Inspiration or Lack of Creativity

As I browsed the WordPress themes released for February 25th 2008, on, I came across a theme that had everybody raving. It was called Options and was created by Justin Tadlock, the same theme author who created Structure. As I browsed the theme, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in terms of the icons that were being used, the navigational text/layout, the way the content was displayed, ect. It looked eerily similar to Brian Gardner’s Revolution Pro Media theme. Not only did I call Justin out on his release page, but I also sent an email to Brian asking him if he knew what was going on.

As it turns out, Options is a theme that was INSPIRED by many of the design elements found within the Revolution theme. It wasn’t a blatant copy, but it was close enough to stir up trouble. According to Brian Gardner, he contacted Justin off the record and asked him to make some changes to his theme and Justin has apparently gone ahead with the changes. Brian explains what happened:

I just want to briefly address this situation – when Options was originally released, the layout was MUCH different than it is now. It was quite obvious that at the time, the similarities were too obvious, which is why people notified me, and why I pursued conversation with Justin. He did have an “inspired” by note on his page, but at the time, I believe it was more than “inspired” by, which is why I got in touch with him. Since then, he has gracefully changed the design of his theme, which is why some of you think it’s not a replica of my site, as it originally “appeared” to be. I do appreciate all of those who contacted me regarding this and understand that it’s easy to find inspiration in design elements.

Furthermore, I just want to point out that although the internet world is massive, it doesn’t take long for me (or other theme designers) to find out questionable things that other people do with our themes. I’m all for competition, themes “inspired by”, and so on, but there really wasn’t an issue on my side with Justin’s theme, since he took ownership of the situation and reacted by changing his look.

The bottom line is that whether people use free or premium themes on their site, WordPress is ultimately promoted. I know there have been a lot of “hot topics” related to premium themes, but we are all in the same community, and shouldn’t be throwing stones at each other. The only time I am bothered by what happens is when people blatantly or maliciously affect me and my business – something that Justin did not do.

The situation between the two appears to be resolved. But this Options theme raises a couple points that I would like to address.

Right now, the magazine style of WordPress themes is still in full swing. However, Small Potato made some excellent points within the conversation that took place on WLTC. The first point is:

  • Options = Revolution = Premium News = Options = Revolution…

This clearly indicates the magazine style trend in one sentence. I believe it has gotten to the point where one magazine/newspaper theme looks like another with some minor differences. I realize that these types of themes appear to be what people want, but theme designers, try to think outside of the box instead of rehashing ideas.

Another point that Small Potato makes:

  • As for adding more features to these magazine themes, there’s only so much you can add until you’re the only one who knows how to fully use it.

There is a whole lot of truth within that statement. In my travels across the internet, looking for a new WordPress theme, I noticed plenty of them that utilized things such as custom fields. I also noticed many themes that utilized custom coded plugins and some themes even came with a manual that explained how to use them. Why is it like this? Why are theme authors releasing themes that require a Masters Degree to use? Let’s get back to making things simple. Sure, most of those fancy features require more skill and more advanced coding, but after checking out themes such as Shifter, I believe these challenges can be overcome.

If you are a theme designer, please do me a favor. Do your research, then take a top-down look at the current state of WordPress themes. Then, do us all a favor and create something that has yet to be done before. I know that most ideas are rehashed, most ideas have already been worn out, but try to do something that doesn’t make us think about something else that has already accomplished the effect. For example, please end this stupid trend of having two dynamic sidebars smashed together on one side of the blog. Why not place widgetized areas in more places within the theme, giving the end user more freedom and flexibility without the need of having to touch the code. Another example is to build flexibility into the theme that can be accessed via the admin panel. Instead of giving the user instructions in the read me file that tells them how to change the number of pixels in the CSS file to change the overall width of the blog, make it a user configurable option in the themes admin panel. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Now here is where I ask you questions that I have no answers for. For instance, at what point does inspiration turn into ripping? If there is a theme that closely resembles a paid theme, at what point does that become unacceptable? The reason I raised hell about the Options theme is that, it closely resembled Brian Gardner’s theme so much that I thought it would end up taking money out of his pocket. Because we all know, if there is a free version of a theme that requires money, we are going to go for the free version first.

What do you think will be the next WordPress theme trend? Personally, I believe the next trend will focus around Widgets. I think the poster child for the future of WordPress themes revolves around the Shifter Theme system. Widgets give power back to the end user. As a theme author, you no longer have to provide detailed instructions on how to hard code a plugin or widget into the theme. Just make it a widget area, and the user can drag and drop the content element into an area that seems appropriate. I also believe there will be a trend towards themes offering an admin page which contains settings that control various aspects of the theme. This is a welcomed change if you ask me, since this doesn’t require editing the CSS file or any of the core theme files to make the changes.

Finally, what are your thoughts as to everything I’ve just stated? Does it have any merit, or is this just a bunch of hodge podge?

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