Here’s a bold statement that most people won’t say in the WordPress community:
“WordPress Themes Are Dead”
We should stress that as of February 2020 WordPress themes are still active and being used on millions of websites across the world. Themes are as we know them today won’t be the same in the coming years or even exist. In this article, we will give our professional opinion on why/how we think the future of WordPress themes will change in the coming years.
Let’s take a step back in time to 2005 when WordPress started to introduce default themes into their platform. WordPress 1.5 started the theme template hierarchy that we still use today. This 2005 theme was called “Kubric” and was the default WordPress theme until 2010. Starting in 2010 WordPress released a new yearly theme that introduced a new look and features to each new yearly theme.
Here we are 15 years later and we are still using the same template hierarchy from the first official WordPress default theme. I think it’s safe to say that we are overdue for a major upgrade to the WordPress theme system.
As WordPress experts for the past 15 years, we can see the writing on the wall for the future of theme development.
You might be asking “what is Gutenberg?“. In short Gutenberg is WordPress’s answer to their own page builder. WordPress needs to stay competitive to other big web design builders like SquareSpace & Wix. Let’s face it, WordPress is hard to use if you’re a beginner to web design. This is the reason why WordPress created Gutenberg, they want to target a larger market share and cater to beginners. They want their new builder to be super user friendly and push a huge marketing campaign like SquareSpace does with their commercials. Don’t be surprised if you see a WordPress commercial in an upcoming SuperBowl. WordPress is going “all in” in Gutenberg.
Gutenberg is a massive project with 4 planned phases. Phase 1 is what we currently have which is the new body block editor. Phase 2 will be their biggest challenge, this phase will introduce full site editing. This will be the phase where theme developers will most likely drop support and move into Gutenberg development or plugin development. Phase 3 will focus on collaboration and multi-user editing. Phase 4 will contain support for multilingual sites.
Learn more about the Gutenberg roadmap.
Online theme marketplaces have been a popular way to buy and sell WordPress themes for many years. Developers create custom themes to sell on places like Themeforest and Creative Market. It’s likely you’ve purchased or looked at a theme from one of these places at some point.
With Gutenberg expanding and page builders like Elementor and Divi giving more custom controls, we see these online marketplaces dying. Many theme developers are beginning to shift to other projects and are no longer supporting the themes they previously developed and sold. Many of the themes being sold on these marketplaces are severely out of date, which is a potential security risk for you as a business owner.
Note: If your WordPress theme hasn’t been updated in years there’s a very good possibility that your website has some major security risks and can’t be updated correctly.
WordPress page builders have made huge progress in the past few years. Page builders exist because of a huge demand. We personally love page builders and have been using Elementor to build our client’s sites for the past few years.
Related: Check out our interview with Ben Pines, CEO of Elementor – (Elementor Talks #11: A Wicked Couple!)
While we can hand code a WordPress website, this wasn’t what our clients wanted and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel for every new website. Elementor gives us a variety of awesome features and makes it easy for our clients to maintain their own websites without having to rely on themes and tons of different plugins.
The page builder plugin market is massive and very competitive. They are constantly adding new features and functionality that make you less reliant on a WordPress theme to create the site you want. Elementor just released a huge feature called Theme Style, which allows you to globally maintain your theme styles all within Elementor, instead of having to do it within your theme. We expect many other page builders will have this feature, as well as more features, very soon.
More and more people are using page builders to build WordPress websites since they offer a variety of different features. With themes, you’re limited to what you can do within them and often have to add on a variety of plugins to make a site function the way you want it to. Page builders are more convenient, cheaper, and loaded with features people are looking for out of the box. It’s no wonder why more and more people are using them instead of relying on themes to do the work.
The WordPress community is huge and continues to grow every year. The community spreads across the world and offers hundreds of different meetups and conferences every year. On top of that, there are massive online communities that are always looking to help each other. This includes forums, facebook groups and YouTube.
Since the WordPress community is filled with all different types of people and skill sets, not everyone is going to agree with our theory that WordPress themes are dead. There are some big theme companies that have a full team of developers, designers and customer support for their themes. This means that a major change in WordPress can put a lot of people out of a job. While we, of course, don’t like to see anyone out of a job in our industry you have to be realistic about how technology changes over the years. For example, we no longer create Flash websites and offer website design support for legacy browsers because those technologies are dead and are no longer supported.
Below is a list of our top 3 YouTube creators that help us stay current on the latest WordPress news and developments:
While we have supported many theme developers in our many years of web development we are excited to move past themes and look forward to the future of a themeless WordPress.
2020 will be a very important year for WordPress development. It’s possible that WordPress themes as we currently know them won’t exist much longer. Make sure your website is future proof and doesn’t rely on the need for themes. Contact us today if you want to discuss your current website and what we can do to help future proof your online business.