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This post is a summary of blockBlock Block is the abstract term used to describe units of markup that, composed together, form the content or layout of a webpage using the WordPress editor. The idea combines concepts of what in the past may have achieved with shortcodes, custom HTML, and embed discovery into a single consistent API and user experience. theme switching exploration for the FSE outreach program. This was the first of its kind, enabling folks to share very early feedback on something that has yet to be robustly defined. Thank you to everyone who participated, whether through sharing feedback directly or sharing the exploration with others.
High level summary
Overall, the current experience proves to be frustrating and inconsistent, especially when taking into account custom block styles, keeping customized templates, etc. Thinking long term about what folks would want to be able to have across themes, there was mass consensus around being able to retain templates, template parts, and menus. There was somewhat mixed feedback around whether Global Styles should persist as some saw those as differentiating a theme. When it came to ideas for how to best manage the switching process, it quickly became clear that there’s a balance to strike between not adding too much friction to the process while also offering users options to pick and choose what can come with them when they switch. Ideally, there can be a simple and visual way to intuitively guide users and help them take advantage of the power of what block themes unlock without discouraging them with too many options.
On templates and template parts
There was mass agreement around the desire to keep customized templates and template parts across themes, with many expressing surprise and frustration at the current experience. This was previously documented and discussed here as part of an earlier call for testing.
I’m very surprised that any templates I’ve created are tied to the theme that was active when I created them. I’d expect that my custom templates should remain applied to pages when the new theme is active, instead of being disregarded. I’m not sure why templates are omitted when a theme is changed.@richtabor in this comment.
I would like to be able to use templates and templates that I have created and saved, no matter which theme that is active. I know that I can view them under appearance templates/template parts, open them, copy the code and paste it into a new template, but I don’t think that is a good experience. It should be easier.@poena in this comment.
Similar to templates and template parts, this was another area that folks inherently expected would persist across changing block themes.
An issue I’ve ran into now a few times when trying out different Full Site Editing themes is that losing menu data is frustrating. I think as a non-technical user it would be confusing, because you are prompted to “Add an existing menu”, which I would think would be my menu from the last theme I was using.@timothyblynjacobs in this comment
I think it is important that navigation blocks that I have set up remains. The “Add existing menu” feature in the navigation block assumes that I have already created a menu in the navigation screen. If I only setup the navigation block as part of a headerHeader The header of your site is typically the first thing people will experience. The masthead or header art located across the top of your page is part of the look and feel of your website. It can influence a visitor’s opinion about your content and you/ your organization’s brand. It may also look different on different screen sizes. template part in the previous theme, then I can’t re-apply or reuse that navigation block. Perhaps navigation blocks should also work the other way around? I mean why can’t I select a name for my navigation block as I create it in the editor, save that in isolation like I can save the site blocks in isolation, and have that navigation menuNavigation Menu A theme feature introduced with Version 3.0. WordPress includes an easy to use mechanism for giving various control options to get users to click from one place to another on a site. present on the navigation screen?@poena in this comment.
Keeping any menus created in the Site Editor available would be important, I think this is one of the biggest issues right now.@elmastudio in this comment.
On Global Styles
Global Styles left folks a bit split with some seeing them as being theme dependent and others wanting the option to carry settings/styles across themes. There’s currently a discussion around what can and can’t be standardized which will impact how this could be implemented.
I see Global Styles tied to the theme, but it could be helpful if some common settings are taken from one theme to the next.@elmastudio in this comment.
Understandably global styles settings would adapt when a theme is changed (just like the customizerCustomizer Tool built into WordPress core that hooks into most modern themes. You can use it to preview and modify many of your site’s appearance settings.) – and I like how my custom GS settings persist when I change back to a theme (just like the customizer as well).@richtabor in this comment.
Have the option to keep Global styles modifications. Perhaps a kind of dialog box that shows up when entering the Site Editor listing adjustments I made to the previous theme, asking if I wanted to keep these adjustments or to start anew.@paaljoachim in this comment.
One question that keeps me up at night is how cross-theme compatibility will work on the content level. Default block output should translate from one theme to the next with little or no issues. However, custom block styles, font sizes, colors, and the full range of presets are already a problem area.@greenshady in this WP Tavern article.
