There’s been much discussion about the contrasts between Gutenberg and page builders. It has once again become a hot topic within the WordPress community.

However, it seems like we’re missing something. Block themes should also be a part of this debate. If anything, they serve as a gateway to the WordPress Site Editor.

The trouble is that block themes have yet to catch on – at least commercially. They’re a growing but still relatively small part of the theme ecosystem.

Messaging might be part of the issue. Some users may not know if block themes are suitable for them. Others may have never heard of them at all. And we can’t forget the confusing comparisons with classic themes.

We should define what a block theme is (and isn’t). And we should do so in plain language. So, let’s take a shot at simplification. Along the way, we’ll discuss what it will take for these themes to reach the next level.

Why Should We Care about Block Themes?

WordPress is progressing toward a no-code future – for those who want it. That’s the idea behind the Gutenberg project. The Block and Site editors allow users to build custom layouts without writing a line of code.

The Block Editor kicked things off by powering WordPress pages and posts. We can use its core functionality to beautify our content. And we can extend it with custom blocks.

The Site Editor aims to do the same for the entirety of your website. Site components, like headers and footers, can be tweaked directly inside WordPress. You can customize your site without writing CSS, HTML, or PHP.

Access to the Site Editor comes through using a block theme. Activate the Twenty Twenty-Four theme, for example, and customize it to your heart’s content. The result could be a markedly different look than what you see initially.

Blocks are the present and future of WordPress. Thus, think of block themes as a vehicle for using the Site Editor. They’re a necessary part of the equation.

Reasons to Use a WordPress Block Theme

Long-time users of classic themes may wonder what the fuss is all about. Or they may be confused about what block themes do differently. Mixed messaging doesn’t help matters.

Much of the talk is a matter of opinion. Some people aren’t fans of the Site Editor or Gutenberg. They’ll naturally point to its quirks and limitations. Fair enough.

However, we’ll try to cut through the more subjective takes. Instead, here are a few reasons why you might want to use a block theme.

Block Themes Are Tightly-Integrated with WordPress

The experience of customizing a WordPress theme hasn’t always been straightforward. Many popular themes include proprietary options screens. And some are more user-friendly than others.

Such is the case with classic themes. WordPress added the Customizer to create a unified editing experience. However, it still allows for a lot of leeway. And not every theme chose to use it. Thus, there could be stark differences when customizing themes.

Block themes offer a more consistent editing flow. The theme relies on the Site Editor for changing layouts, colors, and typography.

The benefit is that editing becomes familiar across themes. Activating a new theme won’t lead you into a vortex of new settings. You’ll spend less time searching and more time getting things done.

Writing Custom Code Is Optional – But Still Possible

The beauty of classic themes lies in their extensibility. A WordPress developer can use CSS, JavaScript, and PHP to create a custom experience. It’s possible to cover just about every niche. They still dominate the theme landscape in part because of it.

Block themes can also cater to various niches. The difference is in how we arrive at the desired destination. The Site Editor is a decidedly visual experience for design and layout. Using blocks allows us to add functionality to the mix as well.

No, you don’t have to write code. That is unless you want to. Block themes still allow for creating custom templates and template parts.

Adding PHP-based templates is also possible. This comes in handy when the Site Editor doesn’t meet your needs.

Yes, block themes are designed for visual editing. However, custom code is there if you need it.

A Free Theme May Be All You Need

Free WordPress themes have traditionally included tradeoffs. The theme may not offer many design or layout options. Or it requires a commercial upgrade to change a specific setting.

Perhaps this doesn’t apply as much to block themes. More than anything, they may be limited by the Site Editor. There may be a feature that it doesn’t yet offer. Thus, you must work within its capabilities.

The gap between commercial and free products isn’t as wide. You aren’t missing the ability to customize the look and layout. Nor are any crucial features locked down.

That’s not to say commercial block themes don’t have extras. Some offer additional templates, style variations, and block patterns. All are nice to have.

Still, a free block theme may be all you need to build a fully functioning website.

Creating a Better Narrative

User awareness may be the biggest hurdle facing block themes. WordPress is an open-source project. It doesn’t have the luxury of a huge marketing budget. Therefore, educating the public is a great challenge. There’ll be no Super Bowl commercial in the foreseeable future.

However, the developer community is where WordPress must make headway. Freelancers and agencies are the ones making decisions for their clients. They’re the ones choosing a theme for their projects.

Not everyone in this niche is aware of or sold on block themes. Some have misconceptions about who they’re for and how they work. That’s a problem.

To be successful, block themes require a better narrative. It’s about showing professionals what they stand to gain. People need to understand the benefits before they can change their minds.

How do we accomplish this? For one, the WordPress project must find an effective means of educating the community. Perhaps it’s a matter of creating interactive presentations and in-person events.

Efforts are already underway in this area. Hopefully, they’ll evolve to meet developers where they are.

For the rest of us, it’s about experimenting and sharing what we know. This is how WordPressers have empowered each other for over two decades.

Setting Block Themes Up for a Successful Future

The continued growth of block themes is essential to WordPress. The efforts surrounding Gutenberg and blocks will suffer without it.

Clearer messaging can help. As well as providing resources to help users navigate this new world.

It’s a tall task, for sure. And some of us will likely continue using classic themes.

But that’s OK. None of this is about forcing people to switch. The idea is to educate the WordPress community. People can then choose the right path for them.

That’s it for today’s episode, don’t forget to share share share this episode with others and jump on the mailing list 👇

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