What Should Twenty Fifteen Look Like?

Watching the Twenties, the WordPress default themes, evolve over the last few WordPress releases has been a blast.

Konstantin Obenland wrote a post about what he’d like to see happen with the next default WordPress theme, Twenty Fifteen:

But most importantly: Let changes only be in style.css. That’s it! No additional functionality or bloat. If anything, we take unneeded code out. This doesn’t mean it can’t look good. It doesn’t mean it will be less awesome than its predecessors. CSS is a powerful tool, if in the right hands.

Aaron Jorbin followed up with his own ideas for Twenty Fifteen.

I would like to propose that Twenty Fifteen be a single page app largely done in JavaScript. This will require the addition of the Rest API the WP API team is building, but would enable us to demonstrate what is possible for a theme with almost no PHP. Imagine a theme where the only PHP is functions.php and index.php.

The two conversations I’ve enjoyed seeing spring up around these posts are enabling WordPress Core to support more complex theme features, as read in the comments on Konstantin’s post, and developing a content-focused JavaScript app responsibly, as read in the comments on Aaron’s post.

What would I like to see in Twenty Fifteen? The simplest architecture possible.

What’s that mean? I’d love to see a theme with as few files possible. Most people don’t know that WordPress only requires two theme files. Most theme developers would struggle to make this happen, especially if they’re building a full-featured theme. Also, this approach nets little for the end user. However, it would force everyone to make decisions: theme authors and theme users. What do you really need?

Imagine, a theme with less than 10 files. Critics of the WordPress theming process sometimes say its bloated or hard to grasp. What if we pare it down as much as possible?

Quick Wins for Accessible WordPress Themes

You may not know where to start when trying to create an accessible-ready WordPress theme. It’s easy to become overwhelmed at the thought of tackling accessibility, but it doesn’t have to be.

You can knock out several quick tips along the way, which will help your theme be more accessible.

What is Web Accessibility?

First, what is web accessibility? Definitions vary. I like:

The practice of making websites and applications
usable by people of all abilities.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the tips.

1. Start with Accessibility in Mind

Accessibility spans all the disciplines:

  • Project management
  • User Experience
  • Design
  • Development
  • Testing

You have to start with it as an objective in order to reach it.

2. Find a Good Base

You don’t have do do it all. Look here for help when beginning a theme:

3. Color Matters

High contrast helps everyone.

  • Text and images of text have a contrast ratio of at least 4.5:1
  • Large text (over 18 point or 14 point bold) has a contrast ratio of at least 3:1

Choose wisely:

4. Sweat the Small Stuff

Because it can make a big difference.

  • Be mindful of your reading order
  • Skip nav links = awesome
  • Keep the underline on links and define focus styles
  • Relative units on fonts = also awesome
  • Keep titles with “Read more…” links

5. Wait a Minute!

I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t really talk too much about WordPress themes That’s true because accessibility is more about people than technology.  When you’re building your themes, keep your users at the forefront, and know yourself and your team. That will help you more than anything.

This blog post served as inspiration for a Lightning Talk at WordPress DC, called Quick Wins for Accessible WordPress Themes. You can view the talk slides on GitHub.

The Why of WordPress Themes

Street Sign image

Child themes in WordPress have extraordinary power.

Much has been written about them, and they’re easy to build. The more I create and work with WordPress, the more I see a fine balance between the when and why to build a child theme and the when and why to build a custom theme.

I draw the analogy of selecting your perfect car. Sometimes you just need a solid used car with decent mileage to get from point A to point B. Then, if you’re a car buff, need speed or towing power – you better shop for something custom, or build it yourself. Benefits and drawbacks exist no matter which path you take.

Let’s take a look at when creating a child or custom theme is the right choice.

Driving with Kids is Fun

You might need a child theme when:

  • you’ve fallen in love with a theme, but want to make a few simple customizations.
  • an existing theme will fit the requirements – almost. So like the above case, a few tweaks will do, and a child theme will save you time.
  • you like to work within a familiar framework, like a parent theme you’re used to or an actual WordPress framework.
  • you’re on a tight timeline, so writing an entire theme on your own just won’t due.
  • adding a smidgeon of functionality will improve the theme, like accessibility.

Can I Get Some Sweet Rims on This?

You might want to head to custom route when:

  • you have plans for custom features, like many custom post types, lots of meta boxes or other WordPress functionality that requires heavy modification of template files.
  • you are persnickety about your code. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with having every line of code just they way you like it. Custom themes give you more flexibility for creating everything the way you like it.
  • you have a project with fast-moving code. That can mean many, many things, but what I’m getting at is a project where you’re writing large chunks of custom code in a team project.
  • you’re using new technology. Often times, finding a WordPress theme that employs the latest and greatest (just how you like it) can sometimes be difficult.
  • you have a vanilla starter theme that you’re used to working with a lot. If that’s the case, it can be easier than starting with a child theme.

So you can see that choosing one option over the other doesn’t mean you’re making a right or wrong decision. It just means you’re making the best choice for you – and how you like to ride/drive. 🙂

Image by Statianzo.