Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

The Future of WordPress Themes


A couple of months ago, Ian Stewart asked me to be one of the voices for this year’s roundup on The Future of WordPress Themes 2009. There were a variety of angles from which to look at the subject, so it’s interesting to see how everyone interpreted the question.

There are discussions about “Premium” themes and the GPL, about whether plugin functionality belongs in themes, and about seperation of presentation and content, among other things. Give it a read to learn what I (and 14 other WordPress community influencers) had to say.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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18 Responses to The Future of WordPress Themes

  1. Pingback: Wordpress Themes | Wordpress Development Blog - Crosshairs

  2. Chris Dawes says:

    Sounds like the ExtJS GPL debate… maybe GPL is the problem?!

    • Rui Seabra says:

      The GPL is only a problem for those who want to let others reduce user’s freedom, or those who couldn’t care less about user’s freedom.

      Don’t be a naysayer for my rights, please.

  3. Tim says:

    Are there accessibility guidelines for building WordPress themes? Not only screen-reader access, but also for the visually impaired?

    It is hard to assess the accessibility of themes. I write a blog on accessibility and I am not sure how to evaluate the theme I use.

  4. The main Question is: what benefits do users expect?

    The site must first of all reach high visibility on search engines,
    second it needs to be appealing to the reader,
    third it must be able to deliver thematic advertising.

    On top of that: theme users want to get it all with a minimum of work and brain involvement.

    Here is where I see the development:

    Users will have to distinguish between an author’s blog and a publisher’s blog.
    The Publisher’s site will be framework based and the goal is to achieve high ranking and listing of the framework.

    The Author blog is a source blog for publishers who will bind into their publications content from multiple authors; like in off-line publications, magazines, news papers.

    Author’s purpose is to ‘sell’ their content while publishers build authority for and with their framework, based on such content. Authors of a publication can change, the framework is stable.

    Magazine, newspaper type themes are a nice way to present publications in a user-friendly and attractive way. However, while the theme may change, the framework should not change.

    For Authors it is important to promote their content and to build authority as authors of their original content. The purpose is to attract publishers, rather than advertisers as many good authors are not brilliant publishers.

    The branding of content is therefore important for the author, while the branding of the framework is priority of the publisher to attract authors, readers and advertisers to the publication.

    There is one more important aspect:

    WordPress is providing sophisticated technology to masses: when everyone uses the same technology there is no advantage for a user unless he finds ways to improve the performance of the basic technology used by the majority of bloggers.

    On the other hand, and this is the big risk for WP: if things get too advanced and complex, we move away from a popular platform accessible by a majority of users.

    Considering the above I believe that the gap between professional and standard users will widen in the future. Advanced users are interested in semantic Frameworks to which they can associate the skin of their preference (theme). On first priority will be the choice of hooks built in to the themes as well as the choice of the additional scripts or plugins associated.

    All Style elements need to be controllable through style sheet editing, completely separated from content(may be someone comes up with a preview function in the blog admin).

    Blogs need increased interactivity with their readers: today most plugins mess up the markup when when placed on useful spots of the site. There needs to be improvement on interactive features, such as response with video or audio, images and much more. Contributions must be featured on attractive locations and not in the most hidden location of the blog, way down beyond anyone’s ambition to scroll.

    The theme itself will be split into two parts: widgetized and non widgetized content. While widgets are easy to use for users, their content is not read by SE. The non widgetized content containers must be highly flexible and allow advanced users to optimize on site to get the fair advantage.

    Highly widgetized themes will be the priority for the unexperienced while a pro… does not need any widgets.

    The problems of frameworks: most are too heavy and slow down the site considerably and so do plugins. Addon scripts to overwrite WP and modify the original may be a solution for better integration than plugins or theme based functionalities.

    The look of the site is important and dashboard based easy to use editing tools will help namely the unexperienced. Some themes come with a great look and features, however often their efficiency is insufficient when it comes to high visibility on SE: customization, integration and mdification of themes are services people are prepared to pay for. There is room for professional service providers in a permanently more complex environment.

    Paid premium themes are a great start, and considering the work involved namely with support and additional customization, they are well worth their money for as long as Customer Care is available.

    May be designers should go out and create attractive skins based on and for existing efficient frameworks and themes such as Carrington or Sandbox and similar. Designer template based sites may have a great look but they often return lousy publishing stats.

    Let’s work on providing every blogger with his 15 minutes of glory on Google or elsewhere :-).

    Yorgo Nestoridis

  5. jose says:

    Really good themes coming!! šŸ™‚

  6. Liza says:

    There will always be people who have no budget and want to start a personal blog using a free theme, and there will always be someone who has a sleek business and uses WP as a CMS platform, so they would need a premium theme. So I think both are not going to die any time soon.

    As for coding and functionality, again, some people look at the skeleton of php behind the design, others don’t give a damn how the theme works as long as it looks good.

    Most GPL theme have a good code and function properly, but the design lacks any creativity, premium themes always have both catchy layout and smooth code, that is why they become more and more popular.

    • Jack says:


      I do agree with you, that paid premium themes are good. The only problem is that there are some “paid” themes that are worst than some “free” themes.

      It is very difficult to find paid themes that are perfect in terms of layout and code.

  7. ipanks says:

    i am waiting for next news.i hope it will be good news for future wordpress.cheers and greetings from me.

  8. Deb George says:

    Very nice post. I too am waiting to see what happens. You post some very interesting information on this site. Keep it coming.

    P.S. IMHO, I believe that a good theme is what will get folks to read your content. Therefore, without one, you lose many readers.

  9. simo parma says:

    I agree. Putting together wordpress and themes, then slicing in 3 macro-types (blog, portfolio and magazine as you did) is trying to satisfy the needs of the users. going in the direction of the perceived needs means success.

  10. Iflexion says:

    As it seems to ME there are so many beautiful wordpress themes for free that I’d never pay for WP theme.
    If you are not satisfied with the quality of some free theme you like, you can simply download and redo it yourself. Why not? If you can judge the quality of theme it means you know how it’s made and how to make it perfect. šŸ™‚

  11. tratamente says:

    Amongst thousands of alternatives only few themes go beyond having some basic functionalities within a customized design. In fact, designing a professional WordPress theme takes time. A good wordpress theme should separate presentation and content.

  12. Reviste says:

    I think it depends on the reader, what he finds appealing, but you must also keep in mind the search engines.

  13. Gavin says:

    On the free vs. premium theme debate I think we are in a pretty good position right now. There are a huge number of quality free themes out that will satisfy the majority of bloggers but for those indivduals or businesses that are looking for something different or require a higher level of support then there are premium themes available to cater to their needs.

  14. Steven says:

    Nice roundup. I think that some themes are overloaded with widgets and functions and it’s hard to edit them.

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