In Part 1 of our four-part interview with WooThemes Product Manager Matt Cohen, we dove into how he joined the popular theme and plugin site and learned about the lay of the land at the company’s offices in South Africa. Cohen refers to himself as Chief of Surgery for WooThemes and works on theme development, integration, and plugin support.
No interview with a self-proclaimed Chief of Surgery would be complete without talking about WooThemes’ best-selling products and overall design philosophy. After you’re done reading our interview, leave a comment and let us know if you agree or disagree with WooThemes’ approach to theme construction.
WPHub: Let’s talk about your themes. What is your general approach to theme design and development and what themes have been your best-selling ones?
Matt Cohen: When it comes to themes, they all should do one thing, which is the point I’ve tried to hit home in a couple of articles and presentations I’ve done: the theme should be sexy and lazy. All it does it look amazing; it has to look incredible.
One of our latest themes, Definition, is very basic, simple, responsive, and all of those things people love. It’s a design theme; it’s not going to make you coffee, but it looks good. We’ve tried to redefine the theme and un-learn the mindset of, “My theme must do everything for me.”
If you don’t have plugins active, Definition looks great and everything works. If you have plugins active, you can get a feature bar and a testimonial area, for instance. Definition is a good example of our approach right now.
In terms of our most popular theme, Canvas is it. It has a simple layout and a lot of extras that users can put into place. It looks very simple, but it has lots of features underneath. It’s an example of two opposite ends of the spectrum. Definition is a theme that has a lot of design to it and has features you can use. Canvas has more layout and less design, but includes features that end users and developers can take advantage of. They are very different.
WPHub: Can you talk about the popularity of Canvas? Why has it fared so well and when was it originally rolled out?
Matt Cohen: Canvas came out a couple of years ago. It started out as an idea from one of our cofounders as a clean, simple theme with a lot of customizability via an options panel. Canvas 4 was a complete rework of all of the code. We introduced things like loading content via hooks and filters. We built in all of those kinds of things to make the theme more developer-friendly.
Recently, we launched Canvas 5, which is fully responsive and has a really crisp design. We transformed Canvas and made it a turnkey approach. You can get a fully responsive design, pick colors for the background, put your logo in, and have a really nice website for someone to use.
WPHub: We heard you drop the phrase “sexy and lazy” earlier to describe your ideal WordPress theme design. Can you elaborate on what you mean?
Matt Cohen: That’s the easiest way to describe the themes I like. We as WordPress developers decided that we could sell things on top of WordPress, which is great, but we needed a solution that we can sell to our customers. We’ve evolved to have one theme with 50 million features designed in PHP.
Anything that’s not a theme-related feature should be in a plugin, in my opinion. If you have the Blue theme, for example, and it has an event manager built into it, and you want to switch to the Red theme, you’ll lose that event manager. That should be a plugin instead.
Plugins make more sense because you make one product that does everything. Definition is a good example. Maybe you just want a blog, so you load up Definition and it works. If you want Definition and you also want a shop, you can load up WooCommerce and it’s done. If you have a business website, you can load in features by WooThemes and it’s taken care of. We release these plugins, but you don’t have to use them. If you want to use them, there are no restrictions and you can do so on another company’s site besides WooThemes.
Next week, we’ll talk about the importance of the plugin space and also learn what’s on WooThemes’ development plate. Later on, we’ll hear the history of WooThemes and talk about the site’s pricing model.