Move over UI team

I want to start this article by thanking the people who put their time and effort into keeping the WordPress admin working. It’s not easy, and I’m glad I’m not one of the people doing it.

But, let’s face it. WordPress’ admin is cluttered and complicated for many people. It’s a miracle that the folks who work on it have been able to keep it together all this time.

I have a roommate who uses WordPress to run his blog. However, I have a part-time job simply teaching him how to use it. And, it’s been three years since I first set him up. He’s not the brightest of fellows, but when I envision what WordPress should be like, I imagine featuring a picture of him with his testimonial — So easy, a hick from Alabama can use it!

Over the past few years, WordPress has taken on a lot of new features. However, the downside to adding new features is that you must squeeze them in alongside the existing features. The new features are nice, but the WordPress admin has put on a few pounds. It’s time to trim the fat.

The great thing about WordPress is that you can change something when you don’t like it. You can take steps to unclutter the edit post screen. You can build a custom color scheme to make your admin prettier. Or, you can build a full-blown admin theme.

Lately, there’s been a rising trend toward a simpler admin. Admin themes might just be one part of the equation to getting there.

Why admin themes?

Because they’re cool.

When developers create something new, it’s generally to solve a problem. Admin themes can solve the following.

  • Give users more options for what their WordPress admins can look like. Wouldn't it be awesome if theme developers were also releasing custom admin themes to go along with their regular themes?
  • Improve the WordPress UI. With more options available, it will get more people involved in the core WordPress UI. It will also present ideas to the UI team that maybe they haven't thought of.

With that in mind, let me introduce you to a new admin theme.

DevPress Dashboard

Over the past month or so, I’ve had a chance to talk with Tung Do about WordPress admin themes. I’ve also been a test dummy for the past week while he perfected an awesome plugin that reshaped everything about the WordPress admin.

This is one of the most beautifully-designed admin themes I’ve seen in a long time. It makes the clutter of the admin seem much more freeing. I don’t know if it was just refreshing to see something new or if it’s just that damn nice, but I’m a fan.

The following is a screenshot of the “Dashboard” screen of the DevPress Dashboard plugin’s default design. You can view more screenshots on the plugin’s page.

Screenshot of the DevPress Dashboard plugin

The only thing I might see that could keep this plugin from gaining traction is that you must be a member of DevPress to access it. I’d much rather see a default plugin + theme combo for free with additional commercial designs. Even still, the plugin alone is worth the price of membership at DevPress.

Shameless self-promotion: DevPress themes are built off my Hybrid Core theme framework, so you'd be getting an awesome deal by joining the site.

Where does WordPress go from here?

For others to build beautiful admin themes, WordPress has a little shaping up to do.

First and foremost, inline styles halfway down the admin pages need to be moved into an external stylesheet where possible. It’s extremely tough trying to write custom CSS when you’re hitting roadblocks like inline styles.

Another thing we need as plugin developers is even easier ways to build stuff in the admin. The better tools we have to create things in a standardized fashion, the easier it is to style these things. The goal should be to standardize as much as possible.

Take a look at how easy it is to build theme customizer options. That’s straight up theme developer crack. I’ll take more of that, please.

Stop building custom-designed admin screens

Theme and plugin developers, please start using the tools available to you. I have yet to figure out what’s so hard about using the built-in Settings API. If you follow the rules, the rest of us can do some truly awesome stuff.

For theme developers, everything you need is there. I’ve never seen a theme settings screen that required anything more than what’s available via the Settings API. If it does, I’m 99.9% sure that you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing in a theme. Besides, who wants to build theme options pages anymore now that we have the theme customizer?

For plugin developers, there are situations where you need more robust admin screens. Gravity Forms immediately comes to mind. However, for the vast majority, what you need is built in.

If you have a scenario that core doesn’t handle well, propose it on WordPress Trac. Submit a patch. Get involved.

More admin themes

I’d love to see more WordPress admin themes in the future, but it might be a brutal slugfest with non-standard plugins/themes and WordPress itself. Although, I believe WordPress core will eventually get there.

If you’re interested in developing admin themes, hop over to the Admin Themes repository on GitHub. It’s a little project I’m building to make it easy to build and use custom admin themes. It’s in the extremely early stages, so don’t expect much yet.

And, if you’re interested in getting involved in the WordPress UI, head over the the UI blog and see what you can do to help.