Konstantin Obenland who worked on the default theme for WordPress 3.8 published a post that provides details into the development of TwentyFourteen. Konstantin shares some of the lessons learned throughout its development and explains what direction TwentyFifteen may take.
I think it would be great if we could combine the two approaches, start from scratch and use an existing theme, for Twenty Fifteen. Let’s create a theme design from scratch, much like Twenty Twelve and Twenty Thirteen, and have it be based on _s, as the pre-existing theme.
However, a cool idea sprang from his post. A CSS Zen Garden like website but for WordPress themes. CSS Zen Garden showcases what’s possible with just CSS. The HTML structure stays the same, while CSS provides all of the visual elements. The idea proposed for WordPress is to use a simple theme like _s and apply changes only through the style.css file.
But most importantly: Let changes only be in style.css. That’s it! No additional functionality or bloat. If anything, we take unneeded code out. This doesn’t mean it can’t look good. It doesn’t mean it will be less awesome than its predecessors. CSS is a powerful tool, if in the right hands.
Not A New Idea
In 2005, Alex King hosted a WordPress theme competition for WordPress 1.5. Entries were composed of changes to the style.css file for the WordPress 1.2 template and 1.5 Classic Theme. The WordPress theme landscape was much different during this time and through competitions like Alex King’s, WordPress users instantly had a larger variety of themes to choose from.
As an aside, this comment by Lance Willett provides some food for thought. Basically, instead of themes becoming more complex, perhaps the core of WordPress needs to have more features and improvements so code heavy items are taken out of the theme. Overall, I think a CSS Zen Garden like website for WordPress default themes is an excellent idea.