Is 2015 The Year of WordPress Admin Themes?

The CPO and partner of Human Made, Noel Tock, published his WordPress predictions for 2015. His predictions include, custom dashboards, front-end editing, internationalization, and more. This could be the year of admin themes, but I think it largely depends on whether the WP API is merged into core.

Tock predicts we’ll see a substantial increase in different WordPress backend experiences. Although there are implementations like Happytables and Jetty which use the WP API, I don’t think we’ll see a lot of adoption until it’s vetted and merged into core.

Regarding custom dashboard experiences, Tock makes a great point when he says:

For the most part, premium custom dashboards will fail. If it’s too generic, it likely can’t compete with WP-Admin (which actively pursues one size fits all). On the other hand, if it’s too niche or not very extendable, it won’t be of much use either. A minimal small business dashboard with front-end editing will likely be the most popular seller.

Additionally, I think his advice to those looking to experiment with the API should be considered, “Don’t create a custom dashboard because you want to change the way it looks, change it because you significantly want to improve the experience of your users.”

Jason Schuller’s admin design for Pickle is a great example of a backend that correlates with what’s on the frontend. Everything that’s unnecessary to manage the frontend of the site is removed from the backend, creating a streamlined experience.

pickle-admin
WordPress Backend For The Pickle Theme

The WP API will make it easy for developers to create a variety of different admin experiences, but users will ultimately decide which implementation is right for them. We may even see an entire category added to the WordPress theme directory for admin themes.

Whether the API is merged this year or next, custom admin themes are inevitable. In the future, there will likely be an admin theme that matches the way you use WordPress to harmonize the user experience. What that theme looks like is anyone’s guess, but I’m looking forward to reviewing custom admin experiences created by developers using the API.

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13 Comments


    1. I originally linked to that and had it in my post but then it seemed like I was rambling and removed it. Thanks for linking it in the comments as it’s a good read as well. I almost like your idea better where the front/backends are merged together and you can’t tell one from the other. It’s all just one good user experience.

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      1. hah! yeah no worries! Definitely interested to see how this year plans out in that regard. Super exciting times ahead!

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      2. Do you think the impending uptick in admin themes or custom admin experiences all hinges on whether the API is merged into core this year? Seems like that’s the one thing everyone is waiting on. There are a couple of people using it already but when it’s actually vetted and ready to go, that’s when I think we’ll see a huge upswing in all kinds of fancy stuff.

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      3. That’s actually one of the reasons why we didn’t use the API in this new project we’re on, because it’s not in core. And yeah I think the bulk of what may come out will largely depend on it being in core to begin with so that it’s just there by default (now I wonder if it’ll be “ON” by default).

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  1. Hey Jeff,

    I’m skeptical that any replacement admin themes will gain significant traction, be reasonably complete, and will then continue to be maintained. I’ve seen that movie before, and its name is Drupal.

    Building an admin theme is not a trivial undertaking; just look how much time the WordPress team spends on making changes to a subset of the admin. And general compatibility with existing plugins is simply not possible.

    I do expect a lot of admin themes to be started, but few to be completed. And I doubt any will ever reach more than say 0.01% of installed users, and that’s only if the best one is free. And without wide adoption, they will get no 3rd (4th?) party support, training, etc.

    Further, an admin theme is candy, not a pain killer, at least not for most users. If they are asked to pay for it, IMO most will say “Nevermind.” Of course a custom admin theme that is tied into a specific product where the product has significant business value could see major adoption, but that’s a different animal. That admin theme would not be competing on it’s merits alone.

    Lastly, I also think that front-end admin is not viable on a generic basis. Building admin functionality into a theme requires significantly more development time and developer skill, so most choose not to do it and/or simply don’t have the skills to. Same thing happened with Drupal that will happen in WordPress. That’s why most Drupal themes are not admin themes, and the other reasons are why there are so few admin themes for Drupal.

    JMTCW.

    -Mike
    P.S. However, I would love to see a new admin that uses pretty permalinks. But I digress…

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  2. Although its early days yet, it seems to me that this is what the guys at Designmodo are up to with their Startup Theme and QARDS interface, but there’s a long way to go yet.

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  3. You know, I have no idea what you are on about? Front-end, back-end, of what? The admin panel? I thought the admin panel IS the backend. So now we’re going to have ‘themes’ that control the backend of the backend, in order to control the frontend of the backend which is supposed to look after the frontend? How is that user friendly?

    All I want is a theme that allows me to customize things, and is easy to add suitable plugins to. The newish way of customizing most new themes is terrible for a lot of us end users. FWIW, I have yet to find a proper responsive theme that doesn’t have some major issues with it. Its like the developers of these themes never actually have to sit down and use their own products to produce real sites that are expected to attract visitors and (heaven forbid) sell something from.

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    1. Its like the developers of these themes never actually have to sit down and use their own products to produce real sites that are expected to attract visitors and (heaven forbid) sell something from.

      Bingo!

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    2. “Its like the developers of these themes never actually have to sit down and use their own products to produce real sites that are expected to attract visitors and (heaven forbid) sell something from.”

      Wow, couldn’t agree more!

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  4. @cdngryphon – I think the phrase ‘admin theme’ means a theme that changes the look of the WordPress dashboard, rather than a theme to control any other aspect of your site. I so agree with you about *some* developers not using their own themes before they are released for sale.

    Getting back to the ‘admin theme’ discussion – personally I love how the dashboard looks, it’s clear and intuitive, easy for the non-technical among us to use.

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  5. To be honest, I don’t think so, or rather I don’t want admin themes to be a thing. One of the things I love about WordPress is that the front end is unique, but all the back ends are the same.

    Right now devs are putting theme options all over the place, and only some are actually using the theme customizer. Imagine if admin themes become the norm, if devs tie-up admin themes into their frontend themes, things can get crazy.

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  6. Well, I think there is a valuable set of use cases where admin themes and personalized backend can play a great role. It does not need to be necessarily a reimplementation of the backend.

    We worked developing custom solutions for clients for years and we definitely see a much better response with a custom backend experience. And most of the time, it was just a css theme applied to the WordPress backend.

    WordPress makes it dead simple to build a MVP to your SaaS project. In that case, even if you don’t want to/or don’t have time to create a custom backend experience from scratch, it can’t hurt to personalize even a little the back end. WordPress is widely known and even the most non-tech-savvy potential clients can indentify that it is in fact using WordPress and that can hurt the business as a whole.

    In fact, we took our most popular custom-built styling solution and released it to everyone. It is a completely redesign of the WP Admin, using Google’s Material Design. We’re calling it Material WP, you guys can check it out by clicking here.

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