Multicolored window tiles on the Waterloo Region Museum in Kitchener, Canada.

Front End Design, WordPress Themes and the Future

Say goodbye to the themer.

If you’re not familiar with the WordPress world, that term may not mean much. But in that space, it’s a role, usually with a front end design skill set, filled by a person who creates WordPress themes. Being a themer has always been a point of pride for many, myself included. But thanks to some evolving technology in the WordPress space – a new publishing experience called Gutenberg – and the overall trend toward component-driven design, those of us who called themselves themers may have outgrown the label.

Why? Because you won’t need as much specialized WordPress knowledge to create a WordPress theme. Gutenberg transforms everything into a block-based component, and it will change what a theme means to WordPress. Themes can become more about pure design and less about WordPress. To put it simply, I’m excited to have people call themselves front-end engineers instead of themers.

If you’re a themer, you know we’ve always been engineers. We have already lived in the world of front end design, blending their days between design and development. You know how to help solve problems. You can evaluate a design.You write JavaScript.You dip into build tools and debugging processes. As Brad Frost says, “They are mortar that help hold the bricks in place.”

Now, themers can embrace that role within front end design. They may have already done that, but it’s harder to contribute to a wider community when you see the world with constraints – as a theme. Gutenberg, along with the fact that WordPress excels at being a headless CMS thanks to a REST API, means those in the theming space can impact WordPress gets bigger.

It also means if you’re a front-end engineer looking into the WordPress space, it should become less intimidating and specialized. You can bring your ideas and experiments, and they should met with less, “That’s not the WordPress way.” You can help WordPress evolve faster this way, and affect a huge swath of the Web.

We’ve felt this shift on Automattic’s Theme Team. Excuse the name. As we’ve worked through some new design concepts of late, we’re finding ourselves focused more on what the design should do for the customer rather than what WordPress should do for the design. It’s exciting!

Why’s that so beneficial? Because if you’re focused on the design more, and what it does, you’re likely closer to the problem the design aims to solve. You start to get to solutions faster. This means better designs and products, and happier customers.

Do I mind not being labeled a themer? I welcome any change that gets me, my team and products to a better place. Looks like we may have to ditch our team name too.

Image by Scott Webb.

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