Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Each episode features guests from around the community and discussions of the largest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
Powered by RedCircle
Doc Pop: You’re listening to Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast on WMR. Each week we spotlight members of the WordPress community. I’m your host, Doc Pop. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and my contributions over on TorqueMag.Io where I get to do podcasts and draw cartoons and tutorial videos. Check that out.
You can subscribe to Press This on Red Circle, iTunes, Spotify, or you can download episodes directly at wmr.fm.
2022 is a big year for WordPress. One of the big versions of WordPress, 6.1, included major milestones for the Block Editor, fluid typography, and the block ecosystem. It’s been a huge year for WordPress, and as we close out this year, it seems like a good time to look ahead at what the future of WordPress might look like.
Joining us this week is Brian Gardner, a Developer Advocate, Principal at WP Engine. Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian Gardner: Thanks, Doc. Glad to be back.
DP: Yeah, I’m super excited to talk to you about themes and predictions and of course, WordPress themes is a pun. Did you get that pun?
BG: Yes I did.
DP: We’re talking about broader themes.
BG: The theme of the show is themes, is what you’re saying.
DP: And there’s no way that could possibly get confusing later aswe’re talking about themes versus themes.
Before we get started, I’d like to hear some of your personal WordPress highlights from the past few years. What are things you’re excited about?
BG: Well, obviously, you know, cause you’re part of the company, but four years ago StudioPress was acquired by WP Engine and so that sort of was a huge seasonal like marker in my life and my plan at that point, I wasn’t sure about the direction of WordPress cause of Gutenberg just being introduced and I just kind of needed a time for myself just to kind of wander the proverbial wilderness.
So I spent a few years just kind of trying different things in and out of WordPress and it was a little bit lukewarm at best just cause things were changing and I wasn’t sure where they were going. But about a year and a half ago, I caught something on WP Tavern that sort of reignited a really deep passion I have for WordPress.
And so to fast forward through some of that, I reached out to Heather Brunner, our CEO, talked to her about some things. She had talked about the Developer Relations Team here at WP Engine and asked if that would excite me. And it did, [clears throat] excuse me, using my love for design and WordPress and community and kind of wrapping it up into a thing.
And so in September of 2021, I officially joined here at WP Engine. And that really was just sort of the planting the flag of like with WordPress, I’m back. There’s just so much since then. As you talked about, the releases this year have really brought the Full Site Editing capabilities of WordPress to the point now where we’re at with the Site Editor.
And you and I talked about that just the other day, just walked through some things. And I have never been more excited about WordPress than I am right now. And for somebody who’s been doing this since 2016, I think that says quite a bit of where we’re at. And there’s a lot to be excited about and I could probably spend three weeks talking about it.
DP: Did we mention your style variation that recently came out? In that recap of like the last few years.
BG: Uh, no. So Twenty Twenty-Three is the new theme that shipped with WordPress 6.1 here just recently. And part of that theme, it meant to serve a couple purposes. It was really basically a fork of the 2022 theme. But what they wanted to do is showcase the possibilities with the Block Editor. And part of that was a new functionality that’s called Style Variations.
And so for block themes what this does is it allows a builder or a themer to sort of skin a design, kind of keep the gist of a design, but to sort of offer up different flavors of it. Much the way, like an iPhone cover might be for an iPhone, like maybe today you want a blue version or a pink version or whatever.
And so what they did was they decided that they were gonna make style variations, sort of the pinnacle of the theme release, the default theme. But what they also did was they opened it up to the community. They had a call to action for people in the community who wanted to submit designs or style variations.
Two of which came from WP Engine. It was Damon Cook and myself. We submitted two different style variations to this. They were both selected and have shipped with Twenty Twenty-Three. And we’re really, really excited about that.
DP: Well, for this show, we’re gonna talk about themes of WordPress in 2023, and I think in the later part we’ll talk about broader themes, but right now I want to stay focused on downloadable, modifiable themes. That type of theme. What do you think is gonna be the biggest theme trend in WordPress for 2023?
BG: Well, I love talking about themes. Obviously I have been doing that for quite some time and I think it’s kind of strange cause we’re four to five years into this Gutenberg project, and I think the biggest thing I think we’re gonna see next year is just basically the go-to-market of commercial themes, we have yet to see it much. Right now there’s several themes on the WordPress.org theme repository. I think we’re up to a 120, 130, maybe block themes that are free and maybe I could count on my one hand how many themes are out there that are being sold.
