WordPress theme choice is endless. There are offerings addressing people who don’t care about code and just want a beautiful site out quickly, and there are frameworks like Genesis and starter kits like Sage aiming at developers. There appears to be a match for everybody – except us.
How we used to look for a Theme
From time to time, we build a WordPress website. We start digging for a ready to use theme visually and functionally appealing. The reason we usually buy(!) a theme is that we want something more unique and polished. We have not yet taken the time to invest in a framework or starter kit because that only pays off when you are using it frequently. Besides, getting the site out quickly is common high priority.
Once we find a candidate, we take a closer look at the technical side of things. We inspect code exposed by demo sites using tools such as Webpagetest, Lighthouse and PageSpeed Insights. With regards to covering our requirements, we prefer themes as minimal as possible, because code has issues and we don’t want issues with things we don’t even care about. Large code bases scare the hell out of us 😱.
Implementing Theme Customizations – Theory and Practice
Once you start working with your theme of choice, sooner or later you may find yourself having to make tweaks. Assuming theme authors take care of their product by providing long term support, it is considered best practice to put your customizations in a child. The idea is that updates to the parent apply cleanly without breaking your code.
So far, we have always put our tweaks in a child. However, we learned from experience that you should be careful relying on theme updates – no matter whether the theme is for free or a paid premium product. We understand there are many scenarios where vendor support is critical. If this is applying to your project, you should be double checking whether you are willing to trust.
Following best practices is more effort than doing changes directly in place – effort which only pays off if you actually benefit from parent updates. Hence, in cases where we feel theme code is maintainable, we started assuming that we will end up doing it. Other than that, starting with a blank child theme directory is not what we consider state of the art development experience.
Our holy Grail: Production ready Theme with modern Dev Experience
Recently, we considered revamping contentreich.de. This time, we chose not to go with the traditional empty child theme based approach and instead look for a modern Node based tooling (npm, webpack, browser-sync, etc.) environment to start from. Sage appears to be targeting these developer requirements pretty nicely, but there is still quite a bit work ahead of you before arriving at a unique truly production ready site.
We were wondering:
Premium theme vendors surely use the kind of tooling and enjoy the kind of development experience we were after. Are people willing to sell production ready themes along with full source code and modern dev experience? They won’t be offering support if you fork from their code base, but this time we don’t care about it anyways. And sure, they won’t appreciate you selling products based on the code you bought unless you get an explicit license. Should not be too hard to get it straight that our case is just about one site. After all, even Microsoft has an Enterprise Source Licensing Program, although aimed at a slightly different audience.
I wrote a post in a Facebook group asking about what I was looking for, and we were surprised this seems to be very unusual. Most people were either pointing to starter kits or telling „developer friendly and premade don’t go well together“. I am sorry, but I strongly disagree with that statement.
I ended up asking the guy from whom we bought the theme serving our current site as a parent. He was kind enough sending me the source of one of his current premium themes – for free. We are now looking into it and we promised getting back to him. I’d happily send him a few Euros in case things go well and we build the revamped site on top of it.
Finally, we think there is nothing wrong with what we were asking for and given the sheer size of the WordPress ecosystem, we am sure there are other people who would be comfortable selling their themes with full source and modern workflow included.
Next time faced with a similar situation and considering to buy a theme, we won’t hesitate to ask the vendor about it. Maybe one day vendors would directly advertise this option on market places like theme forest.