For months, I looked forward to the official release of WordPress 5.5, an update that promised to put the long-awaited block template system in the hands of theme designers. I may sound like a broken record at this point, but the templates have the potential to revolutionize WordPress theme development, even more so than the next full site edition.
The functionality is expected to dramatically change the way developers create WordPress themes. If used to their full potential, theme authors can get rid of dozens of theme options and remove most of their page templates. They can focus less on programming and more on design, which is really what themes are all about.
To understand why templates are so revolutionary, you need to understand the underlying problem they solve for theme authors and, ultimately, end users. Throughout the history of WordPress themes, there has been only one global issue that has caused countless issues. This is an issue that caused several guidelines added to the WordPress.org theme review system.
This unique problem can almost exclusively be traced back to the big question: how can theme authors create custom homepages and easily allow end users to recreate them?
Whether it’s a slider or info box columns or a call-to-action section, WordPress never really provided a solution that theme authors could rely on. . To be fair, many developers have built creative and unique systems around the limitations of the platform. However, these devices were specific to a single theme or to a theme of the same company. There was no standard. There was nothing that could guide theme designers to just design whatever interesting thing they had in mind and allow users to just fill in the content.
While I say the site home page is the underlying problem here, the problem really spreads to any page on the site. The design of the homepage is a bit like the signature of the author of the theme. It allows designers to showcase their talents and attract users. And for over a decade, theme writers have tried a thousand different methods just to get this page right.
The grounds are so much more. The system does not require theme authors to become PHP ninjas to piece together beautiful designs. This does not limit users to a theme options panel to create their homepage – they can create any page on their site with the templates offered by their themes.
The big problem is that this makes the question “how do I create a custom homepage” irrelevant. Theme writers never need to think about this again, at least not like they did in previous years. Theming is moving away from creating page-level designs to designing individual blocks and sections (patterns). The focus is much more atomic, which gives users more flexibility and freedom.
Because I couldn’t wait for weeks or months more to see which theme authors were building in this system, I wanted to take a look at what current themes were doing in the official theme directory. There wasn’t much to look at, but at least some theme writers are ready to pioneer this new era of theming.
Currently, the Block Editor Templates feature filter for the directory is not working. Technically, theme authors are not allowed to add the
block-patterns tag to their themes, but there is a fix available that should fix the issue soon.
Models so far
At present, the theme directory only has three themes with block patterns. It’s not much to do, but it’s interesting to see what theme the authors are building so far.
UXL Themes recently updated their Cordero theme with several blocks. One of the things I like about the way Cordero added his templates is that he created a custom “Cordero” block template category. Templates can exist in multiple categories, but grouping all of the theme’s custom templates into a single group made discovering them much easier. This is a practice that I would like to see more of going forward.
Cordero’s models are mainly geared towards the typical corporate layout. It includes a few hero type models, feature / service boxes, and pricing tables.
The inclusive theme by Theme Team Representative Carolina Nymark has multiple templates (it’s also a solid theme if you’re looking for a good accessibility-ready option). The most interesting designs in this theme are its two column designs with side bars. Nymark basically created the “body” of a page with patterns. One adds a sidebar on the left and the other pattern adds it on the right. Both models have a main column for adding custom content. The sidebar column is decorated by default with widget type blocks.
What makes these templates unique is that they are almost like a stepping stone to editing the entire site – all they lack is a header and footer. Granted, I was not prepared for this type of pattern and expected the patterns to be used for smaller sections, but I’m a fan of experimenting with the Inclusive theme.
Nymark has two of the three current themes with block patterns in the repertoire. Its Deejay theme adds a unique pattern, which allows the user to create a DJ profile section on their site. It combines columns, social icons, list of latest posts, video integration, etc.
Overall, I like the early exploration of this new feature. It’s never easy to be the first to try things out, so I applaud the theme authors for leading the way. We’re only a week away from the release of WordPress 5.5, but I can’t wait to see more.
How well do models transfer between themes?
One of the promises of the block system is that it allows users to switch between themes and maintain their content. The idea is that each theme will style all the blocks in such a way that the front output doesn’t look broken.
While there is only a small sample of three themes, I encountered some content styling issues when switching between them.
As a general rule, the more complex a model is and whether the model uses custom classes decides the quality of its transfer from one theme to another. Images can also present an interesting problem if the user decides not to replace the image of a design with their own. Because the image would exist in the theme folder, if the theme is disabled and uninstalled, it will no longer exist.