WordPress Theme Review Team Makes Controversial Change

WordPress Theme DirectoryChip Bennett announced on the Make.WordPress.org website that the theme review guidelines have been updated. Specifically, the theme unit tests have been reduced from required, to recommended. This change was inspired by a passionate conversation, started by Lance Willett. In that conversation they debated whether or not guidelines were hard and fast rules.

I asked Chip Bennett to explain in plain English what these changes mean for both theme reviewers and authors. This is what he had to say.

No changes have been made to the overall Guidelines, except that the Theme Unit Tests have been reduced in criticality from “Required” to “Recommended”. Developers should still test their Themes against the TUT before submission, and Reviewers will still test Themes against the TUT during reviews. The only difference is that, now, any observed issues will be noted as recommended fixes, rather than as issues required to address before Theme approval.

These changes come on the heels of a recent blog post published by Mario Peshev where he explained his experience participating in the theme review process for the past two and half years. According to Mario, some of the guidelines still contain too much subjectivity, especially when it comes to credit links located within themes. A side effect of the theme review guidelines is the large amount of themes in the directory that cater to blogging. The argument is that the guidelines do not provide enough leeway to embrace variety. However, Chip noted in the comments:

There’s nothing in the Guidelines that prohibit “business” Themes, or one-page Themes, or WooCommerce/EDD Themes, etc. If there are minor things that need exceptions (such as allowing the screenshot to display a static front page), developers can always ask for such exceptions.

Between the recent change with the theme unit tests and the engaging discussions taking place amongst the theme review community, steps are being taken in the right direction to make the theme review process easier for everyone involved. It’s worthy to note that all of the WordPress theme reviewers are volunteers helping to make the directory a better place.

11 Comments


  1. It read more like Automattic crew came down hard on the review team and cracked the whip to dumb down the tests so that Twenty Fourteen would then pass the test even with long post title overflowing over the sideboard.

    AUtomattic crew sounded it was all about theme designers but its all about them … 2014 theme and why dad had to pass three reviewers pout.. See track ticket where it all started http://core.track.wordpress.org/ticket/25008

    First time I see volunteers treated badly no respect.

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  2. It’s painful, reading how so many others went through the exact same negative experience with submitting a theme as I did, and being callously dismissed as “lazy”.

    Maybe WP should just stop accepting theme submissions, it’s obvious they don’t really want any, and people who keep submitting simply happen to be masochists.

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  3. I am in two minds about it… but having never submitted a theme to the Repository before, I have never experienced the submission side of it. However, what I did like about the previous setup is that one would be reassured that the theme *met* certain standards. Ultimately, quite a lot of things are subjective (even auditing or risk management) – it will certainly be interesting to see how the changes might affect the Repository in the future.

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  4. @Janette

    It read more like Automattic crew came down hard on the review team and cracked the whip…

    Just to be clear: Automattic have no authority over WPORG or the WP Theme Review Team. The decision to make the change came out of considerable discussion by many developers and reviewers, not as an edict from anyone at Automattic. And if it doesn’t work, or we find that overall Theme quality suffers as a result, we’ll change it back.

    @Felix

    Maybe WP should just stop accepting theme submissions, it’s obvious they don’t really want any, and people who keep submitting simply happen to be masochists.

    I see you still have that same, three-year-old chip on your shoulder. That’s unfortunate. In the past six months, almost 500 new Themes have been added to the Theme directory. One of those could have been yours. Shame.

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  5. I see you still have that same, three-year-old chip on your shoulder.

    Yeah, yeah. Sorry for bitching about it again. But that should give you an idea of how much it stung. Now thanks to this article I learned that I wasn’t the only one, not by far. And instead of praising this attempt to change things for the better, some people keep insulting theme submitters.

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  6. This is a very welcome change, hooray!
    I am curious to see how that will effect the way for devs to submit more and better business-like or whatever different themes. Exciting times ahead, yeah!! :)

    I absolutely respect the hard work of Chip and the whole review team! Keep up your good work where you serve with your time the world wide community!

    THANK YOU!

    Dave from Germany :)

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  7. @Flick

    However, what I did like about the previous setup is that one would be reassured that the theme *met* certain standards.

    That still remains absolutely true. The Theme Unit Tests represent only 5-10% of the Guidelines.

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  8. @Chip Bennett – I stand corrected then :) Had this assumption that the Unit Tests were a substantial part of the Guidelines.

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  9. @Flick

    Had this assumption that the Unit Tests were a substantial part of the Guidelines.

    No worries. :) I don’t see the change as especially controversial, to be honest. If a Theme passes all of the code guidelines, there’s very little chance, outside of deliberate design decisions, that a Theme would not pass all of the Theme Unit Tests as well – and we’ve always tried to defer as much as possible to the developer’s design aesthetic and decisions.

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