Ana Segota is one of them. Ellen at Ainoblocks.io themes is another, but there really isn’t that market yet. And it surprises me, somebody who helped basically start the Premium WordPress Theme movement way back in the day. Like there’s so much opportunity here and why are we not seeing it yet? A lot of which has to do with features that are not shipped yet and just sort of the volatility still of things in flight.
But I think now that we’ve seen 6.1 released and with 6.2, we’re gonna tidy up a bunch of things. I think we’re gonna get to a point where developers and product builders realize that things are stable. And with that also outside of themes comes, plugins and so on like that. But I think that’s probably the biggest thing we’re gonna start to see is sort of this rebirth of the commercial theme market.
DP: Yeah, that’s really interesting. People are often reaching out to me, “Doc, you use WordPress. I’m getting back into WordPress for a nonprofit. I’m making a site or whatever,” and there is this kind of interesting moment where I’m kind of excited again to get them into the Site Editor. I think there was a moment where I was a little hesitant to get them in there. I didn’t know where to send them to find their themes. But I think everything’s coming along solid and I am kind of excited about this new wave of block-based themes on the commercial market.
I think 2023 is gonna be a good year for that. That’s a good point.
DP: So will the changes in the Site Editor, will they affect the way WordPress sites look? Will we start to see visual design ripples all because of the way block themes are built?
BG: You know, I think so. I think one of the things that excites me the most about where we’re at is what I call frontend and backend visual parody. Whereas in the past, classic themes and you know, building for WordPress years ago, there would be the frontend experience, but the backend was all either widgets and HTML markup code and things like that.
And to some degree there were elements of like a visual thing. I think page builders sort of brought that to WordPress over the years. Beaver Builder, Elementor, things like that where you could actually see and build your site in a way that was not requiring code as much.
But I think now that so many of the settings and the blocks and the features and all that stuff are now part of WordPress Core. I think we’re gonna see a standardization. Even inside the backend. Right.
We were on the other day just going back and forth between like the posted Page Editor and the Site Editor, which are different experiences now, but I know that there’s a huge movement in lots of discussions around sort of bringing that and harmonizing the way that that looks.
So there’s literally just one editing experience in the backend of WordPress, and that’s visual and it represents the front end and the backend. So I think most people are gonna start to see all of that come together in a point where the vision that was cast years ago finally sort of the lights go on and we’re like, “Oh, this is how it was all meant to be in function and I’m here for it.”
I love it. I can’t wait for it. And it excites me beyond belief.
DP: So I’ve been looking at trend forecasts for 2023, and I’m not talking about just website themes, but you know, broader trends. We’re seeing suggestions that creative typography, gradients, vivid minimalism, AI design, and candy pastels might be the hot things for 2023. Are you seeing any of these trends in theme design kind of already poking their heads up?
BG: Yes, in fact, I’ve been responsible for some of them. My Sherbet theme variation in the 2023 theme leverages some very bright pastel gradients. Again, it’s a web trend and probably will be around for a couple years. Gradients have been around for, for several years and, and what used to be gradients in just like a button have now become gradients in backgrounds or even duotone filters, which sort of overlay images.
And so we’re starting to see creative use of color in a way that’s easy to sort of do. Back years ago, it used to require some very tricky CSS things and things that browsers didn’t support. And so we see these things now sort of more at the fingertips of people.
And what WordPress is doing is the theme structure is set up in a way where now in the backend of WordPress with a couple of clicks and some eyedroppers and a color wheel. You change the gradient and change the colors and do the things that typically have either required code or like a heavy use of Custom CSS.
And so, not only will these sort of trends continue to exist, I think WordPress’s ability to allow builders to do things creatively, sort of with all of those controls will really start to see some things that are really unique.
DP: Yeah. I hadn’t even thought about it when I was asking you about changes to the Site Editor that could ripple across the web, but the Site Editor does make gradients super easy. Almost to the point where I could see people just using it just because, “Oh, what’s this extra tab of gradients?”
I could kind of see that helping perpetuate the trend. And as you said, your Sherbet theme definitely takes advantage. I didn’t even think about that. But those gradients and the minimalism and the candy pastels are all kind of there. It’s pretty cool that you’re on top of the trend, Brian I appreciate that.
