WordPress.org Added 910 New Themes in 2015

photo credit: Βethan - cc
photo credit: Βethancc

The WordPress.org Theme Review Team has just wrapped up a busy year of adding new themes, approving updates, and overhauling procedures. In 2015, the team reviewed and approved 910 new themes with the help of 236 reviewers, according to TRT member Ulrich Pogson.

Despite their best efforts, the team cannot keep up with the massive influx of themes. The queue has been bogged down by submissions from authors whose themes have not been run against Theme Unit Test Data and the Theme Check Plugin.

At the end of 2015, some theme authors were waiting two or more months before their first review. One of the reasons, according to TRT member Justin Tadlock, is that many of the themes submitted are far from ready to be approved upon their initial review.

“The majority of themes submitted don’t follow the guidelines, which considerably slows down the process,” Tadlock said. “Themes will often have 20-30 issues or more. If we can get to a point where the majority of submissions only have a few minor issues, we really wouldn’t have a queue.”

Automation is Coming Soon

The Theme Review Team made a number of controversial decisions at the beginning of 2015, including the move to require theme authors to use the customizer for building theme options. Negative pushback from the community came to a head when the team started cracking down on violations of the presentation vs. functionality guideline.

At the end of May, Matt Mullenweg joined in on the Theme Review Team’s slack channel and challenged them to look at the review process and directory in a new way, opening up new avenues for the team to pursue in improving that experience. This was a watershed moment for the Theme Review Team that resulted in the unanimous approval of a new roadmap to improve the directory and review process.

The team is now moving towards more automation, the first item on the roadmap, starting with auto-approval of theme updates. Automation will make a major impact on the time themes spend in the queue. The team has yet to implement it fully, because they’re still putting the code in place to improve the system.

2015 Theme Review Team Milestones

Despite delays on the roadmap, the Theme Review Team implemented many excellent changes during 2015, especially pertaining to education and documentation. In February, the team updated the Theme Review Handbook to include design recommendations. These recommendations were created to encourage design feedback on submissions to the directory and are formatted to help the theme author think more critically about design decisions.

Following the new requirement for WordPress.org themes to use the customizer for creating options, the TRT rallied, putting together more customizer resources and documentation. Nick Halsey assisted the team by updating the Theme Developer Handbook with a comprehensive guide to the customizer API. The team also began curating a library of code examples on GitHub for theme developers, with the first section devoted to customizer code.

When WordPress 4.3 added the site icons feature, the Theme Review Team began working with authors to phase out favicon support in themes. By the time WordPress 4.5 rolls around, all themes hosted in the official directory should be on track to use the core-supported method of adding site icons.

In July, the team voted to allow themes to use the WP REST API plugin, officially welcoming these new types of themes into the directory.

Throughout 2015, the Theme Review team moved quickly to navigate new waters as WordPress core improved. All of these initiatives and resources were created in addition to the 910 new themes that were reviewed and added to the directory. This is remarkable, given that the team is primarily made up of volunteers.

With the improved tools coming in 2016, WordPress.org theme authors can expect faster reviews, freeing up more time for reviewers to focus on improving the directory, creating more educational resources, and mentoring new reviewers.

7 Comments


  1. I remember seeing the team add a massive load of themes that were lost in the mix for up to 5 months back into the queue ahead of others which then pushed current themes back about 2 months. I was like, WTF! But then you realize these are authors who were left way behind due to reviewers abandoning the review, so you can’t help but feel sorry for them waiting so long. On a good note, the review team picked up steam in November to go through that backlog and went through them all.

    I am definitely looking forward to the auto updates, because I hated telling people, sorry, you have to wait for the update to go live.

    The Handbook is getting better, but I still believe many authors don’t really use it as often as they should…one of many reasons why there are so many themes submitted that are not ready.

    I know the review team hated this idea, but I mentioned before that design quality is something that needs attention on reviews. I see too many themes submitted, reviewed, and go live that really should not have been. I know it’s subjective and hard to review design quality, but reviews are only “code” based. I bet I could submit a 1990 FrontPage developed design with animated gifs, neon colours everywhere, falling snowflakes, and flashing banners…..as long as the code is 100% it would end up in the directory. Hmmm…I should try that, lol :)

    However, on a more serious note, I can definitely say that for the last year or two, we’re beginning to see a lot more professional looking themes with great design and style that are getting into the directory. One can see this as an opportunity to challenge theme authors to create and submit better looking themes.

    I’m looking forward to what happens this year, because I plan on submitting a lot more themes to the directory…at least 12 more for 2016.

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      1. When I figure out why things break, and make then stop breaking, then I’ll flip the switch. ;)

        Can’t hurry debugging. Sorry. Gotta find the problems and fix them. That takes time.

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  2. This is where I’d love to see the “verified badge” play out. If a veteran author is submitting a new theme, perhaps it gets put into an auto approve queue as well? Some kind of Disney-like FastPass? (it’s even CamelCase!)

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  3. Is there a list of testing objectives that an automated test would look to achieve? Is that list vastly different than what is done manually? I like the notion of a “verified badge” but the precise “why(s)” it is awarded should be transparently discussed. In many ways the themes that populate the WordPress “marketplace” inherit valuable brand chi along the line of the old Goodhousekeeping seal of approval. Nothing in the new process should be allowed to result in releases that devalue that (extremely valuable) WordPress brand chi.

    Manually testing each theme (or plugin for that matter) does seem somewhat archaic- if that is actually what is happening. Most software development organizations could not survive/scale/produce/innovate varietal products without some “deeply” integrated testing automation. Especially one so large as the WordPress village/tribe/Cabala of software professionals.

    As far as aesthetics go, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and should be left that way as much as practicality will allow. If code is poetry then certainly themes are art. As long as the “rules” are followed underneath who can judge what is art? Maybe golden ratio or some color ethics applied generously…

    In the end, the market will judge the themes and plugins, so they will either live or die. As long as bad code is filtered out of the marketplace and there is a strong reward/incentive for theme developers to make great themes everything should cruise harmonically. Speed and efficiency will help make more shiny themes and keep everyone feeling special while pressing and coding. Nirvana!

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  4. Whatabout premium themes? When will that be turned on again? Envato’s latest greed could see quite alot of good theme authors moving to WordPress.

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