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


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!

Any suggestion, feedback, ideas? Write a comment. Let as know what you think about ;) Of curse you are welcome to share this post!

7 thoughts on “What it means for us and others to follow the theme review guidelines.

  1. One suggestion, use the Customizer for your themes in WP.org and keep your options pages (and possibly Customizer) in the Pro/Premium version :) Cheers.

    • Hi Mercime,
      thanks for your feedback. This is what we did. But we did not want to move existing free options to pro and that was the main issue. All premium options can be handled separately.

      The most problematical part was the rewrite from the option framework to the customizer and the different default values if an option was not set. This created messed up layouts for the options people did not used before and got a different default value.

      What I wanted to say is that it’s much more difficult to eliminate all this conflicts as it seems. The users only see the messed up layout and get frustrated.

      It took some updates to eliminate all and people still come with issues related to the option framework customizer switch.

      We got also quite a lot feedback from our users that they did not like the customizer. But this is a personal option.

      • Jeff Chandler says:

        I’d like to know if you can share specifics on what exactly your users don’t like about the Customizer? Is it the interface? Is it simply a drastic change from having a big options page?

        • A not so sorted collection of a few of the struggles we got with explaining our move towards the Theme Customizer to the common user (me being the current main developer of the Custom Community theme):

          – most users do not understand why they should suddenly use the Customizer to configure their theme; they find it clunky, overwhelming and to some parts illogical; the blame is with us, because we changed from the “properly working solution” to “this mess”
          – also, thanks to the unlucky idea with the “wipe the theme_mods when theme is switched”, users blame us for “making the settings disappear”, eg. when they try switching back to CC 1 or to another theme because of some issue
          – Shortcodes are gone, because there are other plugins that solve the issues better .. not in the users view, thou. They will tell you that “all the other themes got this, and why you aint?” … “You are just trying to rip us off!” (being one of the most recent comments)

          Quite a few of them have to basically REBUILD their whole site, and thus are pretty grumpy – we DID provide an update script, which hauls in most of the old settings, but cannot do all the work, especially because:

          – unused widgets are basically ignored in the Customizer; in the “Widgets” admin section, they’re at least saved and listed in a “unused widgets box” – of corpse, I have to explain that each and any time a user complains about it
          – I created a “compatiblity layer”, basically taking in the old sidebars and adding a “outdated” / “unused” text as prefix, but as they are not used, they won’t appear in the Customizer
          – the list goes on .. and on … and on ..

          Overall, this leaves the very sour aftertaste, that the folks who have to take MOST of the blame are the theme developers, the folks who ACTUALLY have to work with the Customizer.

          cu, w0lf.

        • Hi Jeff,

          I have done a small research in our support system to find the most interesting feedback we got so far. To be honest the feedback have not be so bad. I think the most people like the customizer.

          Criticism comes most of the time from users who run into trouble. So I guess the frustration of the issues make them don’t like the customizer.

          I also recognised that many users thought, we have created the customizer. That’s why they ask: Why have you created a new option panel?. For what reason you move all options from one place to another.
          OR: I liked the clear structure of the Theme settings page. Why do you have such a huge site preview in your option panel. How can I switch back to the default view. I like to work with two monitors and not have this sidebar crowded with all options.

          One idea could be to add an option to switch from sidebar mode to a tabbed mode. There is already an option to open/close the customizer sidebar. Why not add an option for the other direction and switch to no preview tabbed mode?

          Some users ask why it’s not build like a page builder to be used in the frontend design mode like other plugins offer.

          Most criticism was because an option did not work or the layout of their site changed. Of course the user ask “why did you build a new option panel instead of this or that feature and now you break my site.” Better you fix bugs instead of building new unneeded option panel.

          I personally like the customizer and think it’s a great benefit. After a while, when the updates are done and we are back to normal I guess we only enjoy the benefits.

          I also like, that all theming relevant options also from other plugins get centralised in the customizer. We have started to build customizer plugins and I feel it’s awesome.

          I do not think bad about the customizer at all. I only think, maybe it is not needed to ask old themes to switch. Why isn’t the customizer only required for new themes.

          I really hope that the theme preview on wordpress.org will include the customizer one day. In this case theme developers would start switching just to benefit from the better theme preview.

          One thought in the end.
          There are old great working themes with nearly no issues. The x2 theme is one of them. It was build as a BuddyPress theme years ago. We fix bugs if they pop up with a new wordpress version. But this is not often the case. We will not add new features. The theme is partially outdated. Its a not responsive old BuddyPress theme.

          If the x2 gets removed from the repository, because we will not have the time to rebuild it, the user do not get any updates. I think this is a danger. If a security vulnerability pops up in a resource, for example an included sideshow or what ever, people should be able to update the theme. It should not be up to the customizer if an old theme, which is still used, gets updates.

          Many thanks for all the feedback. I was never expecting you all listen to my feedback. Thanks for this.

      • Aside of the user’s POV: My personal view of the Theme Customizer is .. not so good.

        It might be much better if there was PROPER documentation, and I wouldn’t have to dig through lots of code, jumping to this and the other file just to find out if what I want do is IN THERE at all. Quite some stuff I had to find out by trial and error, and a few things I just ASSUME are done right .. some of them might actually be leading to our current “parts of the customizer are not being saved”-issue, but thanks to having NO real documentation, it’s mostly guessing and fumbling around half-blind in the dark.

        “oh, help us out then” – one says? Why not document your own code first? Including a few PROPER examples, not just some snippets slapped together .. would help a lot of people, and propably get them MUCH MORE convinced to actually use the TC.

        Other things are: A lot of options actually REQUIRE way more space than the smallish TC sidebar offers you. But because there is virtually no documentation about the available UI, eg. jQuery UI Modals, which would fix the space issue more or less instantly,

        And then, there is stuff like the Settings Backup / Reset part I wrote for CC 2. This is a tool, SPECIFICALLY for the theme; this does not fit in the customizer. Regular users definitely WILL NOT grok, that they need to install a plugin first to backup the settings of their theme ..

        Not being merely the CC 2 developer, but having a regular client base as a web developer as well, I also can tell you from my experiences with regular users, who don’t know much about coding (and shouldn’t actually have to!) …

        .. the regular user is actually happy to be NOT overwhelmed with a loooong list of plugins, most of which he doesn’t really know what they do, or why, and why he has to keep them active or updated.

        And no, the concept of having separate users doesn’t work. That’s a nice concept, but reality begs to differ. A regular WP user will ALWAYS use the default admin user created, and even not, he is still going to want to be the MASTER of HIS site. Just as it is in Windows. Does a REGULAR user normally use two different accounts? Naw. That only happens in extremely regulated environments, like the school computer system, or that one company computer network, with the BOFH keeping everything in order.

        cu, w0lf.

        ps: sorry for being a bit unstructured, but right now I’m fixing “this mess”, ie. rewriting our Customizer implementation, so I’m a tad preoccupied ;)

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