A Revolution in Theming: WordPress Theme Frameworks

WordPress is exceptionally easy to Theme—but it can be better. WordPress can be a smart little CMS for most websites—but it can be better. How? WordPress Theme Frameworks.

A while ago I asked a whole bunch of smart people what they thought the future of WordPress themes would look like. I also asked the whole WordPress community (also very smart) to think about a new default theme for WordPress. It’s putting those two things together that’s led me to the following statement:

The future of WordPress theming is in Theme Frameworks. If WordPress included three or four theme frameworks—not default themes—in the core it wouldn’t just be the easiest CMS to theme, it’d be the smartest.

Thinking of Theme Frameworks as something different from Themes could be revolutionary. And they don’t have to be included in the WordPress core to change how we think of WordPress themes. But take a look at my proposal for powering-up Child Themes in WordPress 2.7 and some of the current benefits of using them. And while you’re at it, check out Thematic.

Thematic is my own personal WordPress theme framework that I’ve released to take advantage of all this. Sort of an über-theme that puts the best of everything in one place so the core of it will never have to be messed with. It really leverages what you can do with WordPress themes: everything that needs to be changed is either an option (even the footer credits!) or a widget, leaving customization to the CSS in a Child Theme.

And that’s Customization that’s easy to make—for developers and enthusiasts—since the Thematic CSS is modular. The Reset, base Typography and Plugin styles have been separated from the basic look and ready to be used independently by Child Themes.

What do you think about WordPress theme frameworks? Sound Exciting? I think so.

22 thoughts on “A Revolution in Theming: WordPress Theme Frameworks

  1. I personally think it just adds another unnecessary level, complicating the production and learning curve for theme developers.

    More is no always better.

    One other thought, this has already been try with a theme called Sandbox by plaintxt.org

  2. I personally think it just adds another unnecessary level, complicating the production and learning curve for theme developers

    Unless, of course, it made things simpler. For instance: I’m not going to advocate adding non-semantic class names to the markup. I will advocate leaving the markup alone (unless you wanted to) and making all changes in a child theme with CSS. It’s a lot simpler. And safer.

    It does add another level but I think that’s good. I mean, you could hack your version of WordPress if you wanted to add new functionality. Or install a plugin. Your choice. ;)

    One other thought, this has already been try with a theme called Sandbox by plaintxt.org

    My own theme framework, mentioned above, is a fork of The Sandbox. I like The Sandbox. It’s a good one.

  3. You know I’m all for it, especially if it makes things easier on the user’s end. I really like the idea of a framework. I just wish I had the time to really focus on putting one together myself.

    One idea I’m currently working on is putting together a solid core set of functions that extend WordPress a bit, which can be moved from one theme to another (well, at least my themes). This will allow users to take bits and pieces from one theme and add them to another. Or, allow me to upgrade functionality or offer additional add-ons without forcing users to completely upgrade their theme.

    A framework would probably work better for this as it would easily allow users to try out different child themes with a lot of extra functionality at their fingertips.

  4. Reusing and streamlining code really is the reason for thinking of a WordPress Theme Framework. I started thinking about it just to make my life simpler. But it should make everyone’s life simpler.

    And now I’m looking forward to where you’re going to take this idea, Justin. Always exciting stuff.

  5. I think the upcoming WordPreciousss 3.0 is the theme framework you are looking for. It will have default set of templates, that will be used in all themes on your site, if you don’t create any template files for your theme – both normal and child themes.

    This means that you can have a hundreds of themes on your site (which can be a quite common scenario on WordPressMU site), but only one comments.php file that all themes uses.

    And I really think it’s better to have an option to simply create a new file to customize than editing the files that’s already there.

    - Everyone is hacking their themes, and when the theme author comes with a new improved bugfixed update of the the theme, the users either a) don’t upgrade or b) upgrade and looses all their mods.

  6. WordPreciousss is indeed very cool. I really hope the days of theme hacking are coming to an end—unless you want to hack your theme—that can be tons of fun. It’s unnecessary and forced hacking I don’t like.

    …and I’ve gone ahead and thrown a link in there to WordPresciousss. More people need to know about the WordPress development you’re doing.

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  9. The future of WordPress seems really positive in the sense that there are whole lot of technology is going to come. But the more advanced the technology the more complex it will be. Cheers for the WordPress Framework!

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  11. probablepossible says:

    I have never ever found a theme that I could use as downloaded. I find a theme that comes closest in both fuction and layout, to what I need, and then I revamp the css, alter the templates, remove, replace.

    Back when I started doing this, my results were not always optimal because I was relying on who-knows-who for my framework.
    Which is why I am so pleased to find this concept and this frame. I’m going to take a look around!

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  13. Zos Collaga says:

    I’m new to WP & Thematic, but have always been an advocate for Frameworks. Keep up the excellent work!

  14. This past few weeks I’ve been researching up on child themes and I must say that they are truly a revolution in theme development. I also read that you’re the one who introduced Justin the idea of using child themes.

    I just want to say that I’m really inspired by all of the work and effort you’ve invested in putting up Thematic and advocating child themes.

    I know that both you and Justin have amazing frameworks but I really want to roll out my own framework. I’m familiar with the basics but I really don’t know where to start as far as building a theme framework is concerned. That’s why I’m really grateful that you’re providing articles here that will help me.

    I checked out the code under Thematic, Hybrid and Sandbox and I was really overwhelmed on how advanced the code was! I’m willing to invest some time in research and application on building theme frameworks because I can see the potential in using them.

    Thank you.

  15. Very nice subject!

    Well, here we are talking about framework x hardwork :P

    I’ve just discovered Thematic and I liked it, but I think it is not for my needs.

    The advantage of a theme framework is that we can do some things easier, the disadvantage is that it is harder to fully understand and find out how to change something.

    I really don’t belive theme frameworks will be as popular as frameworks for programming languages, because most WordPress users know very little of CSS and PHP. They want a finished theme that they can only set and start using.

    And people that are able to develop a full theme won’t be so much interested on a framework, they will just do it as they always did! Since it is easier to just PHP+XHTML+CSS code it as you want than learn the framework. I also feel myself scary of something in the framework changes in the future breaking something on my theme (or some of my themes if I had many!).

    I believe frameworks are useful for ppl that are good on CSS and want to style their themes, and want a PHP+XHTML structure that has a lot of features. And also for webdesign professionals that develop a lot of themes and need a big variety, they will just need to change some stuff on the framework instead of having many pieces of separed code to sort together and them style it!

  16. I would put more work into documenting why a theme framework is better, and how it can make it easier for people to plug and play features. Also, you should be documenting it more from the user’s perspective, not from the developer’s perspective.

    From that perspective, the current theme frameworks are still not simplified enough to be adopted by the under-skilled, though you are heading in the right direction.

  17. have been working with wordpress themes including theme development for my own use for a few years now so I was a bit dubious when one of my premium theme suppliers, Studiopress, started touting their Genesis theme framework as the best thing since sliced bread.

    However I respect the guys at Studiopress because their themes are so great to work with and I gave Genesis a try.

    Brilliant. I am converted 100% so much so that I really don’t want to go back to working any other way.

    I am sure Thematic etc offer just as great an experience for newbies, intermediates (like me) and experts alike.

  18. Thanks Ian for this and all of your other articles on theme frameworks and child themes. I have been struggling with developing my own theme for my site by modifying someone else’s theme. Using Thematic is making my life much simpler. I really appreciate all of the time you put into helping other people with theme development — you rock!

    –Jesse

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