The way that themes have evolved within WordPress has made creating them easier. That feels like a bold statement, but it’s true. Themes have been on quite a journey from their origins of simple files through to complex compilers, frameworks and now have come back almost full circle with more levels, options for creation and simplicity.
Before considering how easy something is or not, it’s essential to look at how hard it was and its situation in context. Like many, I’ve been around themes for quite a long time. Those of us that have been, worked around issues that we felt got better in each release. What we thought was getting easy often was us getting further from a starting state, not the process itself. The ‘WP way’ was said half as a joke, mainly as a reality of the acceptance you had to do things a particular way to workaround.
Over time, things got more complex, and everyone searched for their solution. Some of us went on a process journey, working on _s and other skeletons, even generators thinking those held the answer – I was one of those. Others adopted frameworks, which was a natural and right choice for many. It made business sense and often brought ease, but it also meant being fixed into an ecosystem.
The creators of themes passed on the message of accepting the problems because it was at that point all anyone knew, the ‘WP way’. Designers moved to other areas of the project, which was great for those areas but left themes with a few brave souls keeping the fires going. I at that point, also moved to the work on the editor, so I understand why others left themes. It all just became ‘the same’, too complex and limiting. Between the race for options in frameworks and how you had to work constantly around WP, something needed to change foundationally.
It’s worth noting many of those that moved to the editor had themes in their heart, their roots. Theme creation was a process that they knew needed soothing, and that is where we move to the now and change.
The world is different now. The editor is a thing. Modern web development has progressed, and even how we consider things like viewports, scaling of fonts has changed. Progress is incredible; it is as it also should be. Development, technology wasn’t ever meant to stay still and never has historically. Open source projects as they grow can, unfortunately, tend to become a bit like a huge ship, which means their technology becomes more challenging to turn around a corner.
I used the term theme creation because I honestly think we should start using that over theme developer. There are now levels of creation open that aren’t just making a theme:
- Create using patterns and design tools.
- Create using patterns and global styling.
- Create using patterns, templates and global styling.
- Create using a theme you create.
That’s a lot of options and even more, combinations are possible, and only one I listed of those requires you potentially open a code editor. Even then, you might only do that to copy and paste in what you create within the site editor. Themes are now open again and that couldn’t be more exciting for someone like me that felt it was closing, losing the creativity that once drew me to the form.
I hope that we are setting up for themes to have new life in all of this, and I am pretty sure that’s the case. I am so excited to see what creators will make with the new tools – what I can make and learn.
What we can take from this is things change, languages and processes evolve. It happens in development, and it happens in design. I have to learn new things, and honestly, sometimes in my mid-40s, it’s not the easiest thing, but there’s this core belief in me that technology gets better and to trust in the evolution of development, of open source. I also recall how I’ve never stopped learning throughout my life and certainly am not going to now.
Outside of myself, those coming to the project now to create a theme don’t know the past. Should they? Well, maybe, but also probably not unless they need to learn some history. I don’t need to know the history of most applications to use. New people to the project bring new perspectives and stories; these shape the project – that is, after all, the foundation of open source.
The new things today stand on the shoulders of the past, exist because of them. That’s great, and those of us that have been around for a while have mentoring to give and so much experience to offer those joining the project.
Will themes be different? Yes, they likely won’t be what we call themes today. However, there will always be a place for styling your content and, saving that, sharing. There is also now a scale for that, which opens up the possibility to so many.