The Real Problem With Pre-Made Themes
Designers, developers, site owners… lend me your eyeballs for a bit. There’s something rotten in the state of pre-made website themes. Alright, I’ve offended The Bard quite enough. But you get my point, right? Themes have gotten a bad rap for a variety of reasons: they can have bloated code, content must be designed to fit in them rather than designing them to fit the content, et cetera.
But they’ve also gotten really good. Many are made to be modular, so you only use and load the code you need. People have gotten a lot better at coding things to load fast, and there’s a theme for nearly every conceivable need. So maybe it’s not as optimized as it could be, if you’re not getting Amazon levels of traffic, regular hosting should be fine, right? And again, there’s a theme for every conceivable need! It’s just so convenient.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, (mostly) wrong.
Let me tell you a little story. A long, long time ago in February of 2018, I had an idea. Well, really I had a few ideas of things I desperately wanted to write about, but no one was paying me to do it. And honestly, keeping up a blog on the topics I had in mind wouldn’t be all that feasible. I like my projects to have a beginning, middle, end, and perhaps most importantly, a deadline.
So I thought, hey, why not make some niche/authority sites on these topics so dear to my heart? There’s no reason niche sites have to be predatory glorified ads with terrible aesthetics and UX. I could make them better. And I could just leave them up when I was done, with minimal updates. And hell, I don’t even need to design them! A wiki or knowledge base theme for WordPress or some other CMS would do quite nicely for my purposes.
And so I went theme hunting. I found plenty of themes in the categories I had in mind, including some absolutely beautiful premium themes I very nearly dropped money on. That would have been a terrible waste of my cash.
More than that, these were wiki and knowledge base themes. Those are the kinds of sites people go to when they need help. Customer support and educational sites should be the least likely to break, period. This is a case where both the customer and the user are being let down in a big way.
In my mind, a lack of progressive enhancement, or at least graceful degradation, is the single biggest accessibility nightmare to plague the wonderful world of pre-made sites and themes. Customers are buying these things without knowing exactly what they’re doing, and it’s bound to end in misery. And here I thought bad planning was the biggest problem for theme-based sites.
Yes, implementing fall-backs for everything is difficult, but that’s why you charge money for these things. If they were all that easy to make, they could all be free, right? No, I don’t expect you to code your themes for every version of IE, and yes I realize that most premium themes come with support of some kind or another.
Well, now I have to go design my own wiki/knowledge-base style theme (probably for Grav CMS, at this point), because somebody needs to do it right, and it might as well be me. To quote Taylor Swift, “Look what you made me do.”