Let Them Eat Cake

In the not-too-distant past, the majority of themes on WordPress.com were ready-to-use Classic themes or Hybrid themes, with paint-by-number typography, multiple color palettes and and an overall “look and feel” created by a professional designer that we users could easily customize and fill with content. Today, if you venture beyond a theme’s static front page template, the current crop of newer Block themes are mostly lookalike, one-size-fits-all templates. Does that mean internal pages are also-ran? Not in my or many other people’s book. (See my first reply in the comments below*)

In this article:

  1. Full Site Editing
  2. Customizer or Site Editor
  3. prêt à porter themes
  4. Do it for me
  5. Thoughts

Full Site Editing

In case you missed it, we’ve been rolling out a new set of powerful site design tools called Full Site Editing (or “FSE”) and it’s now available for all WordPress.com users!

Don’t worry if you’re just hearing about Full Site Editing for the first time. We’ve been releasing these new tools in a way that doesn’t actually require you to do anything with your existing site(s). If you are up for a change though, we’re happy to announce the launch of a brand new family of themes made specifically with Full Site Editing features in mind. As of this writing we have over two dozen themes available that support Full Site Editing.

Customize Your Entire Site With New Block Themes – WordPress.com News
"I have all these ingredients, but don't know how they go together" A jumble of baking ingredients and tools that seem unrelated

I have all these ingredients, but don’t know how they go together

Full Site Editing themes

"Just add water and bake" Commercial cake mix packaging in an advertisement from 1961

Just add water and bake

Classic themes

"Leave it to the Professional Bakers" Five layer cake with frosting dripping down the sides and with chocolate decorations on top

Leave it to the Professional Bakers

Do It For Me themes (see below)

Customizer or Site Editor

Since the introduction of full-site editing in January 2022, my biggest disappointment has been and still is this: not everyone has the time, inclination or design chops to design their site and WordPress overlooks that most users want a theme that meets their initial needs without a lot of bells and whistles. Regardless, to make significant changes to a FSE theme requires a deep dive into the Site Editor. That is why, IMO, many FSE themes come with “variations”: Twenty Twenty-Two has 6, Geologist has 5, Quadrat has 6, and so on, to make it easier for users, as long as you don’t have an urge to tweak. And, depending on the FSE theme you choose, you can make some changes in the more familiar Customizer and completely ignore the Site Editor.

(And if you are as confused as I am about those Theme Showcase tags, here’s the Theme Showcase Tags glossary explained in full.)


prêt à porter themes

A few weeks back, Justin Tadlock noted the following on WPTavern:

“Give users an immediate solution instead of forcing them to create a new page, select a template, and move into the template editor to customize it.”

While he is referring to the Site Editor, the same applies to themes in general. So the question is, why are developers/designers not providing users a completely designed theme from the get-go? We previously had “fixed” designs (Classic), some with dynamic elements even, and for many, like me, who sometimes discover they are wearing two different color socks, a prêt à porter theme is a blessing, especially one that is imbued with a personality. And now that block locking is available in WordPress itself, I truly hope it won’t be much longer before we have access again to completely designed themes that allow us to concentrate on writing and adding content.


Do it for me

Realizing that some WordPress.com users might prefer to leave the set up and design of their site to professionals (and have the pocket change to do so), WordPress.com introduced the “Do It For Me” service, where you can pay WordPress.com to customize and set up a theme from a select number of currently available themes. To me this says oodles about “ease of use” for the beginning or average WordPress.com user.

Thoughts

With FSE, I still feel like we are trying to recapture what earlier themes already provided without the extra effort. This isn’t to say that things won’t get easier as new iterations of full site editing are released in WordPress core. I just hope it will be sooner rather than later.

Edited to add: WordPress.com has been going all-out to bring FSE education to the masses. If you want to get a better grip with it, give this tutorial a try.

As always, the information in this post is correct as of publication date. Changes are inevitable.


Kjell Reigstad, who authored the above announcement on the WPcom News blog, ran a wonderful Design Principles series on the sadly forgotten “The Daily Post” that is still worth reading if you have the time and inclination.

Swans Down Cake Mix, 1961” by Nesster is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Other cake images Pexels CC0 License.

