Reflections on theme retirements

For the past few weeks I’ve been gradually retiring themes from the showcase. Retirement may sound a bit dramatic, but it simply means a theme will be removed from our offerings, and new customers won’t be able to activate it on their sites. This way we can keep our theme collection fresh and make sure we provide our customers with the best experience.

So, why do we retire a theme? Typically it’s a combination of an outdated codebase, a lacking design, and a poor user experience.

In my experience though, the codebase is the first one to become obsolete. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that designers do a better job then the developers. While web design trends change over time, strong design has a good chance of staying relevant. On the other hand, even the highest quality code ages fast, as new technologies and standards emerge.

Not every design ages equally well too. While working on a recent batch of theme retirements, I took the time to take a closer look at each one, and one thing struck me – we used to create much more memorable themes. I can see a few reasons for that. Themes used to rely much less on media-rich content, so designs based on illustration and strong typography were much more common. Patterns, textures and vivid colors were widely used. I also noticed some creative grid layouts and more risk-taking with the design in general. Zé was definitely onto something in his article “When did web design become so boring?”

You might be wondering then – if it’s the code that becomes obsolete, why not simply fix it, instead of retiring otherwise perfectly good theme? It is an option, and from time to time we do relaunch themes with refreshed design, updated codebase, and improvements to accessibility and the user experience.

After a theme has been active for a while though, bugs and inconsistencies start coming to light. While some are easy to fix, others are so fundamental that implementing them would change the very identity of the theme. If enough of those big issues come up, it’s time to retire.

If you’re a customer worrying about your site running a theme slated for retirement, rest assured nothing dramatic will happen. While retired themes are not actively developed, they still receive critical updates and support. So you can happily keep using your theme, or take this opportunity to experiment a little and start looking for a new one.

In the end the decision to retire a theme is a difficult one. A theme that has been active for a while often has a passionate user base, and both designers and developers get nostalgic about their darling projects too. It’s important to remember though that retirement is not just an end – it represents an act of making space for something new. Therefore I’d like to see a shift from the word “retirement”, or at least it’s negative overtone. Not all themes are equally successful, but they all serve important purpose. The best way to celebrate them is by learning our lessons, and launching new themes that better serve our customers, are faster, easier to use, and more accessible. This is an iterative process and wouldn’t be possible without the themes that came before.

I think it’s fitting to finish this post with a small showcase of themes that prompted me to write about this topic, and keep being an inspiration! ❤️

By Ola Bodera

Theme Wrangler, photographer, food blogger, and science-fiction fun.


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