For much of WordPress’s history, the foundational elements of building a theme have been slow to change. Every so often, developers would get a new feature, such as child themes, featured images, nav menus, and template parts. Each of these was epic in its own way. However, theme authors had ample time to adapt to these single feature introductions.
When the block editor landed, it did so with a bang. Love it or hate it, it shifted how we think about design for the web. It was not one of those one-off enhancements, regardless of how many times we were told it would “just work” with any theme. It sometimes does not technically break things. Support and integration are necessary for an ideal user experience, and theme authors have been slow to catch up.
With WordPress 5.8, theme authors are gearing up for another paradigm-shifting set of changes. Josepha Haden Chomphosy, WordPress Executive Director, announced last week that several Full Site Editing (FSE) sub-components will begin shipping with the next release.
In the latest episode of the WP Tavern Jukebox podcast, Nathan Wrigley hosted guest Anne McCarthy. He asked her to calm people’s fears over upcoming changes. “So, as an example, let’s imagine that we’re a theme developer. We may be getting concerned that themes are going to become a thing of the past, that the livelihood that we’ve created for ourselves is going to disappear before our eyes.”
It is a common question. Since the inception of Gutenberg, particularly its features that fall under FSE, themers have wondered if there would be a place at the table for them. If WordPress is moving toward a grander page-building experience, where do themes fit in? If users can change the layout or manipulate all of the styles, what is the theme’s job?
These questions are finally getting some answers. We can see the real-world changes introduced in recent months. They paint a much clearer picture, defining the role of themes in WordPress’s future.
“And for theme authors, themes are going to be so important in a full site editing world,” said McCarthy. “And one of the things I am so excited about is that there’s going to be a ton of what they’re calling…the idea of these hybrid universal themes that can work with, for example, template editing.”
She is referring to a recent discussion that makes some distinctions between universal and hybrid themes. Essentially, universal themes would work in both a classic or block editor context, depending on what the user chose. A hybrid might support parts of the block experience but have a path to becoming a universal theme that fully caters to any user down the road.
While this does not wholly address theme authors’ concerns, these are the building blocks that Gutenberg contributors are thinking about. First and foremost, they want a solid user experience. However, the discussions show that they also recognize that theme developers need to opt into new things
This article was written by Justin Tadlock and originally published on WordPress Tavern.