Next-Generation Wordpress Theme

Wednesday, February 20, 2008 by Mistlee

Next-Generation Wordpress Theme

By Alister Cameron

I've been talking for months now about the integration of the wonderful Sandbox and the Yahoo User Interface CSS library. Well, I've done it.

It's codenamed Vanilla and it's in "closed Alpha" just for now.

But with all things new, I need some people to step up to the mark and help me test it, refine it and so on. You can do that in the comments below (more about that in a moment).

So what's the big deal?

The BIG Deal: One Theme, Many Layouts

To my mind, the "Holy Grail" of Wordpress theme design is to create themes that look great and are truly flexible. Sure, there's all that stuff about standards, but bloggers first and foremost choose themes that make their blog look good, and allow them a degree of straightforward flexibility when it comes to making their own customizations.

Up until now that flexibility has been pretty limited. It's meant being able to change the header graphic, some colours here and there, and so forth. But I reckon we can do better than that!

So Vanilla adds a simple admin screen offering most of the layout options available with the YUI grids. This means that theme developers can now create new Wordpress themes (or retro-fit old favourites) so that they can accommodate any one of dozens (maybe hundreds?!) of different layout combinations.

This means Bill the Blogger can use the same theme for his "no-nonsense" one-column blog (with sidebar content at the bottom of the page), while someone like me can choose a three-column layout with, say, both primary and secondary columns on the right-hand-side, or one column on each side, or whatever!

Think about how a theme built on top of the Vanilla platform is more useful and flexible to a newbie blogger than all of the themes out there now!

Think about it… the whole reason why the Wordpress Theme Viewer groups the themes according to how many columns they have is because they're hard-coded that way! You can't change them to a different column layout without some serious coding, and most bloggers are not up for that.

(Maybe the Wordpress Theme Viewer will need to include a new category for Vanilla-built themes… "universal" or something!)

If you're a theme designers, you might like to consider how many bloggers are not using a given theme of yours, just because the layout/column setup is not to their liking (much as they might have loved the overall design).

Well, no more!

Vanilla gives you the best of both worlds: firstly it's built on the Sandbox, which is hands-down the best semantic markup you could hope to built a Wordpress theme on. Then there's the YUI CSS library, not least the Grids system, which provides the awesome power to create one theme with a huge number of layout options.

Here's what the Vanilla Settings page looks like (in Wordpress Admin):

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