Why Default Themes Change Each Year

Since Twenty Twelve is coming very soon to the Extend directory, I wanted to share a bit of background on default themes and why they change from year to year.

In 2005 Kubrick launched as the new default theme, then didn’t change for five years. It became a punchline for the project. With Twenty Ten a new pattern started, with every single year having a new theme, naming it by the year. Twenty ___. This gives the theme an expiration date and it doesn’t have the pressure to be the end-all theme for the ages, because it’ll be replaced in the next year rather than in five years.

In the time between Kubrick and Twenty Ten the default theme efforts didn’t work too well as there were too many conflicting things. The efforts tried to please everyone: show off everything that’s possible in core, fully educational in every aspect, super nice-looking, and try to solve all the problems a theme can solve.

Big shoes to fill, as it turns out. Even if one theme can’t do it all, though, the default theme can still strive to be as simple as possible while still sticking to important principles. For example, default themes are coded to be fully internationalized and ready for translation. Even though this effort makes the code more complicated, it’s an important principle in an increasingly globalized world where many people don’t interact with WordPress in English.

The default theme should show off the latest and greatest features, be flexible enough to gracefully support child themes and encourage customization, work well for a blog or a website, and sport a design that is aesthetically pleasing and a bit different from the last design. Under the hood it should represent the best in coding practices and technical excellence. That said, the default theme isn’t trying to be an end-all-be-all theme. It won’t please everyone.

To get an idea of how Twenty Twelve is intended to differ from its predecessors, here’s the the core team’s post on which key features they want to see implemented: Core Team Meetup Recap: Default Theme “Twenty Twelve”. Note things like the header image off by default, promoting a static front page, and no featured image in the header. A new look by a different theme designer.

I think a lot of people are going to really like Twenty Twelve. And Twenty Thirteen. And Fourteen. And … you get the idea.