Automattic Releases Quadrat, a Block-Based Podcasting WordPress Theme

Screenshot of the Quadrat WordPress theme with its Episode pattern on the homepage.

A few weeks ago, Automattic released Quadrat on the WordPress.org theme directory. It is now the company’s fourth block theme. Like its predecessors, it is a child of Blockbase, a project that serves as a foundation for the work of Automattic’s Theme Team.

After spending a couple of months diving deep into the world of block themes, I was beginning to feel a little burned out. When I wasn’t sleeping, eating, or doing yard work in my off-duty time, I was building or exploring one project or another. Soon, it all had become a blur. I knew I needed to take a small break, and I have not touched themes for a couple of weeks since, at least not outside of work.

However, Quadrat appealed to the theme developer within me. I am not sure if it was the soothing color scheme or just seeing the work the professional designers had put into it, but it offered a pathway for easing myself back into the block theme world.

Outside of the work by Anariel Design with Naledi and Clove, most block themes have felt more like proof of concepts or starting points. Quadrat can now be added to the list of those with some personality.

It does not push any particular boundaries, but it is a well-designed blogging and podcasting theme. Mostly, I am just a fan of the color scheme — sometimes you just need something other than black, white, and gray to get yourself out of a funk.

One of the other reasons I have been following the work of the Quadrat theme was because it was the first showcase of header patterns I had seen. Kjell Reigstad shared what this system would look like in June.

The goal is to include the patterns shown in the video in core WordPress, so they are not currently included in the theme. However, there is still an open ticket for header patterns in Quadrat.

The only real trouble I ran into with the theme is with fully aligned blocks in the content. There is an overflow issue in version 1.1.1 that creates a horizontal scrollbar.

Hoziontal scrollbar when using a full-width block with the Quadrat theme.
Horizontal scrollbar appears with full-width Cover block.

Quadrat includes nine custom patterns. The focus for most is on podcasting, but some are general-purpose enough for other use cases, such as “Media and text with button”:

Illustration in the left column and Heading and Button blocks in the right in a pattern built with the Media & Text block in the WordPress editor.
Media and text with button pattern.

The development team missed a prime opportunity with its podcast-related patterns. Instead of integrating with a podcasting solution, they are simple, static blocks from core WordPress.

For example, the Latest Episodes pattern is a two-column layout that features Image, Heading, and Paragraph blocks. That is acceptable as a base pattern for users without a podcasting plugin. However, it may be practically useless for those with one enabled. Or, it creates unnecessary work because users must manually update their page content anytime they publish a new episode.

Two-column layout with Image, Heading, and descriptive text of podcasting episodes.
Latest Episodes block pattern

Given Automattic’s recent bet on Castos as part of a $756K pre-seed fundraising round, it would make sense to integrate with the podcasting company’s plugin, Seriously Simple Podcasting (SSP).

If the development team wanted to take the Latest Episodes pattern to the next level, they would create it with the Query Loop block and display the latest podcast episodes from the plugin. For users without SSP installed, simply fall back to the current pattern. Or, offer both. Right now, it is little more than eye candy and not nearly as useful as it could be for real-world use cases.

I often talk about the need for theme authors to elevate their game. Not only would such integration be beneficial to podcasters, but it would also showcase the power and flexibility of the block system.

All of this is to say: If you are going to build a podcasting theme, build a podcasting theme. Quadrat appears to be one. However, when you peek behind the curtain, it is just a well-designed blogging theme. It has the potential to be so much more.

12 responses to “Automattic Releases Quadrat, a Block-Based Podcasting WordPress Theme”

  1. Hi Justin,

    I was thinking something similar when you mentioned the integration, or lack of, with the SSP plug-in.

    I often come across these types of voids where you get a project to its perfect point and then you want to add the cherry on the cake and it just won’t work. I had somebody come to me a number of years ago with a project to ungraded their podcasting/music tracks site. They wanted to have an integrated player that stayed playing when navigating through the site. The twist was having a rating system based on the number of times tracks were played and then present a top playing chart. Getting all the components together (theme and plugins) just seemed impossible. I got as far a theme on Theme Forest that had a player component that was fixed at the bottom as the user navigated the site. It was a pretty funky theme but we couldn’t figure out how to rank tracks based mon the frequency of play.

    Now that you mentioned that SSP plug-in…

  2. Just when I was curious again… I clicked on the link Tinte them and then on the preview button. I get a list of blog posts from freaking 2008 presented as a them preview. It doesn’t even remotely resemble the screenshot in this article. WordPress org seriously needs to fix that preview system going forward ASAP. Specially, given the onset of block based themes… this is just sad.

    • I very much agree with you Max. Every time I look at a new theme for a new project, we get the same old posts that are configured appropriately for the theme they are trying to “sell”.

      I would also like to see a tool to configure a theme similar to the way the theme is “sold”.

    • Themes can already use starter content to change what is seen in the WordPress.org preview, this has been available for about 6 months now.

      • Thanks for the info Caroline … I wasn’t aware and haven’t seen it being used. I stand corrected that the possible isn’t implemented. So it seems to be an implementation problem on the side of the theme authors or just the huge backlog of old themes watering down hits on themes with proper previews. Maybe announcing that themes without updates will rank worse in the theme repository search would incentivize to have theme authors to add a preview (or acknowledge the old blog layout as intended). Google got many people revisiting page speeds just by announcing some future requirements …

      • @Carolina, can you share a url for a tutorial/guide/documentation of this? I tried searching but can’t find anything about it.

    • The comment was made on my phone. Once I posted it … I saw the errors duo to having the wrong language keyboard and iOS autocorrection but I can’t edit it.

      Should have been:

      I clicked on the link for the theme and then on the preview button

  3. I have been testing Quadrat (a child theme of Blockbase) since its first release. I have made some modification to use it in one of my learning project sites, but I have been struggling to find a beginner-friendly workflow resource to work with a child-theme.json to modify the original theme’s theme.json.

    I am familiar with the workflows of React, Gatsby and Frontity but wondering whether there was a how to set up guide to create block base child theme workflow? Or else, how to save modifications without compromising future theme updates.

  4. Thanks for the review Justin! I’ve enjoyed reading your reviews of our themes, especially the critical feedback. We are going to keep improving the theme with more releases, and your suggestions around making it easier to use as a Podcasting theme make sense to us.

    Looking forward to your next review!

  5. Hope that more block-based themes will be released. I really want to try. If my website is build with a block-based theme, it will be faster.

  6. Thanks for your review, Justin! We really appreciate the feedback.

    The latest version of Quadrat includes the episodes patterns as a Query block pattern. Hopefully, that will make them more useful for users who want to use them to display their latest podcast episodes. That makes two Query block patterns for this theme in particular.

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