Revolution in theme design

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

Blog page screenshot

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

Footer template code

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
  • 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.

72 Responses

  1. Sarah Gooding Sarah Gooding November 7, 2013 at 10:09 pm |

    I want to play. :) Where do I sign up?

  2. Jesse Smith Jesse Smith November 7, 2013 at 10:36 pm |

    It’s rare that anything web-related only takes me half an hour… but I’m intrigued! This sounds like a real community-oriented project, so bravo for that. Please add me to the list. Thanks!

  3. Josh Pollock Josh Pollock November 7, 2013 at 10:48 pm |

    I’m intrigued.

    Count me in.

  4. Junior Atoms Junior Atoms November 7, 2013 at 11:05 pm |

    I’m a Christmas Child Theme specialist. Let me at it!

  5. Sami Keijonen Sami Keijonen November 8, 2013 at 12:20 am |

    You might have guessed but yes please.

  6. syed syed November 8, 2013 at 1:47 am |

    It will be a pleasure to review your new theme code. So yes from me.

  7. […] Revolution in theme design […]

  8. Retrofitter Retrofitter November 8, 2013 at 3:10 am |

    I’d love to give it a try. Don’t expect any holiday theme, though

  9. David Chandra David Chandra November 8, 2013 at 3:22 am |

    count me in.
    so curious in how to implement hc.2 in theme.
    and the theme looks lovely. ( maybe because snsd video )

    i’m not so good with colors. maybe i should name the child theme “color-me-bad”.

  10. ZulfNore ZulfNore November 8, 2013 at 3:39 am |

    I’ve been meaning to get to grips with “Theme Hybrid” for sometime and now seems to be the best time to dive in than ever.

    Count me in :)

  11. perryb perryb November 8, 2013 at 4:14 am |

    I’d love to have a look too if possible

  12. Emyr Thomas Emyr Thomas November 8, 2013 at 4:45 am |

    Yes please – count me in!

  13. Marcel Marcel November 8, 2013 at 4:55 am |

    Please sign me up, would live to contribute!

    1. Marcel Marcel November 8, 2013 at 4:56 am |

      Love to contribute ofcourse ;)

  14. Mathieu Mathieu November 8, 2013 at 6:00 am |

    Would love to contribute !
    In english AND french :)

  15. marty marty November 8, 2013 at 11:49 am |

    I’d definitely like to give it a go. …even if it inspires “Color Me Bad” themes.

  16. wiselywoven wiselywoven November 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm |

    I’m hooked as always. Thank you Justin for leading the charge. Count me in.

  17. applepan applepan November 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm |

    I’m in, thanks in advance….

  18. Vsalda Vsalda November 8, 2013 at 1:13 pm |

    Count me in :) , I’d gladly help with the spanish translation.

  19. Brett Mason Brett Mason November 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm |

    Would love to contribute – I’ve been meaning to give back for a while so this looks like a great time to start!

  20. Michael Musgrove Michael Musgrove November 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm |

    Wow- what a response! Please count me in as well–sounds fun.

  21. Joshua Hammill Joshua Hammill November 8, 2013 at 3:38 pm |

    I’m in as well! Can’t wait to see it.

  22. Craig Craig November 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm |

    Sounds like fun please count me in…


  23. Selena Strain Selena Strain November 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm |

    Count me in too. Gives me an excuse to design something new for fun again.

  24. Tiyo Kamtiyono Tiyo Kamtiyono November 8, 2013 at 5:08 pm |

    I am not sure that you will send me an email next week, but I hope so. Count me in Justin :)

  25. Ozh Ozh November 8, 2013 at 6:11 pm |

    Hey Justin, sounds like good news for the design impaired coders like me :) I’d like to have a peek at this if you will. Cheers!

  26. ynwa ynwa November 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm |

    I don’t know how much use I can be or how I can help… but I’ll certainly try! +1

  27. Jarret Jarret November 8, 2013 at 7:13 pm |

    Sign me up as well please!

  28. Phil Erb Phil Erb November 8, 2013 at 7:45 pm |

    Count me in! I’ve been meaning to try ouy Hybrid Core and this sounds like a great community project to get in on.

  29. Mercime Mercime November 8, 2013 at 8:26 pm |

    Please count me in. Intrigued :)

  30. ruphel ruphel November 8, 2013 at 9:54 pm |

    “I’m now able to create a parent theme that can be modified via a child theme with only a few lines of code.”

    Awesome :) I’m in!

  31. Shea Bunge Shea Bunge November 8, 2013 at 10:11 pm |

    Add me to the list, please.

  32. Piet Piet November 8, 2013 at 10:26 pm |

    Would love to get a sneak-peek, please do send me that email!

  33. […] Revolution in theme design […]

  34. David Gwyer David Gwyer November 9, 2013 at 7:04 am |

    Count me in!

  35. Joe Joe November 9, 2013 at 8:03 am |

    Hey Justin. I would love to check this out and design a quick child theme with it.

    Count me in. Thanks

  36. Eric R. Stoeckel, Jr. Eric R. Stoeckel, Jr. November 9, 2013 at 10:06 am |

    I haven’t done much with themes; other than modifying some Genesis child themes for a few projects.

    Would love to learn more about themes and seems like this a good way to get started.

  37. Josh Levinson Josh Levinson November 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm |


    I’d love to be part of this! Please count me in.

  38. fob fob November 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm |

    And one copy for me, please. ;-)

  39. Luisa Luisa November 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm |

    Is it too late to sign up? I would love to try this out. Thanks!

  40. Monica Guerra Leiria Monica Guerra Leiria November 12, 2013 at 9:49 pm |

    I’d love to take this for a spin!

  41. agusmu agusmu November 13, 2013 at 4:34 am |

    Count me in also… ;)

  42. Neil Neil November 13, 2013 at 1:44 pm |

    I just landed here via folks who love your community and work. Feels good to have found you. Looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you, Justin.

  43. Helms Helms November 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm |

    count me in too please…

  44. Nospheratt Nospheratt November 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm |

    If it’s not too late, count me in… :)

  45. Ghandira Ghandira November 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm |

    Hi Justin! I find it interesting this initiative, I too would like to participate, count me in! Greetings :)

  46. […] Revolution in theme design My upcoming WordPress theme that will change the face of parent/child themes. … […]

  47. […] of the parent theme. You don’t have to know a ton of PHP code to get started. Tadlock says that he hopes Stargazer child themes will provide a launching point for potential theme developers […]

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