How clever title is that. But seriously, Pro Theme Design have an eye for great design and the code is Pro. What more can you ask. I’m honoured to have them as part of my interview series about WordPress Theme Shops.
I can relate to so many things (simplicity, accessibility) that came up in this interview. Let’s get the ball rolling, shall we.
Who is behind Pro Theme Design and what is the history about Pro Theme Design?
Pro Theme Design was founded in 2007 when I contacted Darren Hoyt about creating a premium theme together. We’d both had a small amount of success making free themes and I thought we might be able to do something that could make us some pocket money. These days Pro Theme Design is entirely run by me, Ben Gillbanks. I still partner with Darren, and sometimes other designers, but in general the site is entirely run by myself.
What kind of themes you build (general, certain niche, business, eCommerce etc.)? Is there a target audience for your themes?
I create general themes that are targeted at specific niches. The themes are designed to have clean code, and simple designs, and be easy to personalize. My target audience is WordPress implementers. People who want to buy simple themes that can be easily customized for their clients.
My focus is on simplicity. I want the themes to be simple both visually, and in terms of code & options. Most of my themes have less than 5 options in the Customizer, some don’t have any. That said – because I support all of the WordPress default functionality – and most of Jetpacks features – my themes are still very flexible. I am constantly amazed by the things I see people doing with them. You can see a small sample on the Pro Theme Design showcase.
Showcase 2-3 of your themes that you are most proud of. Why they are cool themes?
In general I am most proud of the themes I have made most recently. I seem to learn something new with each theme I make, and my two most recently released themes are definitely my best so far.
Passenger is a theme designed for scrapbookers and travel bloggers. It has quite a unique design, that’s meant to emulate physical media. It’s also the first theme I have made that has had a full accessibility review.
Carmack is my most recent theme, and I would say my most technically advanced. I learnt loads with this theme. I switched from less to sass and I used svgs instead of icon fonts. I also got this theme accessibility reviewed – all my themes will be accessible from now on. I’m currently preparing Carmack for self hosted sites but you can see it on WordPress.com.
Where do you get inspiration for design and code?
For design I like to use Dribbble and DesignerNews. I’m currently really interested in finding designs that are different. Websites are looking more and more alike and I’d like to make something that works in a different way.
I don’t really have a place for inspiration for code. Sometimes I’ll see people mention something interesting on Twitter and I’ll store it for future use. Other times I see a nice effect or trick on a website I’m visiting so I’ll inspect element and work out how it was done.
What is your business and marketing strategy? (Do you have themes on wp.org, wp.com, lite versions, commercial versions, memberships etc.)
I’ve tried all sorts of things. Currently most of my sales are through WordPress.com but I want to shift this so I am less reliant on them. I currently have one theme on WordPress.org, and two more that have been submitted. I plan to make some more in the future and try upselling premium versions of them. I’m also working with Alex Denning on a WordPress course that we hope to release in September 2016.
How is your theme business doing and do you have other business? Any numbers to give?
Pro Theme Design earns enough money for me (and my family) to live on – and I work on it full time. There’s no other businesses.
Any specific workflow how you build themes? What kind of development tools you use?
Currently I use Atom for code editing, Sketch for design, a combination of Codekit and Gulp for building things. My local dev environment is powered by MAMP and a host of WordPress plugins, many custom made, that help me to build things quickly.
I have a starter theme I use that I made. It’s a combination of a theme called Gravy that Darren made years ago, _s, and various changes I have made over the last few years of using it. With the starter theme and my custom plugins, I can build new themes quite quickly. The slow part is coming up with a unique design, and then testing it in all the possible combinations.
Like my themes, I like to simplify my process as much as possible. Anything I can automate I will. If it means I get to spend less time on the mundane/ repetitive things and more on doing the things I enjoy then it has to be a good thing.
What are your future plans? Do you see themes changing in some direction?
As I said earlier, I’d like to reduce my reliance on WordpPess.com – so one of my focuses is going to be on increasing sales through Pro Theme Design. I am also looking at building related products – such as WordPress courses. I don’t see themes themselves changing a great deal. There’s a lot of talk about the WordPress REST API but I don’t think there’s much need for it in the themeing world – at least not in the short term.
Any other tips and tricks you want to share for users and for other theme developers?
Even if you don’t use Underscores starter theme, it’s worth downloading and dismantling. There’s a lot of cool tricks in there that probably aren’t immediately obvious. Follow the WordPress coding standards (PHPCS is your friend).
Finally, just build stuff. It’s the best way to learn.