Anyone who has ever submitted a theme to the WordPress.org Theme Directory has, in one way or another, run up against the theme review guidelines. I have. While it can be a pain in the butt sometimes (Why must my theme use widgets again? Hulk smash!), it’s understandable why they are there. Standards need to be maintained, or else craziness will ensue. (See also: cats, dogs, living together.)
It’s important to keep the quality of the code up, and to meet expectations when it comes to how a theme behaves on the backend. Sure, okay, I can buy into that.
But why don’t we have a set of guidelines and a review team for theme design?
First hand experience
A month or two back we launched something called Theme Finder. It’s really cryptic, what it does: it helps you find themes. We’re still improving it, but one thing that we do weekly is add new themes. Typically 50-100 each week. And our favorite thing to do is add free themes to it. After all, who doesn’t love free WordPress themes?
Like anyone else, we save hard things for last. Sue us, we’re human. And there are a few directories of themes that we put off at first, because the size was a bit daunting. One of those directories was the WordPress.org Theme Directory, which is currently sporting about 1,295 themes. That’s more themes than we have in Theme Finder right now. That’s a lot of themes.
But we’re not a group to shirk hard work (at least not forever) so recently we rolled up our sleeves, cracked open the .org directory, and…
We were completely, totally underwhelmed.
After compiling all sorts of awesome themes of all shapes and sizes, all colors and prices, we’d like to think we have a pretty good eye for solid theme design. And the themes in the directory, we learned, are mostly awful.
A special kind of awful
I’m sure the code of the themes in the directory are all top notch, or at least up to code. But I wouldn’t know, because you couldn’t make me click download on 90% of those theme pages. I won’t do it. The designs, the concepts behind the themes, are just awful.
It’s not just the design, but the originality that’s the issue. So many themes are clearly just tweaks of Kubrick, Twenty Ten, Sandbox, or another widely available (and perfectly fine) theme. Beginning theme developers should still use these themes to practice, but perhaps they should keep the downloads to only their own blogs, instead of WordPress.org.
But maybe they should be the rule.
Maybe we need a Theme Design Review Team: a crew of highly qualified theme designers (perhaps volunteers from commercial WordPress theme shops?) to screen and approve theme submissions for quality and originality.
Just think about what that could look like.
If it’s important that WordPress.org users can download and use themes without trouble, it should be important that the themes they are getting will give the best experience to those user’s sites as well.
A brave new world
Instituting this sort of review team and process would no doubt result in the removal of the majority of themes on the WordPress.org directory. But that’s okay.
Which would you rather have: 1,200+ themes that you couldn’t be paid to use, or 100 highly original, cornerstone themes?