I remember getting my feet wet with blogging back in late 2002. Oh boy, were those the days: the politics, the blogfights, the blocky but groundbreaking methods with which CSS was used to finally make the web a little easier to design. I’ve been around since b2, and I’ve seen the way the designs for WordPress has changed a great deal.
Part of it is the technological aspect: back then a screen resolution of 1024 pixels wide was uncommon; at least I wasn’t restricted to the so-called “web-safe” palette. Now we have widescreen monitors, though I know plenty of Windows users who have not kicked the habit of maximizing their browser windows. It’s a pain for flexible designs without a max-width (or for users on Internet Explorer). Broadband penetration, though low in America compared to the rest of the world, has aided in the development of graphics-rich themes. Sadly, I have seen the WordPress realm suffer from what I refer to as the Garage Effect: the bigger the garage, the more shit gets stuck in it.
After reading Theme Shaper’s The Future Of WordPress Themes, I’ve realized just how out of the loop I have been with WordPress. I don’t regret it, though: much of my time has been spent on other things that have enriched my life. Now, I don’t mean to accuse anyone blogging and designing themes as not having a life, but it wasn’t for me. I did release for general use a modified version of Dave Shea’s pea- (or was it puke-) green “classic” design for WordPress before Kubrick took over in v1.5. Cool blues, warm gold: it was a minor hit, and blogsome (bless their hearts) and their other multi-user environment, blogs.ie still stock that design and quite a few users still have it. But something I have sworn I will not do is release an actualized, capital-T WordPress Theme for general consumption. My background in graphic designâ€”since I was elevenâ€”has in me ingrained the importance of a customized look for a customer. Having released the Jaws (blue) “theme” to the general public, I decided that that was the extent of my contribution. It would break my heart to build a WordPress theme “for everyone” only to find it picked apart and modified and twisted to serve someone else’s means.
Seriously: how hard is it to grab the Classic Theme skeleton, modify it yourself and make your own look? My current Anthem Of Our Dying Days theme is still based on Classic. If you have the mad skillz to muck up someone’s WP Theme into this… this… derivative thing, then Christ just grab some code snippets and make one for yourself. You’d be much happier knowing your site is nowhere near a sibling under the same bitch, ya? I am proud to say that most of the few sites I have designed over the years have remained virtually unchanged. Meryl‘s Press Pass theme has been there since, when? Crap I don’t even remember. And I am glad to say that no other blog design by my hand has even a remotely similar banner, or look. Why? Because I took my damn time to find out exactly what she needs with her site.
So it does leave me to wonder: with a whole subcommunity of “Premium” Theme makers out there, whose products sell between twenty to two hundred bucks (or more), do their buyers actually feel any sort of satisfaction to what they have? I don’t even want to start on the kind of content that’s been decreasing the signal-to-noise ratio over the past years. I just wonder how someone who got this Premium Theme might feel after seeing someone else with it.
If graphic design is a means of communication that enhances the power of the printed word, then just how much enhancement does your printed word get out of a design meant for use by many? Anthem Of Our Dying Days is not a perfectly designed design either: I think that my line heights are too tight for the kind of line lengths that I have, for example. But I know that the design works for me, it works for what few readers I have and I know that unless someone blatantly copied my CSS, it’s mine and all mine alone.
That said, in this day and age of hundreds upon hundreds of millions of blogs (did I get that number right?) the content of a blog isn’t just determined by how well it is written. It is determined by how many take the message, how much of a ripple it can make, or how many more are affected by it. Perhaps “cookie-cutter” themes aren’t as bad: they take away the need for someone to produce (or to pay someone to do so) a look that would work with their content. The focus could stay on the content being produced.
And that, taken to its bare roots, is what blogging has always been, still is, and will always be about.