WordPress Canvas: The missing theme?

The WP Minute
The WP Minute
WordPress Canvas: The missing theme?
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Today’s episode is a special report by WP Minute correspondent, Spencer Forman.

How many more theme years are we going to see?

The Twenty Nineteen, Twenty Twenty, Twenty Twenty One and so on — seem like a strange naming convention bordering a simple novelty tradition.

With Gutenberg squarely aimed to take on page builders, especially with Full Site Editing right around the corner, we’d be mindful to note that plugins like Elementor ship with only one theme — every year.

Are we ready for a default theme that simple flexes Gutenberg’s block-based approach over an opinionated design? Spencer has a few words to share with you about that today.

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Episode transcript

Hey, this is Spencer Forman from WP launch fi and I’m here for my WP minute podcast episode, today’s topic, WordPress canvas, the missing theme.

So I’ve been in WordPress since about 2000 insects almost since the very beginning. And in the early days of us sitting around the campfire aboard press, there were many people who decided to go into the business of creating themes that could do essentially all the complicated functionality that was required.

In the early days, maybe that was simple, but yet, in a quaint way, it was necessary. For example, the ability to have formatted pages to have headers and footers, to have sidebars with widget building capabilities, and so forth.

Now, the core functionality of WordPress had many of the features that we needed, but it was sort of the icing on the cake. And it included a large part of the styling things.

So over time, WordPress develop the system that is still in place today of releasing an annual theme. And although it’s clever, and it’s got usually a very cool jazz name to it, the release that goes along with the new theme is oftentimes a Huh, why exactly are we doing this anymore moment, at least it is for me and many of the people in my audience. And the reason is this.

In the subsequent years from 2000, and about 14 to today, almost seven years, the page builders have been a big part of what the WordPress build out space entails. In other words, it’s very rare today to find anybody who is not familiar with at least one if not several of the popular page builders. And these include things like Elementor, and Divi and beaver builder, and some of the esoteric ones, of course, including oxygen, and Brizzy, and so forth. But as of the last couple years, the legacy of those page builders has been threatened by the promise of Gutenberg, the native block editor.

And although it’s hard to often tell whether or not the Gutenberg editor is a post editor, or a page builder, I would say most of us would agree that is doing both of them right now. I myself was very skeptical, very cynical about Gutenberg, because the user interface and the way that the controls were laid out were extremely rough, and I’m putting it casually had best in the early days.

But in the last six to eight months, I myself have become a convert. And let me just also point out that the last page builder that I was really attached to prior to Gutenberg was Elementor. And I still feel that element or even more so than Divi has the right balance of mechanical functionality, automation capability, and styling capability for most businesses who do things such as my specialty, which is sales funnels, and marketing, automation and WooCommerce.

The Divi market is a little different. They’ve really, in my opinion, cornered the designer, the people who are looking to make things look awesome. But the cost of doing so thus far has been a really, really heavy load time. Lots of extraneous stuff shortcodes in the output and so forth. Since Gutenberg has sort of turned the corner, a whole slew of additional features in the form of plugins and accessories have made Gutenberg extremely easy to use.

Now the benefit to me that I would like to share with you is the Gutenberg offers really transitional time for us to reconsider what is the purpose of the WordPress annual theme release versus why not make the WordPress theme something like element or Canvas theme? That is to say it is the whiteboard, it is the underlying thing upon which we apply all the Gutenberg components.

So instead of trying to design something that quite frankly, and no critique to the particular artist is really specific in styling. And in the last year’s 2021. I mean, really extraordinary. large fonts and greenish background and things that are very, very strong and tastes almost like avocado colored appliances were popular in the 1970s Why not make something that has all of the mechanical functionality, the styling capability, the organizational capability, all in one spot, so that we can start to use Gutenberg along with the let’s call it the WordPress Canvas theme as a system, a coherent system, a system that works just like if you were using one of the page builders such as Elementor.

And if we were to think of it in those terms, I want to explore here for a couple minutes exactly what that would benefit each of us as individuals or how it would benefit each of us as well as the WordPress as a whole.

First of all, it would benefit us each individually because we can now remove the additional layer that we’re having to fix by using an existing page builder, for example, I still have to use Elementor in order to get many of the capabilities to have sitewide, conditional headers, or footers, or sidebars or banners, because that capability just doesn’t exist inside of Gutenberg yet.

And even when I’m using a plugin, it needs to be at the level of the theme. The theme needs to define for all of us as a whole. It is the layer, where you find all of the setups, all of the styling all the global defaults. The page builder element should be focused upon the content on a page or post basis, the theme should be focused on how does it all come together in the look and the feel, and the conditionals and the rest of the things we’re describing.