BG: I try to be.
DP: Well, we are going to take a quick break and when we come back we’ll hear more from Brian Gardner about WordPress themes and predictions for 2023. Stay tuned.
DP: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress Community podcast. My name is Doc. I’m here today with Brian Gardner talking about themes and predictions in WordPress for 2023. Now, the first half of the show, we talked about modular themes and downloadable themes and the way that WordPressers think about it.
Now I wanna talk about more broadly some of the changes that we might be seeing in WordPress web design. I think one of the things that comes to mind is some people were saying the Site Editor might be the “death of page builders” and others are saying “No, page builders are probably gonna be even bigger in 2023 than they were in previous years.”
Do you have any thoughts on that?
BG: I do, and I’m not exactly sure yet what those are. I know initially when Gutenberg came out, everybody said, “Oh, it’s gonna be the death of page builders.”
I think page builders, those product teams have obviously had several years of even seeing what’s in the pipeline to continue to evolve their product and iterate and whatnot.
And the other problem I think that is most in their favor is sort of this slow adoption of the Block Editor, right? So many people don’t like change. They don’t understand how things are built. Things are still in flight, and it’s easy to sort of revert back to just what you’ve been using for the last several, however many years, right?
I’ve seen so many people say, “I’m a Divi person. I’m an Elementor person. I know how to work with it. There’s more control. It’s easier to use, so I’m gonna continue to use these things.”
So I think there’s always gonna be a subset of folks who, and I think it’s gonna be a large enough subset of folks, most of these products and companies will be able to sustain even the evolution all the way to its maturity of the Block Editor.
So I think it remains to be seen. I think there’s probably some pivoting that’s taking place. I know Elementor’s thinking about going towards the cloud, and so to some degree I think there’s been an evolution of those lines of business. I think everything will coexist for quite some time.
I mean, WordPress has been traditionally a backward compatible software that generally has slow adoption of new features. And so I think it’s gonna be some time before anything really becomes a difference maker or not.
Doc Pop: I know that accessibility has been something I’ve heard about in WordPress like kind of as an emphasis more and more over the past five years. It seems like in the broader web and in particular on social media, 2022 was a big year for even introducing the idea of accessibility to the broad audience.
I think Twitter added Alt text descriptions. It’s a huge part. When you join Mastodon, people let you know to camel case your hashtags to make things more accessible and definitely add alt descriptions or maybe don’t share images that don’t have alt descriptions.
I’m wondering are we gonna see some of this blend over to how people start designing websites in 2023?
BG: I would like to think so. I think it’s gonna take a village of people who are really diligent and who care a lot about that, to really sort of enforce that. I think there’s still so many things that people just are unaware of, that break accessibility or are bad experiences for those who have disabilities and whatnot.
Strangely enough, even big companies like Squarespace still delivering themes that have fonts and backgrounds and colors that do not pass contrast, color accessibility checking and stuff like that. So it really needs to come from the top. WordPress itself can make the dashboard accessible.
I know there’s lots of movement there. But it’s gonna take, companies doing it on their own sites. I know our team here at WP Engine has really embraced that. We’ve updated our site significantly to sort of accommodate for what those changes need to be. But I still think that’s there’s a lot of ignorance around this and it’s not even purposeful ignorance.
People just don’t know better. Right? They just don’t even know what it is, why it matters. How to do things. So even in small cases, right? I’ve got a bookmark of a color contrast checker that I use all the time, and every time I choose colors for a theme, first thing I do is pick colors that are accessible and pass a contrast test.
And so I think there just needs to be more information about it. There needs to be more podcasts talked about it. But it’s also one of those things that sort of isn’t in the mass appeal, right? I think we’re all interested in looks and design and things like that and what looks good and people will continue to do things that. I can see it now when I hit a website.
I’m like, I guarantee you that’s just bad accessibility, right? But I understand that it looks good. So there’s sort of that struggle between what to do with that. But we’ll see. I think there’s gonna be just more talk around it. And so therefore, I think just by nature of that, it will get better.
But probably not as much as those who really care about it want it to be.
DP: I mentioned earlier that one of the predictions I was reading said that creative typography might be one of the themes that we see in 2023. And I definitely am seeing brand logos getting a little more interesting and Instagram posts or even TikTok or whatever, having very cool fonts that they’re using, at least to capture your attention.
