[The Eksell theme] does such a great job of selling a block editor-driven WordPress. It was a missed opportunity to not pair something of this quality with the block editor when WordPress 5.0 was released.
It’s responsive! I’m amazed this stands out as a highlight for me, but, as the official theme, Twenty Twenty-One breaks in pretty basic ways in multiple places for different screen widths. I think this visual approach is also probably more approachable as “good design” for the average person than Twenty Twenty-One’s attempt at a more typographical approach…
In hindsight, it is easy to look back at past default themes and find fault. There is always something better around the corner. However, Daniel makes some good points in his comment on our recent review of the Eksell theme. The theme does sell the idea of blocks to the user far more so than many others.
It would be hard to convince me that launching a great block-ready theme with 5.0 would have been feasible, given that so much about the new block editor was changing at a lightning-quick pace. But, a year or two later? Probably.
Twenty Nineteen, which launched with WordPress 5.0 and its block editor, is the worst-rated (3.5 stars) default theme in history. Twenty Twenty was a decent block-ready outing. It also happened to be forked from Chaplin, a theme built by Eksell’s designer, Anders Norén. While I still believe that Twenty Twenty-One was a refreshing shift and a fun experiment at the time, my fondness for it has waned in the last few months.
None make a convincing case for the block editor. If we are being honest, there are not that many third-party themes in the official directory making it either.
I may have already said it thousand times, so once more will not hurt. Themes are the face of WordPress. They are often a new user’s first introduction to our beloved platform and blogging in general. And, the default themes are the first they see.
The defaults also have another role they need to play today. They need to showcase blocks to all the old-timers among us who have clung to the classic editor and page builders we have used over the years.
It is no doubt a tough job working on a default theme. We have world-class developers and designers putting in the hours to create something that needs to work on millions of websites. However, part of the toughness of the job is in the process.
Each of the last three default themes was announced in September or October of the year before a November – December release. While I am not privy to any private discussions or work that went on beforehand, the bulk of the theme-building and testing process has happened in a small window. WordPress has also forked at least the last two themes from existing projects, presumably because of the time constraints.
In 2021, the community should expect its fourth default theme, Twenty Twenty-Two, in the block era. It is time we begin thinking about what that should be instead of waiting until the 11th hour.
We are in mid-March. WordPress 5.9 is currently scheduled for December 2021, which should coincide with the Twenty Twenty-Two theme launch.
By starting the research phase now, it gives us the head-start we lacked in years past. The development team would also not need to fork an existing theme. Forks are not necessarily bad, but starting early means the team can go down the from-scratch route if preferred. It is an opportunity to rethink the approach to default themes and do more community outreach before laying down the first code.
What are the trending features this year?
Which types of themes are most popular?
What has the community been asking for that we have yet to deliver?
Will this be the first block-based default theme to showcase Full Site Editing?
There are tons of questions we should be asking, and more-seasoned designers are better suited to the task than I am.
Like Daniel said in the comments, we are not asking for Eksell to be ported to default-theme status. However, something with that design-quality level is what the community should expect. Make us believe; make us passionate; make us want to build our sites with it.
High-quality themes meant for public release are not built overnight. Except in the rarest cases, they are not created in a month. Client projects can often move faster because they are typically under controlled settings with fewer edge cases. Publicly-released themes do not have the same benefit because they need to handle everything users will throw at it and work alongside untold numbers of plugins. While all designers and developers have different processes and work at different paces, three months is easily the minimum amount of time to code and test a well-rounded theme for modern sites. Some of the best theme authors I know spend upwards to half a year fine-tuning their creations.
We need research, followed by a decision about what type of theme we are building. We need an outline of the goals it should achieve and its primary audience. Rounds of mockups before the code hits a repository. A real community effort.
Three months ago was the best time to begin planning for Twenty Twenty-Two. The second best time is today.