11 Comments


  1. While I’m a fan of light themes with few options, one thing that this debate fails to take into account is the user.

    If your theme audience is familiar with WordPress, and knows what the good plugins are and how to use them, then fantastic. Everyone reading this is probably in that category.

    However, if you are a first time user of WordPress, and you are more concerned with running your business than messing around with your website, then this approach fails.

    In this case a theme that has some options (not 150, just some important ones), and some built in functionality to eliminate the need for plugins is best for the user. Most of our theme users fall into this category, and I will tell you that they wouldn’t load in 5-10 plugins for sliders, contact forms, seo, lightboxes, etc. They wouldn’t know how, and they wouldn’t care enough to take the time to learn.

    They don’t want a theme that developers think is awesome because it is light and optionless, they want a website that they can get up fast that looks good. It becomes a question of, should we force people to use technology the way we think it should be used, or should we let them use it the way they want to?

    I’m not trying to argue with anyone here, just giving you my experience.


  2. One option for theme developers on the light weight side would be to add a half dozen options (Not as a contradiction) of the most popular ,useful,easy to configure, plugins as a 2 click link for any of these plugins.In other words,installed but not activated and with brief but concise descriptions of each optional plugin.
    Personally I like to try and use themes that have one click color theme options with one,two or three column layouts also as one click options; or single column with one or several sidebars.Since options involve php and javascript files,any theme can be introduced as a lightweight basic theme and a developer can offer any or several options as “optional” updates configured like a plugin, in the admin interface.This thus can allow for uninstallation of options.

  3. Wildscribe

    I have run into this problem frequently. Especially with slide shows. I would much rather use a slider plugin, like Easing Slider, than some the poorly coded sliders that I have found in some premium themes.

    Perhaps one way to solve the problem with feature-bloated themes is for the theme builder to offer two versions of the same design – a light theme with no features and a full-featured theme.

  4. Ted Clayton

    However, the monkey wrench thrown into the equation is that themes are subjective and what looks great to one person may look like crap to someone else.

    New websites going up on the Web were recently running over 20% WordPress.

    Unless the Laws of the Universe have changed, statistically virtually of all of those new WP installs are trash. Throw-aways. And the more successful WordPress becomes, the more overwhelmingly it is dominated by the great unwashed … their view-points, their practices. Them.

    It’s the profound tragedy of Democracy [sic]. From the perspective of the Responsible, Prepared and Expert Citizen, the voters as a whole have no business exercising the ballot franchise. /sarc

    A community of a few hundred or thousand dedicated WordPress experts becomes less influential in determining the nature & policies of the product, as it is increasingly taken for granted by the masses. It becomes more theirs, and less ours.

    WordPress is rightfully proud to itemize it’s Who’s-Who users … but it is the colossal installed base of casual, inexpert and transient dabblers, who really count.

    It’s the Great Unwashed who must be catered for, firstly. Big-name websites running WordPress have their own in-house people to take care of things. Large frogs in small ponds can readily use their familiarity with the range of available tools, to adapt off-the-shelf pieces to whatever clientele they have.

    It is the millions of web-serfs & peons, though, who make by far-and-away the overwhelming majority of all WordPress deployment and adaptation decisions, and they use their negligible abilities and scant familiarity to do so.

    Websites or web-activities for MANY are simply fashion statements that have a lifetime of a season or two.

    WordPress theme offerings must include plenty of unseemly stuff. In fact, per the real client-base, it should be mostly … nothing a self-respecting developer or informed user wants to be associated with.

    It’s the ‘dirt’ in the theme-inventory, that will grow WordPress.


  5. @Ted Clayton
    If I’m correctly reading the thrust of your reply, that the numbers out weigh the knowledgeable and that this is not necessarily a good thing, I agree. People should have the opportunity to learn the best way to do things. This is what schools and parenting are all about. That “this is the way everyone does it” trumps proper use is becoming the norm everywhere.

    Email, and especially listserves and NGs, are an example of this. When most of the now knowledgeable began using email, top posting/replying was frowned upon and users who did so got an education right quick. Not anymore. “This is the way we do it at work.” is the argument most provided and they refuse to learn what is efficient and respectful for the many readers of their posts. It amounts to being lazy and forcing others to tidy up their sloppiness for them; instead of doing it themselves prior to sending so they can get along with *their* busy day. To heck with everyone else.

    Now we have this influencing WP development, too. Makes life painful for those who do care and do know. What to do about the inequity? I have no solution, but I hope that one comes along somehow. Majority rules sometimes just doesn’t fit.

  6. Paying thePriceTwice

    Please — no more dirt themes. It’s hard enough already. As a first time WP user, it was very difficult to find a theme and plugins from the myriad of mostly bad choices. I surfed through dozens of premium themes churned out for quick profit with zero support. Anyone who breaks this barrier to entry for the great unwashed, like me, will cash in big time.

    Any technology goes though the same stages. Photoshop let everyone be a graphic designer. But after the dust settled, the overall effect is a greater proportion of good graphic design in the mainstream, IMHO. Tools that make the newest technology accessible to the public become killer apps. iThink you know what iMean.

