Commercial WordPress themes can be very fickle.

Certain trends and features tend to dominate the market before being displaced by the next best thing.

Two years ago, everyone was obsessed with theme options panels…

Then it was shortcodes.

Next it was all about content sliders.

Now, we’re in the drag-and-drop page builder era while next year some other functionality will come blazing to the fore.

What Went Wrong?

These features were initially marketed to save you time and maximize the level of customization available to you.

With 20/20 hindsight, though, we can see these “features” had some pretty serious flaws.

If your aim is to build a top-notch site, shortcuts rarely pay dividends.

Theme options panels became increasingly bogged down with questionable features piled on top of an already bloated panel. Once marketers realized that for some users more choice enhances perceived value, option overload snowballed out of all control.

And how about this monstrosity? Look familiar?

 [column][accordion]Shortcodes dump a bunch of tags into your post content and don’t travel well when you switch themes, leaving your content [button style=”red round”]messy[/button] and dependent on proprietary features.[/accordion][/column].

Everything seems great with shortcodes until you want to make any changes then you’re confronted with the gibberish above.

Content sliders offer a notoriously poor user experience and are proven to kill conversions. In spite of these two extreme downsides, they’re routinely the first jarring content you’re greeted with on the homepage of WordPress-powered websites.

While some of these features are worthwhile if used judiciously and moderately, promoting flaws as features in a commercial product is a short-term mentality at best. Disrespecting your buyers does not lead to customer satisfaction or repeat business.

Yet things seem to be continuing on a downward trajectory…

How, exactly?

Page Builder Mediocrity

In principle, the ability to design your own page layouts then simply drag and drop blocks of content within WordPress sounds like a swift, painless and idiot-proof way to build an awesome website, right?

Page builders promised great results with minimal user input or effort.

Everything for nothing… except the cost of the plugin or paid upgrade, of course. You can never escape the upsell!

If we dig just a little deeper, we can see that page builders come with their own inbuilt complications.

The stumbling block with the page builder concept is a case of skewed priorities. The implication is that you should take time with work you’re not cut out for instead of focusing on the thing you’re best at. Instead of devoting your time to producing killer content, the page builder concept suggests you should immerse yourself in the intricacies of design to snare an efficient and attractive website. It’s often a case of style over substance. This is never a good thing.

Don’t make the schoolboy error of choosing an inappropriate theme and trying to turn it into something else entirely. Unless you have an innate sense of many elements, from design and layout through content architecture and UX, results may be underwhelming. You can never make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Choose wisely in the first place. Be honest about your skillset. Try not to succumb to the fanfare of marketing hype unless it’s fully justified and the solution will work for you.

Although page builders are still incredibly popular, it seems inevitable that they will also fall out of favour, displaced by a new pretender.

As long as these solutions complicate the creation of websites and the production of content rather than turbo charging the process, they will never be sustainable elements of WordPress.

Why, then, are so many users easily swayed by needlessly intricate layouts, accordion shortcodes and the questionable ability to add widgets at random? Is this the starting vision of their website or are they unwittingly duped into this approach when browsing for a commercial WordPress theme?  Which is more important, “complete control” or a clean website that’s fit for purpose?

With 2.7 million blog posts produced every day, it’s never been tougher to make your content accessible in such a sea of words. It’s alarming to see the creation of that content being exponentially complicated with totally superfluous frippery. Is this what theme providers really want for their users or the web community in general?

Problem Solving

There is, however, one feature that seems buried under a slew of bells and whistles…

A feature that has enormous marketing mileage, requires no plugins, demands no user intervention and works with every version of WordPress..


Good, old-fashioned design.

Thoughtful design can offset your dependency on shortcodes, page builders and all other distractions from your main goal: creating a site that is easy on the eye and equally simple to navigate. Get it right and enjoy spending more time creating content than devouring help files.

When we take those design decisions into our own hands, we liberate the user from confusing technical choices that play havoc with workflow. We have to remember that they are using WordPress to create something. This core purpose should always remain uppermost.

Many believe that the role the designer must play is fixed and determined by the socio-economic climate; that he must discover his functional niche and fit himself into it. It seems to me that this ready-made image ignores the part the artist can play in creating this climate. — Paul Rand

With the full weight of marketing campaigns behind them, many theme providers have been offloading the responsibility of design and all attendant decisions to the user while simultaneously touting this as a positive move. Some users have been convinced that they alone should be responsible for serious usability issues that providers are deeply knowledgable about and can create solutions to address. This is skewed logic.

Sound Philosophy

If we look at the WordPress Philosophy, we can see that there are a few superb guidelines for making WordPress products, both commercial and free.

  1. Provide solutions that require little configuration and setup
  2. Make smart design decisions and avoid putting the weight of technical choices on our end users
  3. Provide an environment where a user can create content without problems or interruption
  4. Strive for simplicity in ways that are positive for the overall WordPress user experience

It’s perfectly clear that page builders and quick fixes don’t mesh with this philosophy at all.

In fact, the simple WordPress philosophy seems to be inherently opposed to these kinds of features and with just cause.

Moving Forward

Our focus at Themely is building themes with a more organic approach, harnessing the power of design and creative, eclectic problem-solving to make informed decisions for users. They are marketed accordingly and with integrity.

Let’s renew our focus on the traditional values of typography, layout, whitespace, balance, color theory, content architecture, user experience and accessibility.  These essentials should be our priorities and not the flashiest new idea without substance.

Let us return to being dedicated professionals owning decisions, empowering users and educating them on the merits of lean, sustainable WordPress products. This is key to the route ahead.

It’s a tough battle but we will continue fighting for the user. We’ll always champion simplicity and design as the optimum solution.

This way of doing business has proven to be an increasingly viable model as well as a truly rewarding experience. We can’t wait to see where it takes us and we can move forwards knowing that we have the user at the very forefront of our vision.

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Published by Hans Desjarlais

Founder @ Themely, entrepreneur and travel addict. Always learning, maverik at heart, speaks 3 languages and hope's to go to space one day.

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