Reimagining the WordPress Themes Directory

current-theme-directoryThe WordPress Themes Directory currently hosts 2,140 themes, with 85,619,197 downloads and counting. No commercial theme shop can boast these kinds of numbers. The aggregate quality of themes listed here is second to none due to the strict theme guidelines and the dedicated Theme Review Team volunteers.

Despite being the most trusted place to find WordPress themes, the WordPress Themes Directory is considerably rough around the edges and notoriously difficult to browse.

Granted, many people explore WordPress themes within the dashboard only. The THX38 “Theme Experience” project brings a vastly improved theme browsing experience to the WordPress admin. This is going to be one of the most beautiful pages in the admin when 3.8 is released. But meanwhile, how can we improve the WordPress.org theme browsing experience?

Exploring New Ideas for the WordPress Themes Directory

Just for fun and for the sake of discussion, I thought we could take a few minutes to reimagine the WordPress Themes Directory with some new ideas. Oftentimes, the directory is the first place that many people turn to when looking for a new theme. How can this section better serve the millions of WordPress users who are dropping by to explore design options?

Current Problems with the Themes Directory:

My wishlist for the WordPress Themes Directory would include solutions to all of the issues outlined below. This isn’t a comprehensive list, by any means, but these are a few that stand out to me as impacting the user in the greatest way:

  • The landing page gives a rough first impression of WordPress themes
  • Commercially Supported GPL Themes are displayed in a better and more appealing way than the themes hosted on WordPress.org
  • Advanced search takes you to a new page
  • Many of the best themes are difficult to find
  • No option for favorting themes

Solutions for these problems can be broken up into two major efforts – redesigning the landing page and adding favoriting for themes.

Redesigning the Themes Directory Landing Page

Because the commercial themes page makes it easier to visually browse themes right off the bat, a new visitor might think that commercial themes are the only way to go. However, the themes directory is loaded with many excellent free options, if you can find them.

A new design could readily provide a better first impression of WordPress themes as well as integrate search more elegantly.

Over the past year, I’ve seen some very high quality themes enter the directory but they soon become buried in the thousands of themes available. Unless you know what you’re looking for, you’re not likely to find them. We could do a better job of presenting some of the best themes and top authors.

Here’s a rough sketch I’ve created just for the sake of discussion.

wp-theme-directory

The human brain is much quicker at processing images than words. With this in mind, long descriptions of layouts and sidebars, etc, become much less useful on the landing page. That’s why the focus in this quick mockup is on the visual browsing and leaves the theme details to each individual theme page.

I’d imagine the advanced filter/tag search could be toggled on the landing page, instead of sending the user away to a new page. Visitors could also toggle between Featured, Trending (most favorited), Popular, Top Authors and My Favorites. The Newest themes section would always be listed at the bottom with infinite scroll for effortless browsing. I’m not sure how useful the “Recently Updated” section is so I left it out.

Adding Favoriting to Themes

When the WordPress Plugin Directory added favoriting capabilities in May of 2012, I was over the moon and instantly hoped for the same in the Themes Directory. The ability to favorite themes benefits the user by providing an easy why to bookmark themes while browsing through hundreds. Right now, you have to use another app such as Pinterest or Evernote to bookmark your favorites. Adding favoriting would make WordPress.org accounts and profiles more valuable, more useful and more connected.

theme favoriting
Example favorite button on individual theme page

Favoriting also benefits the directory by providing new ways of presenting the best themes. If I were visiting the directory for the first time, I would have no idea how to locate a beautiful theme, aside from working my way back through hundreds of listings or hoping that I happen upon a decent search term. Viewing the “Trending” section could show you the “most favorited” which will generally be a different selection than themes that fall under the “Popular” heading, which includes the most downloaded themes.

Adding favoriting is key to reimagining the WordPress Themes Directory as a place where it’s easy to find and save a beautiful theme. If I could have only one thing on my wishlist, it would be favorites. Samuel Wood, better known as “Otto”, is a developer who works with WordPress.org. He says, “Like so many little features, that will probably happen during a greater re-vamp of the whole.” It’s on their radar but he doesn’t foresee a great revamp in the near future. In the meantime, it’s fun to imagine a new WordPress Directory and discuss community ideas for making it more useful.

WordPress is one of the more flexible publishing platforms out there when it comes to theming and is well known for its abundance of themes. Having the right theme for your content can inspire you to publish more, because design and content work together to communicate ideas. That’s why I’d love to see directory present WordPress.org themes in a better way.

Right now, it seems to be much easier to explore WordPress themes within the app itself, as opposed to visiting the Themes Directory. What’s on your wishlist for the themes directory? Would you be likely to use favoriting? How often do you browse WordPress.org for themes?

15 Comments


  1. I like your Ideas. The Landing-Page Layout looks good.

    A big sideshow/gallery with a couple of screenshots (probably even standardized: Blog, single post, page) above the theme-name on the single-page would be nice.

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  2. I’d love to see what ideas people come up with. The Theme Review Team often lament the lack of any sort of curation tools or infrastructure. I would love to have something to curate Themes in the directory – whether that comes from the WPTRT, the community (even better!), or elsewhere.

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  3. It’s interesting, but almost too simple of a change. It just really adds favorites and packs more photos onto the main page.

    You should do a “contest” and take submissions. See what people come up with. Get many ideas from the community. Just a thought.

    Maybe do it for the plugin directory simultaneously, see what people come up with as a combined concept for both. The differences and how designers deal with that might be interesting.

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  4. The “rough sketch” looks great and what I’d class as a good design for the directory – that would be a big improvement on the current landing page. With more ideas flowing it can be improved upon to make it really shine.

    @Otto – The contest idea is a neat one. Open up the challenge to designers and developers to come up with a workable design that best suit the directory and let the games begin.

    Just out of curiosity, is the current theme in use available as a starting point for those that wish to tinker with the ideas being suggested or is that a closed project?

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  5. Favoriting definitely helps. Also, we can take some cues from the Apple AppStore in terms of curation and how to help people find the themes they want =)

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  6. Thanks for bringing up this topic. It’s long overdue that WordPress revamps their theme page.
    I teach a WordPress class, and one of the most difficult things to show students, is how to search for themes.
    One of the easiest ways to revamp the theme page is to rethink the tagging system for WordPress themes. The advanced search and list of tags are totally out to date and incredibly lame they don’t even have responsive on the list. Also it seems that the theme developers don’t apply all the tags that they could to their themes. It would be cool if the WordPress theme reviewer could also add tags. Once we have enough usable tags, there could even be a tag cloud page, similar to what they have on the showcase page.
    And speaking of the showcase page, how about a way to see WordPress.org themes in the wild, that would really be helpful.

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  7. IMHO, we need more information on the theme pages too. You can’t link from the descriptions and they’re only a single page. I’d quite like to provide a lot more information about my theme and so I provide that on my own site instead, but it’d be nice to have a similar setup to what we have on the plugins repo.

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  8. A redesign of the theme directory would be so, so welcome. Definitely love the idea of favoriting themes, and restructuring the landing page to bring more attention to trending or popular themes! I feel like there’s so much that can be done to really highlight some of the great themes we have that are hard to find in the theme directory. I’d definitely be interested in starting to redesign it. :)

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  9. @Otto – My sketches were just another way to look at it within the existing design for the sake of discussion. I’m sure a professional designer could have a lot more fun with it. :) I love all the ideas that are popping up here in the comments, though I’m pretty ignorant of how changes happen to the wordpress.org website and how decisions are made there. Would a design contest actually be a good idea?

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