What it means for us and others to follow the theme review guidelines.

by Sven Lehnert | May 5, 2015 | News

We did the rework already.

Other have to do it now but what does it mean for us and our users. It was a quite long journey to rebuild the cc theme according to the theme review guidelines and I believe the experience we had could help others to make there decision.

I’m still sorry for the trouble of some users. We get positive feedback but also very frustrated feedback and I can understand this users a lot. Again, the latest cc 1.x can be found on Github. https://github.com/Themekraft/cc1 and most issues should be fixed. If you want to stay with the old theme just use the Github version. Even if we want, the 1.x version would not be approved anymore.

I’m sure that we are just an early bird with Custom Community. The decision is clear and now it’s fact. Themes will be removed from wordpress.org repository if they not change there architecture and follow the theme review guidelines.

Custom Community was full of plugin functionality and an option framework with hundred of options. It was a great success but we did the rewrite and removed all plugin functionality. We also moved all options into the theme customiser. We did all to be prepared for a future as a wordpress.org based theme company.

People ask us why have you done this. Why have you destroyed the nice theme from before. And we continue giving the same answer:

All changes we did have been required from the theme review team and all themes in the repository need to do this changes and move all plugin functionality out of the theme and all options into the theme customiser. Now it’s even more clear. There are 6 month left before themes will be removed which do not follow the guidelines.

We decided early to do this step and got negative feedback from the users and great feedback from the review team and other developers. I feel, that many themes will suffer from this decision. To move options in the customiser can make you a lot of headache, but it is a must-have change. For the user it feels only like big unneeded changes and they think, it’s our arbitrariness. They do not see the benefit. We do not need to think normal users have any idea about the review team and the process at all.

There will come up issues you not imagine before and they will frustrate your users. A true is not a true or a checkbox not the same array structure. You run into many issues you never thought could happen. Before your theme grow over time and than you have to test hundred of options. This is nearly impossible.

It sounds easy to do the movement but for us it wasn’t and I do not think it is easy at all. Do not get me wrong. We would do it again and many other will do it in the next 6 month.

In the end its a great movement for the theme review team and the user experience and we think its the right decision. But this is an option from a developer perspective. The user will at first got taken away the user experience he got used to and he will miss the old option panel and functionality. At least this is our experience.

We had quite a lot of users telling us they moved to themeforest and give up on wordpress.org. It feels for them that themeforest does the job of wordpress.org and wordpress.org themes are outdated and limited with nearly no functionality.

I think this is a very big issue. We do spend thousand of hours work, building great themes, which follow the theme guidelines and make better coding  a higher philosophy. On the other site themeforest have a run from users buying exact the themes we left behind with all the plugin functionality and custom option frameworks.

I think it is really frustrating, that our movement and rewrites for better wordpress.org themes makes them go. We push them to themeforest with our decisions.

Many customers ask us to move away from wordpress.org and keep the theme as it is. The true is, if I would just think about money, I would build a new theme and leave the old one outdated and accept the removal. If someone with 100 + options theme would ask me, I would recommend him to stay with the old theme because we got so much bad feedback.

On the other hand I think it’s against the community and I would love to have more educated theme users. But this is a dream. They just want there contact form, custom post types, shortcodes, slideshows, social bookmarks, … in there theme. I truly understand that it’s wrong and do not want to look back to the days I was proud to have such a huge theme and call it a framework.

The plugin dependencies solution

One idea we also followed is to move old theme functionality into plugins for backwards compatibility. But this is in many cases the wrong way. It feels like a lie. You move all shortcodes (or what ever) into a plugin to pass the theme review test. All was build as one before and it’s nearly impossible to move and separate the functionality into plugins and have it work nice with all themes. In most cases it’s a plugin for one theme, and the idea of theme independent plugins for easy theme switching fails. The plugin review team should start test plugins with different themes.

It’s nearly impossible to move all css into a plugin if it was build before as one theme and make it work with all themes. We did this movement with the Custom Community theme, in the end it was a nightmare for us and the customers and we will not make this mistake twice. It nearly destroyed our business.
For the x2 theme we decided to leave it as it is and move it away from the wordpress.org repository to a place where custom theme option panels are allowed. We did the rewrite once and it didn’t feel great. The bad is that all old users won’t get updates than.

Also customers told us, they more and more feel that WordPress plugins start bind their users to themes, which are supported for this particular plugin. I think, this is a direction wordpress.org won’t be consistent with one day and will stop this movement.

Our Conclusion.

There was a time you could live on the Free/Pro combination when themeforest and wordpress.org was equal. But it feels like these days are gone. I love this new model but it looks like the normal user will never understand it. For them it looks like themeforest themes can do a lot and wordpress.org is just limited and not for their business. This could change if wordpress.org creates a better theme preview with customizer access so that the user see the options of a theme.

I really believe in the WordPress community and I trust there will be a solution one day. But in the moment the theme review guidelines only make sense from a developer perspective. The normal user feels, full packed themes like themeforest themes are the real premium stuff from the power developers.

They want to buy solutions and they think from the graphical point of view. The separation from design and functionality is not understandable for the normal user. I tried to explain it to friends and they think, that the theme is what they see. Developer and user have a different view. That’s why Themeforest is such a big success. They know how the user looks at it. The most unbelievable is that my users tell me, they found a theme, where all functionality is integrated and they are happy. They can not switch the theme but this is like apple, behind a wall but all is working. It’s ok for them. They trust Themeforest themes more than wordpress.org devs. In the end I think, maybe thy are right and we are just blind what the user want.

WordPress is all about simplicity. Do we lose this point in case of themes?

People want solutions and not searching for plugins. They want a theme with all functionality integrated, they are looking for. Every plugin is a huge headache for them and they do not like it.

Even if I show my friends on their WordPress site, that the functionality is added via plugins, they think it’s the theme. Its crazy but real. It feels like they do not want to understand it.

This can make upset and has made themekraft change its business from themes to plugins. We started focus on our plugins and limit the theme development because we do not want to build bloated themes for themeforest and can not work with the wordpress.org themes successfully anymore. We are now looking for niche markets, where other devs or agencies use our plugins, who understand the functionality behind the products.

Themekraft have started to focus on building plugins around WooCommerce and BuddyPress and become more successful in this area than building themes for wordpress.org in the end. We found out that people, who searching for WooCommerce or BuddyPress solutions are mostly other devs with a great knowledge.

I believe we would have a great success if we build full packed themes again, but don’t be worry, we will follow the community decisions because we believe in GPL and in the WordPress foundation. But it’s definitely not easy. In case of a theme business, staying outside of the community is more easy!

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