Many of you may not know this, but the name of this site, Theme Hybrid, was a carefully-chosen name. Specifically, a “hybrid” is a new creation made by mixing two different things.
When I first launched this site, there were only a handful of others doing this new thing called child themes. I was amazed at the possibilities. A lot of my users were too. I chose the name Theme Hybrid because I wanted to launch a WordPress theme community with a large focus on mixing parent and child themes to create some really cool stuff.
And, we’ve done some amazing things together as a community.
A while later, I officially released the Hybrid Core theme framework. This framework had been the backbone of my flagship theme for quite some time. Hybrid Core was different though. It was meant for developers to make new parent themes. My fear had always been that we’d lose focus on one of the major things at the root of Theme Hybrid: creating cool child themes.
This site has become more and more developer-/designer-friendly over the last couple of years as a result. That’s absolutely a great thing. However, I feel like the work we’ve been doing has moved Regular Joe to the back seat, which is not so great.
The idea of child themes has always been about making it easier for users to have a well-built site that they can modify without breaking their parent theme.
It’s time for a shift in focus.
Looking into the past
I’m working on a new theme. I’d say I’m a good 80% through with it.
I titled this post “Revolution in theme design”, but it’s not really that. The idea behind this theme is nothing new to me. It’s something I’ve been building for 5 years. I just didn’t realize that until now.
I started the actual planning for this theme several months ago. The first thing I looked at was the, now retired, Options theme. It was the theme in which I launched Theme Hybrid. The code was horrible. It was a complete mess. However, at the time, it was one of the most-downloaded WordPress themes in history. Users loved it.
The name of the theme came from it having a ton customization options, which pale in comparison to some of the options that some themes have today. Not a lot of free theme authors were doing this at the time though.
The one thing the Options theme did do right is that its theme settings didn’t give you so much rope that you’d completely hang yourself. They were pretty basic but gave you a lot of flexibility.
Times have changed. The needs of users have changed. But, this basic idea of customizing your site without knowing code hasn’t. Many of you are aware of my long-standing aversion to throwing a lot of options into a theme. I have many good reasons for this that I won’t get into now.
Therefore, the idea is to balance between sane customization options and good theme design. It’s about simplifying things to the point where it seems like you have unlimited flexibility with only a handful of options.
Design for users first
The big question we have as theme authors has always been about how to best design for theme users. When I talk about users here, I’m talking about Regular Joe, not DIY Joe (more on him later). Regular Joe doesn’t know a thing about code but wants to make some modifications.
The big focus on my newest theme is about giving Regular Joe the ability to customize his theme without ever looking at a line of code. With WordPress’ theme customizer, this has become much easier to do. The only problem is making sure that I don’t run into the slippery slope dilemma. The options need to make sense in terms of the theme’s design. I need to give Regular Joe the ability make customizations without compromising the design.
Making options is easy. Making simple but powerful options is hard. I think I’ve managed to find a good balance.
Users around the globe matter
I’ve always internationalized my theme’s text strings, which allows anyone to translate my themes into their language. A large portion of Theme Hybrid’s members are not from the U.S. or from an English-speaking country, so this is pretty important.
Internationalization is the least I could do, but it’s nowhere near the best. This new theme is going to be the most robust theme that I know of in terms of making it easier for non-English bloggers to use.
Have you ever looked at a theme in Korean? What about Arabic, a right-to-left language? It’s not always that pretty.
No longer am I looking at themes in foreign languages as an afterthought. I’ve been designing this theme from Day 1 while testing out other languages. I’ve even added in specific styles for various languages so that they’ll look the best they can look with this theme.
Don’t alienate DIY users
When I first got started building WordPress themes, the barrier to entry was fairly low. You just needed to know some HTML, CSS, and a few WordPress “template tags”. Over the years, I’ve seen this change. We’ve slowly moved into making things more complex. I’ll even take the blame for some of that. Learning theme development is not as easy as it once was.
Some may argue that this is simply the result of the platform growing. I disagree. Yes, things have gotten more complex as WordPress has grown into a more powerful CMS. That doesn’t mean we can’t simplify the code within our themes.
By creating complex code in our themes, we’re alienating those DIY users who like to tinker with code. DIY users are potential theme authors. If we make it hard to learn how themes work, we’re doing a disservice to the community. Yes, I realize that makes better business for some companies, but it’s not for me.
My new theme’s code is going to look a lot closer to some of the themes you’d see 5+ years ago, just slightly modernized. Any of the complex stuff will be neatly tucked away from the main theme files in its own sub-folder. I want DIY users and potential theme authors to be able to learn without having to know a ton of PHP code first.
Child theme friendly
I started this post on the idea of child themes being the foundation on which Theme Hybrid was built. I still believe in this, now more than ever.
Over the years, child themes have grown up. Doing some of the things I originally envisioned are much more of a reality. I’m now able to create a parent theme that can be modified via a child theme with only a few lines of code.
Yes, you read that right. With just a few lines of code, you’ll be able to create a completely custom-designed child theme. Of course, you can always go as crazy as you want and add 100s of lines of code, but I’ve got a new system that I think some of you designers will really enjoy.
So, I’m going to end this post with a proposal:
If you’re a designer and would like to beta test this theme, here’s your opportunity. What I have in mind:
- You get an early copy of the new theme with instructions for making a child theme.
- You build a child theme with this system I have in mind (bonus points for anyone who wants to take a crack at a Christmas/holiday design).
- The child theme you build will be hosted here on this site and on WordPress.org.
- You’ll get a free, lifetime membership to Theme Hybrid.
All normal rules for theme submission will still apply.
I know I’m not giving you all a lot to go on at the moment and have been playing a few things close to the vest, but I think this would be a really cool thing to do. You could literally build a child theme for this in half an hour.
If this sort of thing interests you, let me know in the comments or forums.
If you decide to do a child theme, expect an email from me next week. I’m working on finalizing a lot of the code for the beta and should be finished sometime in the next week. I look forward to seeing what all of you can come up with.