What We Look for in Themes for WordPress.com

What kinds of themes do we look for when we add to our collection on WordPress.com? We get this question a lot, both from existing and potential theme shops. And while some of the specifics evolve over time, the principles of what makes a good theme good remain the same. Whether it’s on WordPress.com or not.

When reviewing themes for WordPress.com, we never accept a theme based on design alone. We want to see the entire theme experience and for that you have to look at the user experience and code too. Why? You can have a beautiful design, but still make a bad theme. So we always look at three aspects, what we call the Three Amigos, named after a popular American comedy movie.

Design

We consider a lot of different design aspects. In general, we look for a strong grasp of design principles, especially methods that help establish harmony and unity:

  • Perspective: sense of distance between elements.
  • Similarity: repeating similar – but not identical – elements with strong visual connections.
  • Continuation: the sense of having a line or pattern extend throughout a design.
  • Repetition: elements being copied or mimicked numerous times.
  • Rhythm: achieved when recurring position, size, color, and use of a graphic element has a focal point interruption.
  • Altering the basic foundation of the design achieves unity and helps keep interest.

Code

We look for themes that follow the WordPress.org Theme Requirements and WordPress.com Theme Requirements.

User Experience

We run through setup to see how challenging it is to make the theme look like the theme demo. Complicated theme setups cause a large amount of user frustration, refunds and theme switches. We look at theme options to see if they’re intuitive to set up, simple, or complex. Any patterns that may confuse WordPress.com users are noted. User experience might just be the most important thing. You can’t use a theme if you can’t use it.

We’re always open to exceptions, if they can be justified by an innovative or creative theme that users will love.

And one last note – whether our marketplace is officially accepting new theme shops or not, we’re always looking for amazing, new themes. Make one, put it out there, and we’ll probably find it.

Happy theming!

A Set of Theme User Experience Requirements

This year, we’ve focused heavily on improving people’s experience using themes on WordPress.com. We’ve dug into defining the most common and tricky issues for people using themes through research, user testing, and iteration.

We still have a long way to go toward substantially improving people’s WordPress theme experience. To that end, we’re introducing a new set of requirements for all themes on WordPress.com to follow, geared toward making themes easier for people to set up and use. We call it the TUX List.

It features best practices like this:

  • Keep widget names descriptive of their location, ie. Sidebar, Footer, etc. Reason: Users can more easily find them and know what area they refer to.
  • Widget IDs should take the format of sidebar-1, sidebar-2, etc.

Reason: Consistency across themes means that a user can switch themes and not have to reassign their widgets to the theme’s widget locations. It also allows for easier readability in code.

We wanted to share it with the community, since incorporating these best practices into your themes on WordPress.org and elsewhere means anyone using them will have an easier time getting to what they really want to do: publish their site. Nothing on the list should restrict your creativity when it comes to designs.

Give it a read and let us know if you have any questions or ideas on how to make it better. Making themes easier is a job for everyone. Happy theming!

WordPress Themes and User Experience

Good user experience in WordPress themes can make the difference between frustrated or happy users. Yet, it’s often overlooked. A solid user experience can feel just right, creating sound expectations and delight. If you’re looking to boost your theming skills and learn more about themes and user experience, we recommend these three recent talks by members of the Automattic Theme Team:

Kirk Wight, A Call for Simplicity: As WordPress blazes into its second decade, theming, plugin development, and WordPress core itself are reaching troublesome levels of complexity and confusion, challenging the very essence of what has gotten WordPress to where it is in the first place. Pulling from diverse areas of culture and tech, we’ll tie together our need for simplicity, and issue a call to arms for the next ten years of WordPress.

Tammie Lister, Theme, Don’t Be My Everything: It’s time to stop putting everything including the kitchen sink into themes. A theme shouldn’t be a bloated monster with an options panel that stretches out the horizon. This talk is a call to action to stop making themes that do everything and start making themes that focus.

David Kennedy, Themes are for Users: In this talk, we’ll explore user research, theme setup, theme options and more. By the end, you’ll know what makes up a theme’s user experience, and how to set your users up for success.

And if you’re still getting started with theming, or even WordPress, wondering how you could ever contribute to WordPress and add value – you’re not alone. Check out Kathryn Presner’s The Techie Continuum, and start contributing to WordPress today!