PixelGrade: Bold and Beautiful Themes

Have you ever watched the Bold and the Beautiful soap opera? I’ll have to admit that I did watch it with my mom in the nineteens. But what’s WordPress Theme Shops got to do with soap opera?

Probably nothing but PixelGrade’s themes are bold and beautiful! Just check their website or any theme they have on Themeforest.

Vlad Olaru shared really interesting insights of their journey and way of thinking. I like their vision, and themes.

Who is behind PixelGrade and what is the history about PixelGrade?

Behind PixelGrade is a team of passionate people with a deep love and appreciation for great design. We are currently 11 strong covering from management, design, development, customer service to marketing and copywriting. We are quite a diverse bunch each team member bringing something interesting to the table.

Our history is quite dull (we’ve covered it quite extensively in the past) and we are not embarrassed by that. In fact, we consider it a healthy upbringing. But let me sum it up for you:

  • the co-founders (me and my brother George) started out as web design and development freelancers in the good old days of vWorker.
  • the things went well but something was missing (work kept piling, clients kept asking for more, the burden felt heavier), so we decided to introduce some order and clarity: we moved to a proper office and (slowly) started gathering people around our principles and passions.
  • we did all kinds of work: from site maintenance to fully fledged custom web apps; things were on the up and up but, with time, the need for clarity arose again (some difficult projects coupled with our inexperience in handling them made that very obvious).
  • so we shifted (gradually) to becoming a premium WordPress themes shop, for the first time having the freedom to be our own clients and set our own course; we are now fully focused on our developing and maintaining our themes.

What kind of themes you build (general, certain niche, business, eCommerce etc.)? Is there a target audience for your themes?

PixelGrade Themes

We are a playful crew and we enjoy exploring new niches with new challenges. This is why we try to create niche themes catered to a narrow set of requirements. We believe this is a future proof way of keeping things fun for the team, of continuously learning and experimenting, and delivering real value to real people. We haven’t imposed restrictions upon ourselves regarding what niches we target and what we exclude. It’s a matter of opportunity, present personal interests, and overall portfolio structure.

That is why the multi-purpose themes were off our table from the very beginning and thankfully we’ve stayed the course. We considered them the death of elegance, value, and fun. So, no thank you.

Now regarding our target audience, we have managed to define 3 main segments: creative people/entrepreneurs (photographers, visual artists, journalists), local small businesses (restaurants, coffee/tea shops, small boutique shops) and hobby-driven people (personal bloggers, travelers).

Showcase 2-3 of your themes that you are most proud of. Why they are cool themes?

Rosa theme screenshot

Rosa WordPress Theme

Now this is a hard one. It’s like asking a parent who is your favorite child. But since deep down everyone has a certain soft spot (even parents 🙂 ), I will highlight Rosa and Patch.

Rosa is one of our most succesful themes (certainly the most profitable). It is a theme targeted at the small local restaurant or coffee/tea shop, catered for their presentation needs with some business focuse functionality (like the integration with OpenTable for reservations).

The driving force behind it’s success (and its coolness) is it’s ease of use (by sticking to WordPress standards in terms of workflows) and the great (and flexible) design of the hero area + content blocks. One thing we are especially proud about Rosa is the buttery smooth parallax effect we’ve managed to achieve. It wasn’t an easy task but we believe we’ve struck a good balance.

Patch is quite a different theme from Rosa in terms of targeting: it is a blogging theme with a magazine touch. Blogging is often underrated among theme authors since it is seen as a core functionality, hence it is hard to project value from it; you can’t brag with over-the-top functionality; you have less elements to play around.

We believe these constraints are actually a great opportunity to focus more on each element of the design ( #constraintsareliberating ). Patch is a wonderful example of this getting-back-to-basics with it’s clever masonry grid that uses the post’s data (title, featured image, post format) to allow for exciting layout “accidents” while keeping an overall balance.

Where do you get inspiration for design and code?

Design inspiration is everywhere: from personal passions and interests, other designers we follow, the content we read, movies we see, artists we appreciate, stuff we happen to encounter in our travels, to the people we meet (their own passions and work). Our designers just have to capture something from this fuzzy blob and compress it to a product that delivers value to our customers. Easy right? 🙂

Code inspiration (though we seldom use the term inspiration for code – learning, research, problem-solving would more often be on our minds) comes from the WordPress.org standards, great developers that constantly push things forward with their purposeful perspective and witt (think the ones working at the likes of Automattic, 10up, Human Made, Delicious Brains, etc.). We also try and find inspiration in one another, each having a different background and particular way of tackling a problem.

What is your business and marketing strategy? (Do you have themes on wp.org, wp.com, lite versions, commercial versions, memberships etc.)

Currently, we are exclusive authors on ThemeForest (this is where we’ve started our premium WordPress themes journey), we sell themes on WordPress.com and our own shop; the themes sold on WordPress.com are also present on our shop (WP.com being a service where one can’t download it’s theme and they also don’t impose exclusivity).

We have had some experiments with free themes on WordPress.org (one of them being a lite version of a theme on our shop) but they are not our main driving force. Most of our clients come due to the traffic generated by the 2 marketplaces, plus our own efforts of marketing (centered on getting theme reviews and social media attention).

We are currently in the process of reestablishing our strategy on more solid foundations: we are working on a new shop (a proper shop) that will allow us to better focus our efforts and better serve our clients. We will still be authors on ThemeForest and WP.com but a larger part of our efforts will be directed to our own shop.

How is your theme business doing and do you have other business? Any numbers to give?

For quite a while, we’ve been very transparent with our numbers through our semestrial Transparency Reports. Overall we are doing great, at least to our standards, with a few ups and downs here and there (just to keep us on our toes). Numbers wise, our latest report puts us at a $57,933 monthly average income with $33,750 in monthly expenses.

As for other businesses, no, we don’t have any. We put all our collective efforts into PixelGrade.

Any specific workflow how you build themes? What kind of development tools you use?

I don’t think we are doing anything out of the ordinary. Maybe the fact that we self-impose tight new themes release schedules; we usually aim for 6-8 weeks for a new theme starting from the moment the designers get to work until we put it up for sale. This way we are forced to trim off the “fat” and produce a lean theme with maximum value for our customers. We start our themes from _s (again to keep it low fat) and we use SCSS for all of our CSS needs.

As developement tools go, we are also within the norm, I think: our trusty Macs, Sketch, PHPStorm, Sublime Text, Chrome, GitHub, Pressmatic (more recently for local environment).

Any other tips and tricks you want to share for users and for other theme developers?

For theme users/buyers, I would urge them to consider very carefully their needs (or their business needs) and focus on getting the theme that manages to fulfill them (preferably just them) in a clear and thoughtful manner. The closer your needs and the theme’s offer are, the more value you will get and the happier everyone will be. Oh, and keep the theme’s price on the very bottom of your concerns list; you are in for a bargain no matter what theme you pick; just make sure it is the right bargain for you.

As for theme developers, one thing: go out, team up with good designers, and become theme authors. This is the only way you will remain relevant for the medium term. Functionality alone can be easily copied and commoditized, design with a rock-solid functional foundation not so much. Oh, and let us all unite and kill the multi-purpose theme 🙂

What are your future plans? Do you see themes changing in some direction?

Some of the business plans I have already described in terms of a new shop and a new playground. As for the future of themes (and WordPress to some extent), I strongly believe we will soon enter a post-crisis situation (I believe we are currently in a silent crisis) where customers will better understand the value that needs to be delivered by a theme (and what by plugins) and authors will start to think more in terms of product (and the experience associated with it) and less in terms of code. This will be a far more healthy space to work, grow and attract new talent.