    Someone recommended 2 theme foundries with grand frameworks for creating anything. Big on trust and user support but difficult to navigate for the great unwashed — and maybe that’s the point, keep them out and keep the sacred knowledge to the members of the guild of coders. Anyone who breaks this barrier to entry will cash in big time.

    It’s difficult to find anything unique at the major foundries, the themes all look like some small variation of the 2011 theme. So lets go the other direction and start with the BLANK WordPress Theme or the HTML5 Reset WordPress Theme. Without knowing how to program in php, these minimalist themes are just empty. Tell me what plugins to use, for ecommerce, for social networks, for video. Then I found what I was looking for — a full-width, mobile adaptive theme that wasn’t bloated so badly with options that it loaded pretty fast. After buying the theme from a small time operator, I find ridiculous spelling and grammatical mistakes on the dashboard tabs. Imagine what the code looks like.

    Theses are some lightweight themes from another blog:
    http://speckyboy.com/2011/04/25/10-html5-ready-blank-bare-bones-and-naked-themes-for-wordpress/

  7. Ted Clayton

    @BJ Johnson – Knowledge & ability are empowering, even in the era of Facebook & Twitter. That, ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’, does imply an element of or potential for ‘weaponization’.

    As developers talk to developers about the standards that should be applied to themes intended for general (non-developer) audiences, I wanted to remind that it’s millions of folks looking for a theme for sites that run the gamut of 100s of separate classes of use & function.

    ‘Trimmed’-choice themes will be great for some uses, and for sure this category could stand with some enlightened attention. But Atahualpa & Co. has cleared a wide path through impenetrable jungle for an awful lot of well-pleased WordPress tyros, and I can’t sign on to now deprecate the high-option option, just because we have awakened to the value of well-made low-option theme-strategies, as well.

    WalMart is huge today, because of what the population is today, and WordPress’ ‘customers’ are mostly the same as theirs.

    Thanks for the good points & feedback!

  8. Ted Clayton

    @Paying thePriceTwice – Most of the great unwashed should start their first theme-hunts in WordPress’ own Free Themes Directory.

    As of this evening, 1,475 theme-titles are listed there, and have been downloaded more than 43 million times. Obviously, the word is already out.

    ‘Frameworks’ offer advanced capability & features, at the price of added code-layers. They are not the right place for most of us to start learning.

    The key idea of themes, is that one can change themes and all the website stuff is still there, still the same. There is no penalty for starting with a ‘basic’ theme, and then ‘refining’ our choice of theme as we go. (Just steer clear of unusual customizations.) It is easy to have several or several dozen themes installed, switching among them, learning the ropes. They’re free; take one – take 10 or 63!

    Most of us are better-served to look through the free themes at WordPress, choosing from those that seem to ‘speak’ to our own ‘style’, and hunting for those that are made by ‘learners’ or ‘hobbyists’, themselves. Most of us will learn better from another student a little ahead of ourselves, than from a Professor speaking mainly to fellow professors.

    Beware of extremely simplified themes, such as Sandbox. These projects often assume a level of insight into theme-principles & code-mechanics that beginners and the soap-averse do not have.

    That the Great Unwashed are once again a driving force in society, does not mean that they are a homogenous mass. They assuredly are not, and the longer their tenure, the more differentiated they will become. Among the masses are those with aptitude, motivation and other resources, which in some cases will lead to significant abilities in persons & social scenes that are quite separate from the official WordPress community.

    The prospects appear promising, for WordPress & the Great Unwashed. :)


  9. I don’t understand why anyone would remove the options panel from WordPress themes. I mean, the majority of people will want to be able to click and choose their sites color and update their logo without going near the code of the theme. Am I not right or am I missing something here?


  10. Just as another point, let’s look at the best-selling WordPress theme on, for instance, Themeforest. The designs are not exactly ground-breaking and they’re actually fairly generic. What sells them is the options panel.

    But I do agree. I don’t like theme options. Especially the unnecessary ones.


  11. I am in the process of rewriting my Elemental theme framework and, apart from the breadcrumbs (I loves my breadcrumbs system) it does everything you are suggesting above.

    What I am doing with it is adding support for popular plugins that add support for major features. Currently it has support for bbpress and I am working on support for jigoshop. When I say support – obviously bbpress would work anyway, but I am making sure the styles fit the design of the theme nicely and work in all child themes. I am also making sure there aren’t two sets of breadcrumbs running (since jigoshop also includes it’s own breadcrumbs system), and a few other niceties.

    One thing I hadn’t put much thought into is WordPress post types so I am going to make a note to make sure they look good as well. Maybe I could support the WooTumblog plugin or something similar.

    So far I have removed about 20% of the code from Elemental version 1 – and I plan to keep going. I have also added native support for more built in WordPress features. In terms of customising the layout (different sidebars etc) I have some ideas of how I can do this without bloating the theme with loads of code. Hopefully they will work :)

    I am going to follow this thread with interest as there’s a lot of good feedback in the comments and I hope to use as much of it as I can to make Elemental 2 as flexible as possible without treading on the toes of WordPress built in systems and concepts.

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