Perhaps the fates have stepped in to prove a point. After I wrote a 2,000-word piece on the lack of quality themes in the theme directory, they decided to send a message. Not once, but twice this week, a new WordPress theme has managed to catch my eye. My rational mind knows that it was just a weird twist of timing, but I am not discounting the supernatural.
Design Lab’s sixth theme, Artpop, went live in the theme directory this week. It is marketed as a block-ready WordPress theme for blogs, portfolios, businesses, and WooCommerce shops. For the most part, it has a clean and open design that provides users a lot of wiggle room to build out pages with the block editor.
Simplicity is the name of the game, and Artpop has it in spades. It adds just enough small touches to make some elements pop. Of course, I am a fan of the blockquote style, which is one area that theme authors can leave their signature:
The theme is not without a few design issues. The typography does not lend itself well to long-form content, despite being pushed as a blogging theme. With a 760px-wide content area and 16px font-size, comfortable reading is thrown out the window. Sure, it looks good in the demo, but it is not practical in the real world.
Where the theme gets things right is its coverage of block styles. End-users can put together custom layouts that do not look broken. After two years of the block editor being in core, this should be the standard experience with all themes, but I cannot stress how much it isn’t.
I even recreated the “creative” homepage design that ships with the pro version of the theme to see how easy it was. If you would rather work with premade layouts, the upgrade is a mere $30. However, if you know your way around the block editor, you can definitely build the layouts yourself.
This is the direction that theme design should be going. Provide all the capabilities in the free product. Upsell the added value of having all these extra layouts/patterns premade and available at the click of the button.
By default, the homepage displays a five-post grid. A large featured post sits in the middle while the others are aligned on either side of it. This unique layout was what immediately drew me into the theme.
Users can also choose a carousel of featured posts instead of the grid via the customizer. I am typically not a fan of slider-like sections. However, carousels, where it is clear there are extra posts to view, are sometimes an exception to the rule.
After working with block-based themes and the site editor so much over the past few months, these customizer settings feel ancient — both from a developer and end-user viewpoint. It reminds me to applaud theme authors for the years of work they have put into non-optimal systems. There will be a day when adding these types of layouts do not require nearly as much effort.
The one annoyance with the homepage options is that the theme author created a separate “Homepage” panel, which can easily be confused with the existing core “Homepage Settings” section. There is no good reason to not combine these two and free up some room in the customizer.
I would also like to see just a general cleanup of the theme’s customizer integration. The theme does not have many options, but it has nearly a dozen top-level sections, consuming precious real estate in the customizer.
The biggest downside to the theme is that it adds a customizer control that prints “Try Artpop Pro / Need more options?” to every section it adds. This is in addition to its two top-level upsell sections. The thing that makes it worse, however, is that it is broken. The “Try Artpop Pro” text is meant to be linked, but the theme has a bug that outputs the text followed by a broken link tag, which is only visible in the source code.
There really is no need for 10 upsell links in the customizer, even if eight of them are broken. The theme is nice enough on its own. The links just degrade it.
Aside from a few annoyances, the theme is worth exploring for those in the market for something new. While it is a freemium product, users can get a lot of mileage out of it without upgrading.