Death To WordPress Options?

in Blog

The vast majority of free and premium WordPress themes come with their own options panel to help you change commonly used features easily. At the very least themes allow you to upload your own logo, change the website favicon and add your Google Analytics tracking code. Many go above and beyond this and allow you to customise fonts, colours, layouts and much more.

Whenever I review a design I always talk about the options area as it is such an important factor in how you use the theme. A good options panel can also make the difference between it being suitable for WordPress beginners or not.

Not all option panels are created equal though. I’ve spoke before about how some developers have overcomplicated things by creating functions for relatively easy edits. Sometimes these functions restrict the way you use the design rather than enhance it. For example, many options panels allow you to enter your copyright information in the options area. This means that your copyright has to be static. Alternatively, as I will show you tomorrow, by using the date function in your footer template you can automate your copyright so that it updates every year. Unfortunately, you can’t make the copyright automated if you need to enter the details in the options area.

There has some discussion about this ‘over complication issue’ over the last few weeks. WordPress developer Andrew Nacin pointed towards one of the tenets of the WordPress philosophy:

Decisions not Options
When making decisions these are the users we consider first. A great example of this consideration is software options. Every time you give a user an option, you are asking them to make a decision. When a user doesn’t care or understand the option this ultimately leads to frustration.

As developers we sometimes feel that providing options for everything is a good thing, you can never have too many choices, right? Ultimately these choices end up being technical ones, choices that the average end user has no interest in. It’s our duty as developers to make smart design decisions and avoid putting the weight of technical choices on our end users.

Andrew hit the nail on the head; many developers are putting too many options in plugins and themes and this can frustrate the user.

The Theme Foundry have also been taking this issue seriously. Andy Adams wrote about how they reviewed every single option in their theme option area and discussed whether they were needed or not. For example, they removed the option that let users define their logo alt text as the site title works just fine for that.

Ironically, after reviewing all of the settings, they ended up with 19 options over the original 16. Andy noted that they had ‘went from loving, to hating, to having a mutually beneficial relationship with options, all in a matter of weeks’.

Although I think too many options can prove a little daunting to users, I feel the real issue is not so much the quantity of options but the value of them. Options that aren’t really needed should be removed in order to improve the user experience. Perhaps all developers should go through each of their options like The Theme Foundry did and review whether the option is really needed. I have no doubt that many developers will be able to justify the inclusion of any option by saying that it helps the user, though I do think that developers should follow this ‘Why should we include this option’ process rather than ‘why not?’.

What are thoughts on WordPress theme and plugin option pages? Do you find too many of theme bloated or would you prefer more options so that the products are more user friendly?

I’d love to hear your opinion on this issue.

Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a great new year :)


Comments (3)

  • Comment by Kevin Muldoon
    Kevin Muldoon

    @Felix – The thing is, all users want something different. I think this is something that all developers have to take into consideration. There will be beginners who will want everything done through an options panel and experienced WordPress users that would prefer most things handled through simple template edits.

    @Ayman – I think hiding some features could be a good compromise. For example, have the main settings area and then have an additional section for begginers and perhaps an another section for advanced users e.g. template hooks etc.

  • Comment by Ayman Aboulnasr
    Ayman Aboulnasr

    I always tend to depend on the 20/80 rule.

    In other words, 80% of people usually use 20% only of a software features.

    So the 20% most frequent features (options) are clear, easy to find, and do the majority of the required decisions. While, the remaining 80% are good to have but should be somewhat out of the way (hidden)

  • Comment by felix

    You know, there are single knifes and there are swiss army knifes. They both cater a special purpose. in the end it comes down to what the user is looking for ;)