Published by JenT

WordPress.com forum volunteer and former moderator (2016-2021) assisting WordPress.com site owners since 2006, one answer at a time. Find me at wpcommaven.com.

6 thoughts on “Let Them Eat Cake

  1. I’ve not tried the full-site editor since I played with it back in March. As you say, I have better things to do than mess with the theme (once a decade is often enough for me).

    I suspected we’re still a long way from what I would deem a useful tool, and you’re confirming that.

    1. We’re certainly not at the stage where it’s intuitive for users and I feel that adoption will only happen when it is.

      *I do have to backtrack a bit on internal pages on FSE demo sites. While there are still themes that display only a front page (take Bennett or Appleton, for example), it looks like there’s been an effort to flesh out FSE demo sites with demo specific content. Sadly, the archive pages (blog, category, tag, author, etc.) are still same old, same old and no demo comments. I don’t understand why TPTB think that info isn’t of interest to users.

      (Edited to add * and FSE to my comment)

  2. Thanks for this.

    There must be a lot of people who drop off along this long road to WordPress perfection because it is messy and confusing.

    I agree with Justin that people like opinionated themes that deliver a complete package. On the other hand, one man’s beautiful theme is another man’s ugly mess. And then how many choices would the world need? Oh yes, we used to have that with lots of themes until Automattic junked them.

    I am still not really clear ‘in the doing’ what block versus customiser is like to work with. I steer clear of anything FDE because the last time I tried, it was a real mess. I played about with a header and then the changes didn’t ‘stick’ and then they looked nothing like the changes I made. That was a few months ago. Perhaps things are better now. I am probably being ungrateful because I remember when Gutenberg was a clunky mess, and now it is a doll.

    I clicked on your link to ‘hybrid themes’ but it took me to a page asking me on which of my sites I wanted to use a hybrid theme. So I opened a different browser and googled ‘hybrid themes in wordpress.com’ and that brought up a list of three types of theme – Classic Themes that use the Customizer for most site-wide visual changes and often have ‘more than normal’ options in the Customizer; Hybrid Themes that were built specifically for the Block Editor, but still use the Customizer for most site-wide visual changes; and Universal Themes that are Blockbase child themes.

    Are Blockbase themes all full-site-editing? Do they mean the same thing? Is Blockabse synonymous with full-site-editing?

    I never heard of ‘Universal’ themes before, and what does it mean? I wonder whether it is any relation to universal applications that are agnostic about the operating system on which they are used? I see in your dropdowns there is one that is FSE Universal Zoologist.

    1. Personally, I find the naming conventions for themes utterly confusing. Classic and Full-Site Editing I get, but Hybrid and Universal? You might need to be in with the WP development in-crowd for that to make much sense. I keep asking myself, how useful are those names for users. (Edited to add: not just users are confused.)

      I’m sure the FSE experience will get better with time, like Gutenberg. dotcom users/customers, however, are not going to hang around waiting for that to happen. They’ll either quit and go somewhere else, or switch to one of the more “traditional” themes, if they know they are there.

      As far as needing to pick a site in order to see the theme showcase, that’s been a bug-a-boo for a while. If you right click and open the link in a Private/Incognito window, it should work.

      1. Right click didn’t work, but copying the link with Control click (I am on a Mac) and opening a new Private window, works. Thanks for the tip.

        I am so glad you are confused by the names.

        I can’t think of anywhere people could go that are not paid-for options apart from Blogger or Weebly. Then it’s the paying subscribers who are the interesting target, and Wix, Squarespace, Ghost Pro and others are attractive options that do it all for their subscribers.

        One concrete benefit that WP could advertise (maybe they do) to potential paid-for WordPress.com users is that if at some future point they wanted to self-host – then WP will migrate it more or less intact.

      2. Glad you got it sorted. 🙂

        Yep, free blogging platforms are going the way of the dinosaurs. WordPress.com was the lifeboat for most of them. And, of course, there’s tumblr, now owned by Automattic. 🙂

        WPcom used to have a Guided Transfer service for US$180, I think, where they’d transfer your site to one of the WP recommended hosts and install jetpack for you. They stopped that some time ago already. Right now any Pro, Business or eCommerce site can use the All-in-One Migration plugin to migrate to another WP hosting service.

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