Does WordPress need thousands of block themes in the age of full site editing? – WP Tavern


“I have so many design ideas in my head that I’m about to make it my mission to make it all on my own. [Matt Mullenweg’s] vision of 5,000 #WordPress themes in complete edition of the site in the directory”, tweeted Brian Gardner earlier today.

Daniel Schutzsmith replied:

I just don’t see the need for more than one theme for FSE as long as I can override the look of it.

I would appreciate someone explaining why a theme like @frostwp CANNOT be the norm.

Doing more themes feels like it’s completely against the concept of FSE.

This isn’t the first time someone has asked if more than one block theme is needed. In 2019, Rich Tabor offered to add a base theme to WordPress itself, on which others would be built, if at all.

Even this wasn’t the first time someone had pondered similar thematic utopias throughout the platform’s history. Many framework-style parent themes have all made their way.

Let’s assume for a moment that WordPress has reached a state where all themes no longer require custom PHP and CSS code. We are still a long way from that point, but we can imagine that such a day could be possible in the relatively distant future. In this ideal world, templates, styling, theme-supported features, and plugin integration are neatly bundled into something configurable from the admin. In practice, users could control any aspect of their site’s front-end through the interface.

The problem is, someone still has to make those customizations, and not everyone has a knack for designing. One person’s ability does not automatically translate to all other users.

Perhaps more crucial is that not everyone wants to customize their site design. Some people just want to find something that suits their style and move on.

There are alternate routes to get to the same destination, but themes are currently the only reliable vehicle.

Schutzsmith tweeted the following in response to Jamie Marsland, who assimilated the concept to ask Picasso for the canvas instead of the finished painting:

Themes and swapping at all is an old way of thinking. Of course a theme could = paint but I say why can’t we just swap the theme.json and get the same result? Why the need for themes when all we need to change is theme.json.

It’s a future I wouldn’t mind. It’s not insurmountable, but there is a tough climb that WordPress will undoubtedly struggle with. Without a standardized CSS toolkit in place, switching theme.json files just doesn’t work. If WordPress tackles this problem, it brings us a little closer.

But theme.json represents parameters and styles only. It says nothing about the structure of a website. Preconfigured templates are always required. Right now, that job rests squarely on the shoulders of the theme author.

If and when a well-designed user experience for full-page templates lands in WordPress (related ticket), the template argument becomes less relevant. With such a system in place and enough variety in the template directory, some users might not need themes to handle this.

Starter templates or page templates picker to insert full page content in WordPress editor.
Suggested start page templates.

The only valid argument I have for many – if not thousands – of themes is the promise they make to the user: install this thing, and you get this result.

For example, a pizzeria owner installs WordPress on his site and begins researching a design for his online presence. This is probably someone who works all day in a hot kitchen and comes home exhausted at night. However, they hop on the computer to update promotions the next day or cobble together a new homepage layout for a few minutes. Everything about this experience should be tailored to their use case. As owner, boss, spouse, and parent, they need to get things done quickly and spend the rest of the night with their family.

This and thousands of similar scenarios explain why themes are as important today as they ever have been. Not everyone has the privilege of the time, skill or inclination to piece together their sites.

When done right, block themes provide a controlled experience that eliminates all the cruelty. They feel like they were built for an audience of one while being flexible enough for public release.

Schutzsmith tweeted later in the thread that he liked Elementor’s kits. These are pre-made website designs that cover multiple industries.

Template category types, which are not currently in WordPress, could evolve into this role. The Block Pattern Explorer plugin enables the feature, but themes must add support for the types to appear.

In the following screenshot, I’ve created a “Profile Cards” type in one of my themes, but it might be industry-specific:

Block model explorer opened to a specific type of block model category.
Block model category types.

It should be as simple as locating an industry specific type and finding templates for the pizzeria owner. A theme can offer this by packaging templates or pointing to those hosted in the directory.

I could see this evolving into a kit-like solution.

I disagree with Schutzsmith’s conclusion of only needing one theme but not the questions it poses. Our community of creators can’t just say that themes should be “that one thing”, because that’s what they’ve always been. Its members must continually ask themselves: What is a WordPress Theme?

The answer may differ between creator and user groups. If someone can get everything they need from the template directory without switching from Twenty Twenty-Two, maybe themes are irrelevant. If a designer just likes to create global style variations (theme.json files), WordPress should make them easy to use on a wide range of sites.

However, many users will still need turnkey design solutions, and themes can be the best way to facilitate this. I don’t know if it’s 100, 1000 or 5000, but we’ll see how it goes.


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