Justin Tadlock

My future in the WordPress community

I was recently asked to participate along with quite a few other designers in answering a not-so-simple question — Where will WordPress themes go in the future?

Ian Stewart put together a panel of leaders in the WordPress theming community to answer this question, and I was happy to participate. We all added our opinions about The Future of WordPress Themes.

I’ve always considered myself a bit of an outsider in the WordPress theme community, doing my own thing, not caring much about what others do or say. I guess I can’t completely ignore that there are quite a few people watching what I do anymore. Before continuing, I just want to add that it was an honor being published alongside many great theme developers.

The question Ian asked made me think about what the future holds for my WordPress themes and involvement in the community.

What the future holds

While I don’t want to give away everything I have up my sleeves, I’ll give you a bit about what I’m doing.

Currently, the Structure and Options themes are doing well. Lots of downloads and a great community being built in the forums. These will be my main projects along with a new theme over the coming months as I will continue making them more user friendly.

These themes will have very different paths.

Structure will focus more on the use of widgets. You’ll see why when you get WordPress 2.5, which is slated for release in the coming days. The WordPress team has completely revamped the widget control panel, something I’ve been asking to happen for quite some time. I will keep adding new ways to widgetize the theme. I’ll also build some more color schemes. I’m tired of seeing the same old blue.

The Options theme will be different in the ways it is already different. For now, widgets will only play a role in sidebars. My focus here will be building a better, easier user interface and optimizing the code. A new style is already in the works for the next release.

I also have plans for a new theme. I want to take the ideas behind Structure and Options and use them on a much smaller blog scale. No magazine styles. No CMS. Nothing fancy. Just a pure blog theme with loads of options and styles. I might just call it the “Average Joe” theme. Something for the blogger that only wants to blog.

So, what’s beyond that?

After trying to perfect the three themes mentioned above, I might move toward more niché-specific themes. Maybe I’ll put together a video game theme or a book reviewer theme. I’m not entirely sure at the moment.

I might start working on some plugin projects, which is something I’ve never fully pursued because of a lack of time, poor PHP skills, and not knowing enough about the WordPress system. At least now I only have to worry about time. I think I know enough about PHP and WordPress to start working on some plugins and helping the community in that way. Themes will still be my main focus though.

When will I start making money?

Many of you have asked when I’ll start charging for my services. The short answer — never.

It’s more complicated than that though. I’ll definitely keep building upon my current projects and offering things back to the WordPress community. I’ll continue to provide as much support as possible in the forums, and some of you have helped tremendously there, which has freed up some time for me to work on other things. Of course, you can always make donations to the theme projects, and I’m thankful for those of you that have.

I have been thinking of ways to monetize the site because, at some point, I want to earn a few extra dollars. Obviously, I’ve been running some ads over the last few months, which has helped out (go visit my advertisers’ sites).

I’ve also toyed with the idea of selling $2 stylesheets for the Options theme. I’m still not sure about that at this point because Options was built for the community. Custom design work is going fairly well, so well that I had to take down my services page (I’m a bit backed up). However, splitting my time between blogging, building a community around my themes, doing custom work, and my day job doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

Monetization is something I am thinking about, but I want to keep offering great things back to the WordPress community as well. I can say that I have no plans to move into the “premium” or “paid themes” market.

I’m always open to suggestions.

The future is WordPress

Even though I’ve typed all this out, much could change with these plans. I’m never quite certain what I’ll actually do until I sit down to do it. I never know when a new idea might strike.

I do know that I want to continue working with the WordPress system, and that’s enough planning for me.

Just be on the lookout for new things because I’m working on them.