The Mysterious Future of WordPress Default Themes

Earlier this month, Twenty Twenty-Two, this year’s default theme shipping in WordPress 5.9, was revealed to the world. This theme will be block-based and be built around Full-site Editing which is one of the key features coming in 5.9. You can read the post to learn more information about it but what caught my eye was this paragraph regarding the future of default themes.

The community has produced a dozen best-in-class themes together, and we’ve come to look forward to a new one arriving at the close of each year. That said, themes are in a transition period today, and it seems like this may be a reasonable time to step back and to re-evaluate the annual cadence with which we build default themes.

Innovations like theme.json, block templates, and block patterns are making theme development far simpler, and are providing new ways for users to customize their sites. There’s reason to believe that the community can leverage all this to build more frequent and diverse theme and customization solutions for our users in the coming years.

We’re all still navigating these new opportunities (and in the meantime, we have a theme to build!) so let’s regroup after the 5.9 release to discuss future paths forward for default themes.

Kjell Reigstad

Because Twenty-Twenty Two requires a feature that is only available in WordPress 5.9 and above, it makes sense to rethink the default theme approach. You may think Twenty-Ten was the first default theme but that distinction goes to Classic. What Twenty-Ten did was create an annual process of developing a theme that showcased some of the new features that were added to WordPress over the course of that year.

Like WordPress 5.0, WordPress 5.9 appears to be one of those milestone releases thanks to Full-Site Editing. I think it’s time to sever ties with the default themes of the past, remove them from the WordPress downloadable zip file, and start fresh. What better way to show users what FSE and block-based themes are all about than having one default theme that utilizes said features.

While at first, it will be one theme, the wording in the quote above suggests there could be more than one default theme released per year. The wording also suggests that the need for a new default theme every year could disappear as the community leverages all of these new features to provide a wealth of new solutions. There’s also the possibility that default themes could be created once every other year since creating themes, in general, will be simplified.

Who knows what will ultimately happen with default themes but it’s something to keep an eye on. I’m curious, what role or roles do you think default themes have played over the years, and have they been successful?