The Ethics of WordPress Themes at a Premium

Are WordPress Themes open source? Is it right to release them on a pay-to-download basis?

… what these premium theme providers are doing … we would call that “Evil”Chase Sagum

… themes link and use lots of internal WordPress functions, which make them linked under the GPL and subject to being a GPL-compatible license. If a theme (or a plugin) used no internal WP functions or APIs, then it could probably be considered independent, but that would be really really hard for a theme. Matt Mullenweg

I haven’t really talked about it a lot but I’ve been trying to do pay-for-use themes differently. Namely, giving away what might normally be considered a “Premium” theme—my WordPress theme framework Thematic—and charging for upgrades in the form of Child Themes and custom design. I think it’s a little more fair to the WordPress community and the debatable concerns around the ethics of paid WordPress themes.

But there’s still more questions. There’s always questions, isn’t there? Continue reading

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.

A WordPress Theme Structure with Meaning and Possibility

Continuing work on my next theme, Thematic, one thing I want to get out of the way immediately is the structure, or skeleton, of the thing. The outer structure of any HTML+CSS document is where things usually go bonkers and the last thing I want is for my markup to make things worse when I update versions. So, that said, here’s the basic divisions of markup, which I’ll follow with some of my thinking. I’m hoping we can start a conversation over this—and I’m totally up for a raging debate over my non-transcendent approach to this—so give this post a quick scan and see if you can add your two cents. The more the merrier. Continue reading

Coming Soon: My Personal WordPress Theme Starting Point

I will soon be releasing the hacked-up version of The Sandbox that I’ve been using as a starting point to develop free and custom themes. For free. On Google Code. As an open source project. Since I have different goals than the Sandbox creators (and not as much skill!) I won’t call my changes improvements but they are changes you may appreciate:

  • Search Engine Optimization
  • A grid-based starting point
  • CSS Reset and Typography based on Blueprint
  • Markup allowing even more CSS madness than The Sandbox
  • Theme Options
  • More Page Templates
  • More widgetized areas
  • More Microformats
  • Popular Plugin Integration

Continue reading

The Future of WordPress Themes 2008

Hey There! If you haven’t yet, make sure you check out The Future of WordPress Themes 2009 after you’re done reading 2008’s predictions. It’s a good read.

When I predicted the downfall of premium WordPress themes I immediately began to think of the future of WordPress theming in general. Where was it headed really? And if I really wanted to know, who should I ask? Well, if you want to know where WordPress themes are headed in the future, these are the kind of people you want to ask—and the people to watch. And wow, am I glad I asked.

Here are 11 people committed to thinking creatively about WordPress themes and what they mean. These are some of the people who will carry and lead WordPress theming into 3.0 and beyond. Some of these people will set the agenda for the future of WordPress themes. And this is what they think it will look like. Continue reading

The Future of Premium WordPress themes

It’s prediction time: The Premium WordPress Theme phenomenon has approximately one year left before collapsing entirely, leaving a rather large hole between completely free WordPress themes and custom themes $1500 and up. If you’ve got a “Premium” WordPress theme waiting in the wings I advise releasing it sooner rather than later. As in, now.

Before I explain myself let’s get one term straight: Premium. I’d rather use the compound “pay-for-use” because more often than not “Premium”, when it comes to WordPress themes, simply means “it costs money” and not “of superior quality”. This isn’t true for everyone of course. But it is certainly true of some (and will increasingly become true of more as the market becomes saturated).

Alright, that out of the way let’s get on with the doomsday WordPress theme market scenario. This week theme designer Justin Tadlock released a jam-packed WordPress-as-CMS style theme called “Options“. The download package is just a mess—in the best way possible; Justin’s got extra widgets, sub menus, javascript tabs, page templates and integration with popular plugins and web services, all wrapped up in a fairly clean design ready for customization. Way to go Justin.

Oh, and Options has one more feature. It signals the end of the Premium WordPress theme market.

Continue reading

The Ultimate WordPress Theme Test

Bear with me, this one is going to hurt. Load up your blog with your favorite WordPress theme on it. Ready? Scroll down.

Yep, scroll your theme down, down past the header and menu, down past the post titles. Scroll down to a page full of text and links and no distractions. This is where The Ultimate WordPress Theme Test will take place. This is where the best themes shine. Because this is where your readers will spend the bulk of their time and this is where your theme does the real work. Columns too wide or narrow? Font too big or small? Typography lame? Remember, content is there to be read. Don’t let your theme get in the way of that. Continue reading

The Holy Grail of Blog Design

On January 30, 2006, A List Apart published In Search of The Holy Grail, Matthew Levine’s answer to the leanest, semantically correct, and bulletproof structure for a web-standards-based, 3 column layout with a liquid center—The Holy Grail.

Three columns. One fixed-width sidebar for your navigation, another for, say, your Google Ads or your Flickr photos—and, as in a fancy truffle, a liquid center for the real substance. Its wide applicability in this golden age of blogging, along with its considerable difficulty, is what has earned the layout the title of Holy Grail.

This article, and others like it, probably saved 1 million tons of lost hair among the web development community. You should read it if you haven’t already. But it’s not the end of the story. Continue reading