The End of WordPress Themes is in Sight

It’s been a long time coming.

I currently earn a living selling WordPress themes. In a couple of years that won’t be the case. I might be earning something from themes, but themes as we know them will no-longer be made.

In this article Matias Ventura details a proposal for the future of the block editor. WordPress is quite quickly turning into a site builder, giving users the power to control exactly how their site functions. Themes will be reduced to stylesheets, and maybe some json/ php that describes the default layout and positions.

There’s been no mention of this anywhere else, but I wonder if the stylesheet aspect of themes will also be consumed into core and themes will be deprecated. Stylesheets will be relegated to selecting fonts, and colours; and setting sizes and spacings. Gutenberg will take care of the layout. This could easily be done by a plugin or in core directly. There are definite benefits to doing this from a user’s perspective – they will have full control of their site – but it’s going to result in some very boring website layouts.

Currently the HTML WordPress spits out is a little random. There’s no consistency in terms of the structure or elements used. There’s also no consistency in terms of the classnames given to things. Anyone hoping to develop a pattern library for a WordPress product is going to find it hard work.

I’d love to create a WordPress design system but WordPress isn’t designed in the right way, and it would be hard to change since there’s so much legacy content. I hope the Gutenberg team consider this and build things so that this is possible.

But, then we will also have to contend with all the different block plugins that are going to spring up. Without standardized page structures theme designers will be unable to design reusable elements for all the blocks. At the moment big plugins like WooCommerce, or BuddyPress, are relatively easy to style since they control the whole page. But in the future you could be using blocks from 10 different developers on a single page. There’s no way theme designers can make that look like it all belongs together.

So I think this will lead to really interesting things. Obviously I’m looking at this slightly selfishly since this will directly impact my income. However, it will also affect everyone who uses WordPress. All WordPress sites need a theme.

It’s going to be a while before this enters core, and even longer before everyone adopts it, so developers and agencies have a while to prepare for the future. And I definitely think we should be thinking ahead. I said this during the development of Gutenberg and I’m sure I’ll say it again: we really need to consider where WordPress is (or might be) heading.

This will directly affect how theme developers and designers work. What plugin developers need to work with. How agencies need to work (and what training they will need to do).

Was it good/ useful/ a load of old rubbish? Let me know on Mastodon, or BlueSky (or Twitter X if you must).

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