Review: Polaroids WordPress theme by Guy Davies

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Polaroids is a new WordPress theme released to the dot org theme repository in the last week. It’s the work of developer Guy Davies and caught my eye, honestly, because it doesn’t look like a lot of the other themes on WordPress.org. It looks more like a photo blog theme than a traditional blog theme.

If you’d like to follow along with my review, you can download Polaroids from WordPress.org.[ref]While I’m thinking about it, I’d like to point out that right now WordPress.org doesn’t do a great job of previewing non-blog themes. Just go check out the theme preview for Polaroids on WordPress.org to see what I mean. The default site content that all theme demos get doesn’t really do the theme justice. Perhaps ThemeForest, which seems to allow theme authors to specify a different site as a demo location, would be a nice compromise in situations like this. In any case, the theme’s author is using Polaroids right now, and is really a more proper demonstration of the theme.[/ref]

The look

I like the Polaroid effect used in this theme, gimmicky as it might be.[ref]Funny thought: how many younger theme users wouldn’t get the Polaroids reference, or why the theme puts the images in those funny boxes.[/ref]

That said, I always struggle with photo blogs. Polaroids follows a number of the style choices I tend to attribute to photo blog themes: one column, minimalistic, and monotone. They fit with what’s likely expected out of a photo blog theme, but they just seem a little off to me. I’m not entirely sure what it is about the look, but it doesn’t suit me personally.

While setting up and using Polaroids, I wondered whether a theme like this might not work well with some form of guided setup. Perhaps the WordPress pointers could be used to pull something like this off. Let’s say I activate it, and then the pointers pop up to walk me through establishing common photo blog settings: media dimensions, where to set the featured images, and so on. I’ve seen a pointer-assisted tour implemented in Joost de Valk’s SEO plugin, but no other examples come to mind.

Unnecessary theme options

One criticism I would offer of Polaroids has to do with its theme options screen. It’s not the user interface – that’s fine, and mostly fits the WordPress standard design. But I don’t think any of the options that are there belong within a WordPress theme.

Two of them might. There’s an option to turn on human-readable dates, and another to hide the “comments disabled” message on posts when the comments are turned off. But otherwise, the options include things like “Use dynamic meta descriptions” and “Hide Tools menu” checkboxes.

Have a look at the theme options screen (click to see large):

The bulk of the included options involve removing elements from the WordPress dashboard. Normally I’m all for tweaking the WordPress dashboard, but not this way. These changes shouldn’t be made via a WordPress theme – any users who likes these changes will lose them when they swap out their themes.

In addition to the unnecessary theme options, Polaroids changes the standard WordPress Upload/Insert text and icon (see below).

I get the sense that the developer intended to make things clearer for users — perhaps after his own experiences with clients, or based on his own preferences. Whether his change improves the editor or not is debatable, but without question it shouldn’t be something that happens when you use the theme.

It’s not that I think everything in WordPress needs to remain in its default state. In fact a good number of my favorite WordPress plugins tweak WordPress dashboard behavior. But dashboard tweaks belong in plugins, and never in themes.

If those theme options and the tweak to the dashboard were pulled out and moved into a separate plugin, the theme would instantly improve.

Confusing editor behavior

WordPress themes can include editor styles, and I’ve come to look for this when I try themes out. In Polaroid’s case, something was bothering me about the editor styles. I couldn’t pinpoint the issue at first, but every time I started a new post with it, the text would be centered. Then I opened up the theme and didn’t see a specific editor stylesheet for the WYSIWYG editor.

Polaroids loads up the main theme stylesheet (style.css) for the WYSIWYG editor, rather than a specific stylesheet with only relevant typography the way you would expect.

Implementing styles specifically for the Visual Editor is a nice touch, but only when the styles improve the experience.

Conclusion

I don’t think I would use Polaroids. It just doesn’t appeal to me visually, which is of course a personal thing and shouldn’t be seen as a negative for the theme.

That said, I would really like to recommend the theme to photographer friends. But right now  the theme options and odd WYSIWYG editor behavior give me pause. With a couple of tweaks to the theme, though, I think it could be a great free WordPress photoblogging theme.

If you’re interested in additional discussion on Polaroids, see episode number nine of The Weekly Theme Show.

WPCandy rated this 2 mints

This review was completed using version 1.41 of the Polaroids theme.