I do kind of wonder if creative fonts and accessibility are on opposite sides of the spectrum. Do you have any thoughts on that? Is one kind of going in the wrong direction for readability or are they going to be kind of functionally the same for someone who’s using a screen reader?
BG: I would say for the most part, the whole idea of an emphasis on typography as design, with two elements to that, right. Variable font support, which I’ll get to in a second. And then the other part of it, which is a baked in now part of WordPress, fluid typography. These two things together really play into the benefit of accessibility.
So I’ll start with the variable fonts. First of all, Google Fonts has significantly upgraded their font library to include fonts that now feel like premium fonts. For my taste for years, it’s like, okay, these are the same six fonts, open sans, lato, that we see everywhere. None of them look really good. They’re okay.
But people would go to Adobe or Custom Foundry to pick a font that would just really wow you. So I’m really thankful for Google sort of increasing the depth of their library. And as part of that is now what we sort of call variable font tiles.
And so what that means is, traditionally, your fonts would be set to different weights. Usually like on the scales of a hundred. 400 would be regular, 300 would be light and so on. Semi bold, 600, bold 700, that kind of a thing. But what variable does is it makes it completely fluid.
So like it’s literally from 100 to 900. So if you wanted to set a font weight for whatever reason to 815, you can. And it’s not a choppy increase. It literally is designed in a way in which it can scale that way much the way SVGs work.
And so you take that and what WordPress has recently added, which is a mobile kind of responsive approach to typography. It’s called Fluid Typography. And so what that does is it allows you to set a font. Well, it allows you within theme JSON to set some predefined font sizes that a user could use. Sort of going through like the t-shirt approach using extra small, small, medium, large, extra large, that kind of a thing.
And so builders can say, for large, I want it to be 36 pixels. Well, we know on a phone, 36 pixels is a lot bigger than on a desktop. And so what the fluid part of it does is it allows you to say, “Hey, for this font size, for large, I want it to be 36 pixels at most, right? The maximum size. But on smaller devices, let’s reduce that so you can set a minimum, maybe 24 pixels or 20 pixels.”
Something that will still look good and scale, but also not be as big on screen. And so you can literally set a font and then watch as you reduce a browser width. And I’ve posted several of these on Twitter. You can watch the font degrade down to a smaller version to the point where you set it at a minimum.
Some of these designs and what this really opens the door for. I have a theme called Avant Garde that is sort of like using type as design and my hero text is using font sizes that are 120 pixels, just to make it really big and bold and avant garde. Well, 120 pixels on a phone doesn’t work. It breaks, things stack, and get cut off.
And so now this fluid typography allows it to go back down to scale so it fits on the screen and looks good. So I think a lot of these things sort of play into another, and it’s all sort of benefiting the web.
DP: I think on that note, we’ll take another short break and when we come back we’ll hear more from Brian Gardner about WordPress themes and predictions for 2023. We’ll wrap up our discussion, so stay tuned.
DP: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress community podcast. This episode we’ve been talking to Brian Gardner about WordPress themes and predictions for 2023, and I’m really enjoying hearing all of these themes and kind of a lot of the things, Brian, that you’ve been saying, I’ve been starting to see them sprinkle around the web.
One of the questions I was kind of wondering, as a theme developer, where do you like to look for your inspiration when you think about upcoming trends?
BG: Super good question. I have a couple of my kind of go-to, I guess they’re called CSS galleries or, you know, web galleries. One is called onepagelove.com. It’s just a showcase of well designed things and, and everything’s sort of categorized. So if I wanted to look for like landing page design inspiration, I can kind of break things down.
And there are other software platforms like Webflow. If you go to their theme, or template library that they have, the community library, it’s just a good place to get inspiration. I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at seeing something I like and then shutting it down and then interpreting it on my own.
So it’s not necessarily, copying or visual plagiarism. And so it’s amazing. Most of the stuff I’ve designed has always been some sort of visual fork of something I’ve seen somewhere else. Lots of design inspiration places out there for sure.
DP: You know, we mentioned that Gutenberg and kind of what’s been leading up to the Site Editor and block themes has been something that’s been happening for at least four years now in WordPress. And it’s funny, on Mastodon I wrote something about WordPress and the Site Editor, and I got this response from someone I don’t know, “Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like using blocks in WordPress and I’m allergic to Gutenberg.”