On ideas for how to manage the process
Outside of a desire for the experience to be overall easier and more seamless, the following ideas were shared with a split in terms of folks who wanted decisions upfront vs after switching:
- Create a directory for templates and template parts, similar to block plugins or patterns, to make it easier to keep and reuse various templates/template parts.
- Offer an option to pick and choose what you want to keep before switching themes.
- Make switching easy upfront but, after switching, offer an option to import various items from the previous theme.
- Offer a side by side visual comparison of various parts of a theme before switching (templates, patterns, etc).
- Offer a way to import a color palette or template into your current theme so you don’t have to switch fully but can take advantage of different pieces.
I have experimented with one theme but figured out along the way that it does not have the patterns or finished templates or something else I had hoped for. Instead of creating the patterns and templates myself I switch themes. When I click to switch a theme I get a warning message saying that switching themes will remove the adjustments I made to the current active theme, but I have an option to save these adjustments in a kind of twilight zone between one theme and another. I select to save changes I made, and notice that these carry over to the new theme that I activate. I check and notice that the changes do carry over. I am relieved that I am able to create adjustments in one theme and have these with me to the next time…In the Site Editor I can check out what the new theme offers and when I feel ready for it I can either say yes to bringing over the changes or no because I notice that the new theme has what I need.@paaljoachim in this comment.
I actually don’t want to be prompted with having to make several decisions as soon as I activate a new theme. I would find that stressful. I want to take my time. I want to understand what the differences are between the themes, and what changes I need to make. Perhaps there would be a side-by-side comparison of common page templates like page, single post, home? Like a revision?@poena in this comment.
It needs to be easier for the users. They already needed to deal with the domain, hosting, choosing a theme etc.@anariel-design in this comment
It could also be awesome to pull a color palette and drop it into an existing theme. Sort of like having a Colour Lovers directory to pick color schemes from but keep all the other bits. This could be fun for people who can recognize a palette that they like but would never be able to handpick all those colors. I’ve often seen color schemes that I’d love to use from other themes but didn’t like other things about them.@greenshady in this WP Tavern article.
On reasons for switching and the experience
Of the various questions folks could answer, some touched on both reasons for switching and the current experience. I’ve listed each response below since only a few folks addressed this area specifically. I’m also including images from @greenshady’s post where he took a simple blog post with some custom block styles, gradient colors, and font sizes and compared the output across three different themes highlighting current problems with theme switching.
To see prebuilt template layouts (could be done in a template mosaic view to where I can choose various prebuilt layouts instead of switching themes). To have a base that I want to start from. A design that I would like to use and modify.@paaljoachim in this comment.
I think the most common scenario is a missing functionality in one theme like WooCommerce support. Next would be outdated design and lack of updates and support from the theme author.@elmastudio in this comment.
When I switched to the Quadrat I mostly lost everything that I set up in the Clove theme. That means, About page doesn’t look anything similar, colors, fonts are now from the Quadrat theme and button style too. From the user’s side, this is very confusing. If u ever used Elementor for example, and many are using it they are used to the similar overflow. If I create a template and change the look and styles and switch to any other theme this template will look the same and it will remain available.@anariel-design in this comment
I am not one for switching themes. Since I learned how to design for WordPress well over a decade ago, I have never moved from one theme to the next. At least not in the same way that the average user would. Instead, every time I have added a new coat of paint on my websites, I have simply switched over the foundation to whatever I had been working on at the given moment. WordPress themes, for me, were always just an iteration upon the last project…The first thing I do when testing any theme is to load a demo post. Lately, this has been the “Welcome to the GutenbergGutenberg The Gutenberg project is the new Editor Interface for WordPress. The editor improves the process and experience of creating new content, making writing rich content much simpler. It uses ‘blocks’ to add richness rather than shortcodes, custom HTML etc. https://wordpress.org/gutenberg/ Editor” test post. The primary question: Can I read the content comfortably? If I do not get past this stage, I simply deactivate the theme.@greenshady in this WP Tavern article.
@critterverse is exploring how to approach these flows from a design perspective and has been following along as feedback has come in. You can expect to see a more in depth design exploration shared soon enough with some of these pieces of feedback and ideas integrated in! I’ll flag this in the outreach program channel when the time comes and will see how we can explore these experiences in future calls for testing.