There are more WordPress themes now than ever before, including commercial themes. More and more developers are spending their time and their talents to develop WordPress themes to sell to customers. These are great things.
But a trend that picked up steam, and doesn’t seem to be letting up, is the custom theme options screen. Instead of using the standard WordPress user interface for a given options screen, a number of developers have gone their own direction, creating custom screens with their own design and their own techniques.
This stuff needs to stop.
Most times that I see a custom options screen it is being marketed as a feature to the user. Rather, I would consider non-standard options screens to be far more hostile to the user than they are features worth marketing.
I’m far from knowledgable when it comes to user experience (quite far), and only somewhat grasp what most of these words mean. But I do believe that part of good design is working within the user’s expectations. When something works the way a user expects it to, it’s magic for everyone involved. When magic doesn’t happen the user has to learn something new.
When something works the way a user expects it to, it’s magic for everyone involved.
It’s not that I don’t think a lot of thought and work goes into these panels, clearly a good deal does. However the work has gone into adding something to WordPress that it doesn’t need.
WordPress actually has a standard style for admin screen elements. Multiple admin screens? Check. Upload forms? Check there too. Form elements and submit buttons? Check and check again. When there aren’t standard styles in place for an element, there’s a place to go for that too.
There are other more exciting places to innovate when it comes to WordPress themes and plugins. Don’t waste the creativity on your settings pages. When it comes to admin pages, the points go to those who stick to the standard the platform has already established.
This isn’t WordPress-specific. Do you enjoy when application developers break the standard menu and setting screen designs that your operating system has established? In just about every case, the sign of success for these screens is that they give you what you expect. Funny enough, when an application goes out on its own and gets creative it typically makes the developer seem new to the platform.
The community is a handful of years into serious WordPress theme development at this point. Let’s make sure we’re interested in maturing our themes as much as we are making more of them.