So there’s still some of these people that are holding out. I have to say I’ve been eager to switch over just because I know when I see cool new plugins or new blocks, I know I’m gonna have to kind of adopt to be able to use those. But it was after a recent conversation with you that I kind of really started to see a large part of the appeal.
Site design seemed a lot more unattainable for me in the customizer, and now with the Site Editor, it seems, like now that I’ve gotten past this learning curve, I actually feel like everything’s gonna be better. And this brings us to a tweet that Mike McAllister recently said. He said “2023 is going to be huge for the WordPress industry. I know it’s been a rough transition to this new paradigm, but after spending the last six months deep in the Site Editor, I’m very bullish on the potential here.”
So I guess Brian, To wrap this up, the question is how, how do we get the community who are allergic to blocks? How do we get them to see what’s possible and why they want to change?
BG: Well, thankfully Matt Mullenweg did us a big service by essentially saying at WordCamp US that the support for Classic Editor is gonna go away. I know that it’s been a couple of years extra that it’s already been. I think we’re gonna start to see some elements of tough love, right? Just from all the way at the top saying it’s time to embrace, it’s gonna move.
We’re gonna stop enabling it to be so easy to go legacy or classic WordPress. And this really is the future. And in order to drive that adoption, some of these things need to happen, right? People need to just not have access to the tools that enable them to do this. So starting with Matt, I think, a lot of our team, in particular Developer Relations, Nick Diego, myself, Damon Cook. We get paid to basically talk about WordPress, the Block Editor, show people how it’s used, leverage the possibilities, through our content, through our presentations, through engagements we have with the community.
And we’ve seen this all over the community. GoDaddy has their own version of sort of developer relations, Automattic does. And a lot of our positions exist to help facilitate that change. Not just as a mandate, but just as a way of getting people on a call, on a one-on-one in a group session to say, “Hey, let me show you what’s possible.”
Because like you and I the other day, once people start to actually see it and realize that it’s actually easier than they think, that’s when this adoption will start to happen. And now that a lot of the features and a lot of the functionality is now part of WordPress Core, that makes it easier to do, right? Like a year ago, it’s like we understood the possibilities. We saw it all in Gutenberg the plugin, which is exploratory and usually not recommended for production.
But now that it’s landed in WordPress core and the masses have access to these things, now it’s time for, as Mike said, the product people to come in and build things that sort of extend these capabilities, show them off, demonstrate how they can be used.
And so I’m really excited about all the plans I have, our team has, friends in the community, people like Rich Tabor has, just really excited about helping people see the light, if you will, and really excited about that.
DP: You know, on wrapping up here. I think the one big thing that we have to mention with 2023 is that we’re likely to see WordPress 6.2 and the kind of bookend of Gutenberg Phase Two. Right? We’re about to see kind of like feature complete, you know, things will still be added. It’s sort of the main features will be in 6.2.
Does that sound right?
BG: Yeah, I know that some of the Phase Two and Phase Three, which is more like multilingual and collaborative stuff, keeps getting pushed out. I think it’s because they’re trying to just really get the tool set done.
6.2, there’s not a ton of new stuff. A lot of it is just refinement of experience in things that are already existing. I’m actually really excited about that as well cause there was a lot of stuff that was kind of, felt like it was crammed in, in ways that were like, okay, this probably could look and function and feel a little bit better.
And that’s what this 6.2 push is gonna be about. Which is like really refining and obviously bringing in some new things but just making it a better user experience, which then will help sort of the adoption. We just talked about.
DP: Well, on that note, I think it’s a great place to wrap up. Brian, I had a great conversation with you today. I believe your Twitter handle is @BGardner and your website is BrianGardner.com. People can check that out to see some great examples of your themes. And I want to say thanks for listening to Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast from WMR.
DP: You can follow my adventures with Torque magazine over on Twitter @thetorquemag or you can go to torquemag.io where we contribute tutorials and videos and interviews like this every day. So check out torquemag.io or follow us on Twitter. You can subscribe to Press This on Red Circle, iTunes, Spotify, or you can download it directly at wmr.fm each week. I’m your host Doctor Popular I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to spotlight members of the community each and every week on Press This.
Start the conversation