WordPress Design Contributors Propose Shipping a Curated Set of Style Variations Instead of a New Default Theme

WordPress design contributors are cooking up a new idea for this year’s default theme release that would put the spotlight on style variations instead of the theme itself. The idea is rooted in comments that Twenty Twenty-Two designer Kjell Reigstad made last year when introducing the theme:

Themes are in a transition period today, and it seems like this may be a reasonable time to step back and to re-evaluate the annual cadence with which we build default themes.

Innovations like theme.json, block templates, and block patterns are making theme development far simpler, and are providing new ways for users to customize their sites. There’s reason to believe that the community can leverage all this to build more frequent and diverse theme and customization solutions for our users in the coming years. 

Instead of creating a new default theme this year, design contributors are proposing creating a curated set of style variations from community submissions. The styles would be applied to a pared back version of Twenty Twenty-Two.

“What if, instead of emphasizing the theme itself, we highlighted an opinionated set of style variations designed by members of the community?” Automattic-sponsored design contributor Channing Ritter said. “We could use Twenty Twenty-Two as the basis for a new theme that’s stripped back and minimal — a blank canvas to let a diverse range of style variations shine.” 

Style variations were introduced in WordPress 6.0 as a way for theme authors to offer some preset design options capable of skinning the site with different colors, typography, borders, spacing, and more, with just one click on a card representing the variation. Reigstad first floated the idea for Twenty Twenty-Two’s style variations in November 2021.

“It would be interesting to experiment with how opinionated we could make each of the variations,” Ritter said. “Maybe one variation makes all typography on the site use a single type size in a monospaced font, while another variation uses many different fonts paired together. I think that pushing the boundaries of what can be done with the style variation format should be the goal — and we can have fun seeing what kinds of things we can come up with in the process.”

The idea is that the best community-submitted style variations would be selected for a curated collection that would be bundled with the new blank canvas version of Twenty Twenty-Two.

Responses so far in the comments have been overwhelmingly positive and designers and developers have been eager to raise their hands to participate. The discussion has just started in the comments of the proposal and contributors are soliciting feedback on the creation of the next default theme.


One response to “WordPress Design Contributors Propose Shipping a Curated Set of Style Variations Instead of a New Default Theme”

  1. It’s 1999 all over again.

    Anyone who has been in this business a couple decades remembers Dave Shea’s CSS Zen Garden. Who knew one well-documented layout could morph from a Chinese-styled zen garden to a maritime theme with sea monsters?!

    MySpace was a frontier of customizable home pages each user could easily hack to our heart’s content to deliver unique styles.

    Even though Kubrick gave us a few customizations (that header gradient really could be different colors) WP themes have been heavily-opinionated styles set in stone for a decade or more. The customizer has been a strict set of parameters to limit the damage contributors could do to our design.

    While Tailwind and Bootstrap are inlining more and more code and standardizing components for developers, these and other libraries are also inspiring low- or no-code solutions for next-generation creators.

    I have joined the bandwagon to embrace Gutenberg after reluctance through the ’10s. Inspiring contributors to improvise on a base theme is right in line with the jazz-influenced ethos of this project!

    Jazz relies on an understanding of the inherent rules of music to fully experience the collaborative creation that flourishes in a session. Likewise, borrowing and embellishing components from the framework and other contributors inspires familiar yet unique expressions of the genre that reflect the context of the design.

    After all, aren’t we tired of complaining about one-size-fits-all or monopolistic solutions that do more harm than good for end users?

    Good on ya Automattic!


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