The Nesting Instinct  ·  Unobservable

Foot in Mouth

Lorelle asks if we want people messing around with our themes. Certainly the time is right to ask questions along these lines, but that particular question is just silly. It doesn’t matter whether theme designers want people messing around with their themes or not, because if they’ve released them for public use, they will get messed around with. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t want that to happen, don’t release your theme. Not too hard to get your head round, is it?

Musings on the psychology of WordPress theme designers aside, Lorelle’s post manages to be both fatuous and offensive. She writes,

[WordPress themes] are designed by amateurs and semi-professionals. Commercial website designers aren’t in the business of handing out web designs for free, except as a marketing ploy. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the hundreds of WordPress Theme designs available. It’s just a fact.

Sorry, Lorelle, it’s not a fact, and baldly stating that it is makes you look somewhat foolish. Andreas Viklund responds as follows in the comment thread, and I find myself very much in agreement with his sentiments.

I am a professional designer since a few years back, and my everyday work consists of building a whole lot of custom designs and WordPress themes for different kinds of clients. But I still release high-quality website templates and WordPress themes for free, and it is definitely not any marketing ploy. I can’t deny that free themes and free website templates are good marketing, but that doesn’t make it a purpose. I have more work than I can handle already, and I’m still spending a few hours of my spare time every day on supporting the open source design phenomenon and the wordpress theme scene.

If making Tarski was an investment for me—a “marketing ploy”—then I have to admit to being a pretty awful businessman, since I’ve got precisely zero new work through it. Chris and I also spend a fair amount of our free time not only developing and improving the theme, but helping out people having trouble using it. We could be spending that time doing paid (web development) work, but we don’t.

There is a real discussion to be had around customisation in WordPress themes. It doesn’t centre on how those poor little theme designers will handle the shattering of their fragile egos, or on whether they’re professional designers or not. It is about practicalities: about how to best code our themes, to make them flexible and able to handle the roughing-up they will inevitably receive at the hands of the end-user. Modi operandi are what matters. Let’s focus on getting things done, not making absurd and useless generalisations.

6 responses

Why is it so hard for some people to understand the combination of cooperation, Good Samaritanism, and love of beautiful design?

Hell, people steal copyrighted web designs all the time. To expect people who are given a design free of charge and free to use not to change it is just plain silly.

Plus, operating on the assumption that we make and release themes so people will use them, why not make it as powerful and customizable as possible—after all, that’s the way to get more people to use ‘em.

It sounds like Lorelle doesn’t understand the idea behind the internet, let alone theme creation.

I’m certain that Lorelle fails to understand the open source phenomenon as well. I have heard the “why would people do this for free?” “it’s just marketing” line so many times that it’s no longer funny.

I wonder if Lorelle here is simply from a different culture; a culture of corporate capitalism that believes /everything/ should be viewed as a revenue stream or it should not be viewed at all. If one cannot profit from it in some direct monetary way, and it is not a life necessity, then one should not engage in this activity. These are the same dinosaurs who are still programming in VB6 because it’s not “directly profitable” for them to take any time to hone new skills.

Frankly, I don’t even like to think about these people. I agree with Eric, that there is that element of sharing endemic to the internet’s culture. I can’t imagine how far behind we would be if we didn’t share! Imagine if every layout technique was trademarked and every markup language copyrighted and attempting to generate profit!

Yes, my comment comes here well after you posted this, but I found it at the bottom of your site and couldn’t resist.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. One thing I love about free themes is the fact that they’ve taught me so much about using WP, how it works, and how to modify things to get what I want out of them. I’m a traditional designer, new to theme-ing by all means, and new to PHP itself. But working with themes has helped me learn, and eventually when I’m confident enough, I too will relinquish my skills at no charge to the community. Does that mean I’m going to theme a client’s WP site for free? Hell no. But sending out a few freebies would be my way of contributing to the community. Who the hell cares if someone modifies it? I gave it away!

If I give someone a sweater for their birthday, and they go and dye it a different color - should I be angry that they didn’t like the color I gave them? If I give a child a toy, and they trade it with a friend for a different toy - would I be angry or hurt or crushed? I think not. People are people, and human nature will always win the fight.

One thing I will give a huge flashing arrow to is the comment about creating the best work they can before releasing. I can’t tell you how many themes I’ve ditched because the CSS (divs, mainly) is written in a different language, or worse, calling a sidebar div something like “xJ9″. I found a theme that actually has profanity in comments, a personal take on Firefox or some such. Why is this necessary? Is it an attempt to “protect” your work? People who like it enough will mess with it anyway, and delete your personal opinions. It makes no damn sense to me at all…

You’re right. If you don’t want it manhandled, don’t put it out there for free. Sell it to them. :) LOL

I agree completely with your point, also about what the real discussion should be. When I make a theme I am happy to see people use -and modify- it. I try to make that as easy as possible and support people in the process.