WordPress Theme Review Handbook Updated to Include Design Recommendations

photo credit: Artist's Room - (license)
photo credit: Artist’s Room(license)

The new design of the WordPress Theme Directory is a welcome change on WordPress.org. Faster browsing and filtering means users can more easily sort through the thousands of available options. While the directory includes many beautiful, high quality themes, it often requires sifting through hundreds to find that diamond in the rough.

One of the reasons for the glut of lackluster and uninspired new theme submissions is a lack of design feedback from the Theme Review team. Reviews have traditionally focused primarily on the code quality of themes and often neglect major design issues with new submissions.

During the team’s meeting this week, contributors discussed ways to encourage more design feedback on submissions to the directory. WordPress.org theme author Kelly Dwan broached the topic in a recent post about ways to get designers involved during the review process:

If we tell people that they don’t need to be expert developers to review themes, and that this is a good way to learn better coding practices, why don’t we do the same with design? Good design is just as subjective as code standards (in that the basics aren’t, but people like to argue about it anyway).

The quality of code in the theme repo is improved by the review process, so we should encourage design reviews to increase the quality of design, too.

Her post included practical suggestions for updating the theme review handbook to provide better guidance on how to offer design feedback. This is one way that designers can contribute on WordPress.org, even if they’re not comfortable helping with the code review aspect of the process.

New Design Recommendation Added to the Handbook

Mel Choyce, Design Engineer at Automattic, volunteered to start filling out the design section of the Theme Review Handbook with recommendations. “Theme authors are never exposed to design guidelines before uploading their themes, unlike code guidelines,” she said. This is something the team is currently working to change.

The design recommendations so far are formatted to help the theme author think more critically about design decisions. Instead of taking a hard line about subjective aspects of design, the recommendations invite the designer to consider the theme from a user’s perspective. A few examples include:

  • Can you tell if the theme has an ideal audience in mind?
  • Is the type large enough to comfortably read?
  • Body text should generally be 14px or larger on desktop, unless using a font with a generous x-height.
  • Are the header and body fonts easy to read?
  • Is there enough difference between headers and paragraphs to distinguish them from each other?
  • Do paragraphs have enough line-height? If you squint your eyes, can you still see some space between lines?
  • A good rule of thumb is 1.3-1.4 on headers, and 1.4-1.6 on body text.
  • Is the color contrast high enough? Is the type readable against its background?
  • Do the details (drop shadows, gradients, etc.) distract at all from the content?

Encouraging more design feedback is difficult without offering reviewers the tools to so with confidence. The art of offering design feedback is tricky and it requires diplomacy to do it in a way that doesn’t crush the spirit of a fledgling theme author.

A basic set of guidelines is a valuable resource that team members can refer to during the review process. If theme authors are open to the recommendations, the quality of their designs can be significantly improved for future submissions.

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1 Comment


  1. Sounds great and would help keep users that don’t have much knowledge about code from trying to fix what they think is a simple change like font size or type which sometimes isn’t if the theme isn’t made for a suitable font size sometimes increasing causes a whole lot more design issues.

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