The last review resulted from my search for a good minimalist theme for WordPress. I found what I was looking for, but the search continues, now driven by curiosity. This time I review three themes. While all are definitely clean, two cannot be accurately described as minimalist, at least in their default setup. However, as you will see, thanks to the options that they offer, they can be made as minimal or as maximal as you wish.
The general requirements were the same as in the last review. The number of themes was also going to be the same (5), but I excluded two, both for the same reason: they use a global CSS rule (universal selector) to reset paddings and margins, and then leave HTML elements unstyled.
This was a surprise to me — in one of the two themes more of a disappointment, in fact, as it is among the best I have tried. That was not the first time I saw global CSS resetting with HTML elements left unstyled, but it was the first time in a theme I liked. Hence the long comment...
If you feel you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may want to scroll down to the reviewed themes. If you are curious, I tried to put together a compact explanation.
Universal CSS reset and HTML elements left unstyled...
Each web browser applies some default styling to HTML elements (headings, paragraphs, lists, etc.), but not all browsers apply the same defaults. To deal with this issue and to achieve uniform rendering across all browsers, many web designers use a technique called “CSS reset”: In their stylesheets, before doing anything else, they reset values of attributes for several HTML elements. Then, they restyle the elements one by one.
Two styling attributes whose values are always reset (set to zero) in this technique are
padding. The two themes I left out reset the values of just these two attributes,
padding, not for selected elements, but for every HTML element, by using a “universal selector” (a wildcard character). Then, they restyle only some elements, leaving the rest with no margins and paddings. The result can be seen below:
Once I saw what the two themes did to my text, I lost all inclination to review them.
I know this might seem like nitpicking to some and not a serious reason to exclude good themes from a review. How many WordPress users care about
h4 headings or have even heard about HTML definition lists? In fact, definition lists are nowhere to be found int WP editor, not even in its “Kitchen Sink”. So, why should a theme designer care about them and why is this valid criticism? — I thought about this, and I concluded that it is not relevant:
WordPress is a flexible universal publishing system. You can publish just one link or one photograph one day, and the next day copy a long article from your text editor, marked up in XHTML with every element defined in the specification, paste it into the WP text area, type a title and click Publish. WordPress does not say: “You should only use a specific subset of (X)HTML or your content will get scrambled.” It accepts and handles well everything valid.
This is what I like most about it: It does not restrict you. You can do whatever you want with it, it is easy to use at either end and works well at either end.
This basic but universal functionality of WordPress should be preserved by themes, whose raison d’être is to enhance what is offered by default. If, instead, a theme carelessly removes basic functionality, then it is not acceptable. This is how I see it.
Interestingly, one of the themes is hosted on wordpress.org (the other is not, because of incompatible licencing), which produces an oxymoron: The wordpress.org section named Extend hosts themes that remove basic functionality taken for granted in any default WordPress installation...
END OF COMMENT
The three themes
Following are the three themes that did not misbehave during the review. :-p
0. Common features, General notes
- All three themes are published under the GNU GPL, the same licence used by WordPress.
- All offer nice printing (Atahualpa by means of an included plugin).
- All offer an options page (see screenshots — many interesting options).
- All offer alternative layouts.
- Atahualpa: 3 or 2 col., flexible width, adjustable-width sidebars, removable/adjustable header, and more.
- PlaintxtBlog: 3 col., flexible width, sidebars left or right (not on either side).
- Tarski: 2 col., fixed width, sidebar left or right, bottom widget area, removable/adjustable header.
- All use
text-transform:uppercase— Tarski and PlaintxtBlog extensively so. I commented on this typographic effect in my last review, but you are probably not interested unless
text-transform:uppercaseis not designed for your language or unless you have aesthetic objections to the extensive use of block capitals.
- PlaintxtBlog and Tarski offer three page templates each. (Atahualpa supports the default page for archives.)
- In PlaintxtBlog they are: Archives, Links and Sitemap.
- In Tarski they are: Archives, Links and Tags.
Most screenshots are from Firefox for Linux. My Linux desktop had none of the fonts specified by the themes, so Firefox used a replacement font, the same in all instances (Liberation by Red Hat), neutralizing font preferences and differences.
By: BFA Webdesign
Characteristics: 3 or 2 col., rotating headers, SEO, easy and extended customizability
Version reviewed: 2.21
While not exactly beautiful, Atahualpa is attractive. Its attractiveness comes largely from its partly opaque, rotating header images, which, like almost anything in it, are fully customizable: You can adjust opaqueness, add images via FTP for greater variety, overlay the site’s title, remove all images but one for a static dispaly, remove them all, or just unselect the option.
