This is the second part of a 2 part interview with Ian Stewart on child themes. Enjoy.
5. Speaking of child themes and theme frameworks, can you explain how one would upgrade a child theme when a theme framework is involved?
From the end users perspective there’s really no change in how you use a Child Theme as opposed to a regular theme and there’s really no change in how you upgrade that theme. Even if a theme framework is involved.
But the process of upgrading that Child Theme can be improved on. One thing I do in the pre-designed Thematic Child Themes I release commercially is add in a function that looks for a “variant.css” file in the wp-content directory. That function lets you make minor changes like adding background images and changing colors within variant.css without touching the original Child Theme CSS, making it ready to be upgraded itself without headache or incident—just like the framework it’s building on top of.
6. How do you see theme frameworks and child themes affecting the premium theme market?
Hugely. I see theme frameworks affecting the commercial theming market hugely. Frankly, if you’re making money through WordPress themes, either by selling pre-designed themes or creating custom ones for individual clients, and you haven’t taken a good hard look at using Child Themes in your business you’re wasting your time.
Consider this scenario: your company, or Theme Club, or who-knows-what, releases a GPL Theme Framework through the WordPress Themes Directory that the whole community can enjoy. You create a WordPress Child Theme for an individual client that builds on top of that framework, or maybe release a pre-designed Child Theme for it commercially on a Theme Club site. And because you’re awesome, money rolls in.
Now, when WordPress eventually changes—for the better, of course—you’re going to have to update some of that theme code. But! you’re probably only going to have to update the code in your Parent Theme—just like I mentioned in the example earlier with ThemeShaper.com and Thematic. What does that mean for your business? Because you’ve released the framework through the Themes directory every one of your clients will receive automatic notification of the upgrade and—thanks to changes in WordPress 2.7—they can download and install the upgraded theme almost instantly with the click of a button in the WordPress admin. Now, if you’re cutting theme maintenance down you’re freeing up more time to work on other areas of your business. Like, designing more Child Themes and making more money.
And even if you’re not releasing your theme framework through the WordPress Themes Directory, frameworks and Child Themes are still going to make your life easier. As professional WordPress theme developer Darren Hoyt says, “anyone who builds a quantity of WordPress sites throughout the year would be crazy to not already have their own baseline theme” (http://www.darrenhoyt.com/2008/09/18/exploring-wordpress-frameworks-and-child-themes/). And the easiest way to make changes to that baseline theme, while treating it like a real framework, is by using a Child Theme.
7. Do you think that if this trend becomes popular, would end users see a battle between the best theme frameworks via theme authors?
Absolutely. Everyone that’s ever released a WordPress theme knows about the warm feeling you get from people—often a lot of people—actually using your work (that’s not facetiousness, it’s one of the main reasons I think people keep on releasing themes). But there’s also a whole host of other benefits like increased site traffic, link building and authority in the community that provide you opportunities for making money by releasing themes for free or commercially. Sometimes a lot of money. All those benefits start to compound when you start talking about releasing a theme framework. A popular theme framework has the potential to become a self-advertising, lead-generating, service-selling machine. I think theme authors are starting to realize what that can mean for them which means, in turn, that we’ll probably soon see a whole bunch of theme frameworks popping up.
But really, a theme framework is just a good WordPress theme. We should hope there’s a battle to create the best GPL theme framework. That’s a battle where everybody in the WordPress community wins.
8. Would you care to share any other knowledge or information with our readers that you would like to cover with regards to this topic?
There’s actually a fair bit of information out there now on how to work with Child Themes. I’ve compiled a quick list of links that should give you all the information you need to get started.
Any WordPress Theme Can Be a Blank Framework (http://themeshaper.com/wordpress-theme-blank-framework/)
How I used a WordPress Child Theme To Redesign My Blog The Smart Way (http://themeshaper.com/functions-php-wordpress-child-themes/)
A Revolution in Theming: WordPress Theme Frameworks (http://themeshaper.com/revolution-wordpress-theme-frameworks/)
How To Protect Your WordPress Theme Against Upgrades (http://themeshaper.com/how-to-protect-your-wordpress-theme-against-upgrades/)
The WordPress Codex (http://codex.wordpress.org/Theme_Development#Theme_Style_Sheet)
Designing for The Sandbox (http://code.google.com/p/sandbox-theme/wiki/DesigningForSandbox)
Creating WordPress Child Themes (http://wangenweb.com/2008/07/creating-wordpress-child-themes/)
Theme Inheritance (http://extralogical.net/2008/08/theme-inheritance/)
How to make a “child theme” for WordPress. A pictorial introduction for beginners (http://op111.net/p53)
Exploring WordPress Frameworks and Child Themes (http://www.darrenhoyt.com/2008/09/18/exploring-wordpress-frameworks-and-child-themes/)
Frameworks, Child Themes, Filters, and Hooks? (http://wpcandy.com/articles/frameworks-child-themes-filters-and-hook.html)
Brainstorming the Ultimate WordPress Theming Framework (http://ptahdunbar.com/my-projects/brainstorming-a-wordpress-theming-framework/)