I love WordPress themes, really, I do, even when they were just a couple colors and fonts changes here and there they already had great potential, allowing people with very little design knowledge to easily brand a website built on WP which will also make it easily updatable.
Themes kept evolving though, and quickly they weren’t just colors and fonts, but also page templates, and even some custom settings that allowed you to modify things such as the header paddings, showing/hiding sidebars, etc. You could set up your WordPress, upload some content, activate your theme, click a few checkboxes here and there and… voilà! Wait, not quite convinced of that theme anymore? You simply activated a different one and… voilà again! Life was beautiful.
But people wanted more, it’s in the human nature I guess, so what one day was simply amazing the next day just wasn’t enough, people got used to the options themes made available to them and wanted more. Users who didn’t know how to read a <p> tag wanted full control over each and every single pixel of their websites, they got greedy… Lucky for them there were some very talented developers out there ready to accomplish this, and make their sites suck in the process.
This is when plugins came in the game, plugins like Page Builder or Visual Composer which offered a world of possibilities when it came creating layouts for your pages. You might be thinking I’m against these kind of plugins, but I’m not, I think they are great tools and their creators deserve all the credit they can get for the amazing plugins they’ve put together. What I am against though is theme developers who build themes that rely so heavily on these plugins they just won’t work without them.
You start browsing through WP themes these days and you see some incredible designs, really, it’s great that designers have chosen this platform as one of the favorites because the quality of the design you see is simply astonishing, thousands of dollars spend on a custom designed website wouldn’t guaranty that level of standards. But wait, how do I make my website look like the one in the demo? Well in most cases… good luck with that!
Theme developers have bounded their themes with these plugins and taken them to such an extreme were it will be close to impossible for someone else to replicate what they’ve done on their demo pages. Some of them realize that and provide you with the demo content so that you can import it and replicate exactly what you saw before buying, but then it’s up to you to reverse engineer how that was accomplished to introduce your own content. As a result people get frustrated, make poor design decisions (since the theme itself doesn’t make those decisions for them any more) and end up publishing websites that look nothing like what they had in mind and way worse than they would’ve look like with a more “restrictive” theme. Things only keep getting worse when the site owner tries to update the site after six months and not remembering the little he was able to figure out the first time he ends up breaking the site even further.
But if you really want to have fun then you should try to switch to a new theme once you got your site up and running with one of those…
Visual Composer and Co. are, like I said, great plugins, and when someone who has been running a WP site for a while wants to achieve a level of customization that the theme itself doesn’t allow it’s a great tool for them to achieve that. But they are plugins and NOT themes.
In my opinion there are two rules every theme should follow in order to be considered a good theme:
1. A good theme should not require ANY plugin to be fully functional.
2. A good theme should allow to switch to a different theme with minimum migration efforts.
Some people might agree, other might not, but since I’m considering starting to build my own themes, and potentially make them available to the public, I’ll keep coming back to make sure any theme I release meets these two simple rules.