But what attracted me most to Atahualpa is its pragmatic, down-to-earth approach: everything it does or offers seems to be of good practical value. And, while normally I would dislike so many options, I liked them in Atahualpa for three reasons: 1. they all made sense; 2. they were clearly and concisely explained (see screenshot — I enjoyed reading the explanations); 3. they allow you to adapt the theme’s looks and functionality with a few clicks (see third screenshot for an example).
A great bonus of Atahualpa is the four included plugins. They are among the most popular WordPress plugins, but normally three of them require editing of WordPress files. In Atahualpa all you have to do is activate them.
NOTE. I was sceptical at first about the inclusion of plugins, because I thought they were modified. So, I run a comparison with the files as originally distributed and it only showed differences for WP-PageNavi (I have no idea what that could mean in practice). Subscribe to Comments, WP-Email and WP-Print were identical. If you, like me, hesitate to use a modified plugin (what if an update breaks it? does it even support the automatic update mechanism?), WP-Email and WP-Print working out of the box is still a great bonus. (Subscribe to Comments works out of the box anyway.)
The site of Atahualpa seemed disorganized and confusing to me. (This is why the links are to wordpress.org.)
CONS: Site disorganized. Does not honour date format preference.
WARNING. The Atahualpa options screenshot is huge! 1011×5613 px (635 kB).
By: Scott Wallick
Characteristics: 3 col., all-white, flexible width, options, microformats
Version reviewed: 4.6.1
As I was looking again at PlaintxtBlog for this review, I was wondering why I didn’t choose it for op111.net the first time I saw it. I think I found the answer: I was confused by the choice offered in Scott Wallick’s site. While the Sandbox theme is more than sufficiently distinguished from any other WordPress theme, the differences among the other themes do not, in my opinion, justify five (5) different offerings. I think a little consolidation could help easily confused fellows like me.
Other than that, judged on its own merit, PlaintxtBlog is a model minimalist theme: forward-looking, fully functional and clean. In its author’s words: “PlaintxtBlog is [...] ideal for customization, [...] light yet rich. An ideal theme for those wanting focus solely on the content.” Its options page is not as rich as the other two here, but anything much larger would probably be out of character. (In any case, an options page is always a bonus; not many themes offer this.)
Something I particularly liked in PlaintxtBlog was the Sitemap template, which, in one page, displays lists of:
- All pages
- All posts
- All montnly archives
- All category archives
- Most common tags
As a visitor, I always appreciate sitemaps in sites.
Something else I liked was the option to select font, but I would prefer a wider selection, not only “web safe” fonts. (In Atahualpa you can also select some of the Microsoft ClearType fonts.)
CONS: Sidebars may be too narrow for some kinds of content (their width is not adjustable).
Not many themes are like Tarski. To put it this way, I would be comfortable choosing it even without knowing what it looks like: It has been localized in about twenty languages, it has a proper website, proper documentation, proper changelog (and also a roadmap), proper release notes, legacy downloads, a forum, even a dedicated page acknowledging people who have helped in any way in its development.
If I chose to use it, I would certainly modify its fonts, but that’s not important. What is important is Tarski’s quality as a project, its options, its features and its extensibility. You can see the options in the screenshot below. What I liked best was Asides/Miniposts and the option to add a category of links to the navigation bar.
Among its other features, I found most interesting the bottom widget area, which is divided in two parts (see third screenshot). This brings the total number of widget areas in Tarski to four. (In Tarski, posts and pages can have different widgets than index pages.) However, when not used, the bottom widget area has a display issue: its double top border remains visible, which results in two double borders (one for it and one for the footer) encompassing an empty space.
As for customization, it is possible in two main ways in Tarski:
- An “alternate style”. — Alternate styles in Tarski all like child themes. They inherit everything from the main style and their rules override the equivalent rules of the main style.
- Its hooks API, which can be used to add content, navigation etc. to sections of pages: code.google.com/p/tarski/source/browse/trunk/app/api/hooks.php
CONS: Nothing really. (I had put something about Times New Roman here but then removed it.)
Still haven’t found your minimalist theme? It may be waiting for you here!
Thanks for reading!
THE 3 THEMES AGAIN
- The family of fonts seen on the Linux screenshots. (Liberation fonts were accepted into Debian in July 2008. I suppose it won’t be long now before they find their way into the host of distributions based on Debian.)
- The site of Ben Eastaugh, creator of Tarski. It uses a customized Tarski, very minimal and very clean.
- If you want to learn more about css-resetting, start from this page by Eric Meyer.
- The home of Atahualpa and other themes by the creator of Atahualpa.