Ian Stewart put up a great post this week called The Future of WordPress Themes 2009. He put up a post in the same vein last year, and it has now become a welcome regular look into what theme developers see happening with WordPress in the upcoming year.
Since my response would have been a bit too much to add to a comment field, I’m including my thoughts on the topic here at Theme Playground. First, though, my favorite responses from Ian’s list:
- Andrew Rickmann talked about theme developers working together to benefit the whole of the WordPress theme community (something I’ve definitely all about), as well as themes built with HTML 5 beginning to rear their heads.
- Andrea of WPMU predicted that 2009 will be a year when WPMU and BuddyPress themes will make a jump forward in popularity and producation. After developing sites with WPMU and BuddyPress, I personally can’t wait to get a decent BuddyPress theme together for release. She’s dead on target with that one.
- Justin Tadlock has predicted a high number of niche themes being developed in 2009, as well as widgets beginning to break out of the “sidebar”.
- Ashley Morgan spoke out on the ethical/legal implications of “premium” themes (I hate having to call them that), which is itself a discussion I think worth returning to another day.
Now, I’d like to add my own thoughts to the mix.
A move toward simplicity
Few would argue that the last couple years of WordPress development have focused on using WordPress to develop magazine themes. I would say the peak was at the end of 2007, when this blog was rocked by all of the traffic when I posted my list of the best magazine themes around.
I believe we are seeing a new trend, and that this trend will continue through 2009. This new trend is a move toward simple, even minimal blogging themes meant to direct attention toward the content, toward the signal, and away from all of the noise.
I can say I’m happy to see the trend slide away from magazine themes, as those sites tend to exhaust me. I’m more interested, anymore, in personal blogging themes and those which offer ways to display so called “lifestreams” using WordPress.
Child themes, kinda
I understand and appreciate the excitement behind the concept of child themes. (If you don’t know about them, this post by Ian should give you a nice taste of the idea.(
I think of child themes sort of the way I think of theme options pages, nowadays. This time last year, themes with options pages integrated into the WordPress dashboard were prevalent, but not by any means universal. Part of this is due to the high learning curve to adding something like theme options to a theme. In a similar way, using child themes is, at this point, not quite exciting enough to pull over a large number of developers. Most of the blame can be pointed toward WordPress, which would need to give child theme developers a bit more control than they currently have, for many developers to begin using this method.
That said, if we see WordPress (maybe even with 2.8) begin to allow child themes to have a bit more control than they currently do (adding styles and functions) by letting child theme files take precedence over the parent theme files, I think we’ll see a lot more people getting behind this method.
Variety of niche themes increases
Even more so than theme frameworks, which are pretty popular nowadays, I think we’re going to see a high number of niche themes popping up this year. While it’s nice to be able to work from one theme and have the flexibility to do whatever you want, a lot of people are going to want something a bit simpler that won’t require such a learning curve in order to make it do what it wants.
Now I’m clearly talking about blog users more than I am actual WordPress developers, here. Developers might be willing to use a framework, and that’s fine. But I’m seeing a number of non-technical people step out onto the web and start blogging with WordPress, and they won’t have the first clue how to customize a framework to suit their needs. In those cases, they are going to be interested in a powerful theme that already operates/looks/behaves the way they want. Thus, niche themes will increase in popularity and production.
Auto updating of themes causes problems for so-called “premium” theme developers
The talk seems to be that the next version of WordPress (2.8) may incorporate a theme browsing and updating ability in a similar way that was introduced for Plugins with 2.7. If that’s the case (and even if it isn’t, it won’t be long before WordPress adds this in) I can see it putting some theme developers in an interesting predicament, namely those who sell themes for profit.
Finding decent WordPress themes has always been a problem for WordPress users. (This is part of the reason I’ve been doing my best to list collections of awesome, useful WordPress themes.) While incorporating the themes directory directly into the Dashboard may help with this for some, the problem still remains: many of the best WordPress themes cost money, and aren’t free. Only free themes are listed in the directory.
What we’ll probably see is developers of premium themes taking time to create free GPL compatible themes for releasing using the themes directory, so as to get their names out there with more WordPress users. Perhaps once people see the great work from them, they will be willing to leave the Dashboard and check out the premium theme developer’s other work. Only time will tell.
Taking a breath
I think you can probably see why I didn’t drop all of this into Ian’s comment field! While I would definitely appreciate anyone’s comments on my own thoughts here, definitely leave your own thoughts on the Future of WordPress Themes in 2009 over at Ian’s post.