Now, there is a theme that’s currently doing this really well as a comparative. If you were to, for example, use the cadence theme for Gutenberg and you use the Caden’s blocks, the pre ones or the pro, you will find an experience much like I did, that is pretty close to almost everything you’d ever need, and more.

The only times that I think about what else would be necessary would be, you know, the things I just mentioned about theme building, I mean, global theme components, I would like to have the ability to make a global header, a global footer, without necessarily having to resort to what’s in the particular cadence theme, it would be much more interesting to me, if the native WordPress theme was there.

Now, it doesn’t mean that you couldn’t choose to use other specialized themes. So I don’t think we’d be cutting into the marketplace or you know, pushing people out. But it would be an amazing alternative. If you could describe to somebody whether and why they should come to WordPress by saying, here’s what you do to start, you turn on the default WordPress Canvas theme, then you go to a page or post, you drop some blocks in place or a pattern in place. And then you save it, and you’re done.

Because that’s the kind of experience you get now on Wix, or Weebly, or Squarespace or Shopify or any of the other SaaS platforms. But in WordPress, there’s a conversation that goes something like this. First, you must decide where your site is hosted, then you have to load all the WordPress underlying components, including the plugins. Now, when you go to make a poster page, you have to decide which theme to use. Oh, don’t use that one. Because now you got to style it there. Oh, don’t use that one. Because now you got to wait, no, you have a page builder, wait a second, hold on. And then even when you get it in place, we have the legacy of things like the customizer.

Now there was a moment in time and I’m using my memory, it was maybe four or five years ago, when we all believed that the customizer was going to be the answer to all of our prayers, that it was going to hold all of the things across the board, no matter which theme you used in which plugins you use, for the styling and the conditionals and the things we’re talking about. But that proved to be a false promise.

Everybody has realized that now what we’re left with instead is this sort of unfortunate, you have now one more layer to look for controls. So for example, if you’re using Elementor. Elementor, has its default setup and the default kit, it has the individual theme components that you can make, you can also conditionally display things. But then you’ve got the page of the post controls, then you’ve got the customizer controls for the underlying theme that is working beneath Elementor. Even if it’s not the element, there’s, you know, default theme, it could be Astra, or it could be cadence or something else.

And so when you’re trying to figure out where are particular styling elements being implemented, you might have to look in four or five, six different places right now.

Imagine if we change to using the WordPress Canvas theme, and we eliminated the customizer, we would now have a situation where you have one theme that controls all of the components of the sandwich, the header, the footer, the sidebar, the main content, it would have a standard set of default colors, a standard set of default controls for things like where things will show up based upon conditionals such as the user their logged in status, whether if there’s marketing automation, whether they have things in a WooCommerce cart. And best of all, when we want to build accessories using the Gutenberg blocks are the plugins that make those happen.

We now know there is a standardized space a whiteboard that everybody knows in advance that will result in things looking the same. I don’t know about you, but oftentimes to demonstrate with my launch flows product, how things will look different. I have to test for 567 different page builders and themes, because all of them just go to town on the look and feel of the WooCommerce checkout space. And something that looks outstanding in one theme looks ridiculous. And another. Well, that’s really a problem when you think about it. Because when you go to Shopify, no matter which theme you use, they all look good. They all have a standard starting point. And I think that’s something that we’re missing out.

So What are your choices? In the meantime? until or unless something happens where they change the annual WordPress theme does your into the standard theme? Well, I would recommend that you do consider looking at Gutenberg. And you use the accessory block plugins that make it really special and simple to drop in place things that, quite frankly, are faster than using an extra page builder.

They are loading faster on the front end for users, because you’re native to WordPress. And ultimately, they’re easy to copy and paste, and just reuse and save. So if you use the native Gutenberg option and try it if you’ve not already, instead of classic, and you for at least a trial. See how much of your page builder operations you can shift into Gutenberg.

You can wean yourself off, then give something like cadence and I’m not trying to sell cadence, but cadence is a great example. Give cadence a try. And you’ll see how their controls are very thoughtfully laid out to put almost everything you need into the theme. And I think you’ll agree with me when you do that, that the future of WordPress with a canvas theme could be something that would be not only very unifying to all the participants and the end users but also something that would increase the value of WordPress as a whole because it would eliminate a ton of confusion and a lot of layers that just don’t need to be there.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion. This monologue This is Spence from WP launch fi.com and launch flows calm. I welcome you guys to come back and see more content here at the WP minute and I hope to see you on my next episode.

Until then, talk to you soon.  

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