Chip’s great post on Points of Emphasis and a recent discussion about a specific Theme Unit Test guideline (failing themes with long titles that overflow) point to a need to change our attitudes to the theme review guidelines.
If you step away from that specific Trac ticket and look at the bigger picture you’ll see a change is needed to make all WP theme reviews less dogmatic and more pragmatic; not only WP.org directory but also for WP.com, ThemeForest, MOJO, any other marketplace that accepts some submissions and rejects others.
The items in the Theme Unit Test are guidelines not hard and fast rules. Highly recommended and encouraged and we should feature and love and promote the themes that nail them all. Shout from the mountaintops if a themer manages to achieve the full list! Themes that don’t nail them all can sink to the bottom of the list organically because people might end up not liking them as much.
Guidelines shouldn’t cause a theme to fail or be prevented from being in the directory. That should be limited to blockers like licensing, security, and spam/malware. What Chip said.
By letting theme designers choose to implement guidelines in full—or not—you give the power to end users to vote for the best ones by activating them. Instead of keeping out hundreds or thousands of potentially amazing themes that fail the too-strict rules we have now. The themes—and the people behind them—that we lose out on might never come back; and there’s evidence this has happened many times already.
Changing a strict philosophy of enforcing guidelines as rules to encouraging more experimentation and variety will go a long way to remove negative friction from reviews and make the themes in the collection better in the long run.
In summary: let’s enforce the “Points of Emphasis” (security, license, no spam) and leave the rest as recommended guidelines. We absolutely love if you follow them all, but none are blockers to your theme being included in the directory.