes to sell for a license fee in 2011 either.

On free themes

I sincerely hope that the theme developer community will continue to grow and that we’ll see more high quality free themes. I’ve gotten the feeling that the trend is pointing in a different direction, because of that money thing again, but I think we need a lot of free high quality theme to continue to grow as a community.

We also need more ways to find the great free themes, since there’s so much outdated garbage out there. I bet there’s an app site for that.

On theme frameworks

You know, I hate the term “theme framework”. There’s something in these words that just feels bad. What do you mean by theme framework? Is it a framework because I can plug into it using hooks? Or is it a framework because I can use parts of it when I build a new theme? Maybe it’s a framework because I can do child themes on it? Neither is wrong, but neither really sets it apart from just about any WordPress theme out there either. Sure, it is more or less easy to build on, but I find the term “theme framework” to be misleading. You couldn’t imagine the amount of confusion I’ve gotten from readers about this.

  • “Which theme framework should I use?”
  • “Is this theme a suitable theme framework?”
  • “How do I pick the right theme framework?”

Those are all valid questions. Problem is, I’m getting them when the person really just need a theme where s/he can edit a few colors and insert a logo!

2011 will bring more confusion with more so called theme frameworks. Some will be great themes, others will appear good and steal hours and hours from developers who really should figure out what they need and build that instead.

Harsh? Yeah, well, it is a bit warranted, not in all cases mind you – I’m not pointing any fingers here nor will I – but I am saying that this is an issue. And it will get worse before it get better.

On child themes

Child themes are great. If you need to do minor alterations to a theme but want to keep the original (that would be the parent) theme updated when the developer does, this is the solution. In a lot of cases, child themes is the way to go. I wish this was around when I helped build blog networks, we would’ve saved so much time…

With that said, child themes aren’t the universal solution. If you need to override too much of the parent theme to get it the way you want it, then you should probably fork the parent instead, or pick another parent theme. Child themes are for minor edits. Major changes that can’t be managed without overwriting a lot of code will add bloat to your site. More often than not that won’t matter, but if you’re experiencing heavy traffic or are just anal about these things, then it’s important.

Some themes are better to build child themes on. They are more prepared and let you take steps further from them without having to override a lot of code. Pick with caution.

Child themes in 2011 will be more common, will be more great, but will probably not be included in the wordpress.org themes directory. That’s a shame.

On my themes in 2011

Short and sweet:

  • I’ll release the new Notes Blog theme when WordPress 3.1 is out.
  • I’ll release Notes Mag in Q1.
  • I’ll release two small themes originally featured in the Smashing WordPress Themes book.
  • I’ll do something clever with Notes Blog Core Theme, which most likely will involve renaming it to fix the mixup with Notes Blog.
  • I’ll do something P2-ish, unless Automattic does it for me.
  • If I have some unused themes that are worthy/suitable for a public release, I’ll let them out in the wild as well, most likely as child themes to Notes Blog.

Everything I release is free and GPL, with no hidden costs. Because I feel I owe that to the community, and can afford to pitch in this way.

I’d also like to do some collaborative stuff in 2011, but there’s that time thing. And I kind of promised to write more books in a weak moment on my Facebook page already so there’s that.

How about you?

I’m closing in on 1000 words so it’s about time I shut up. Also, it is early in the morning and I have those deadlines which I should be working on rather than losing sleep over this post.

What do you think will happen in the WordPress themes sphere in 2011? Will you participate and what will you do?

Thanks for reading.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.