The past two years have seen the release of two default themes for WordPress, aptly named Twenty Ten (released in 2010) and Twenty Eleven (released in 2011). Now we can add this year’s addition, Twenty Twelve, to the list. And with it we get a new stock theme that redefines what a stock WordPress theme is and sets a new standard for lean and clean design and coding. But like all good things the Twenty Twelve theme is not without controversy, which makes it all the more exciting.
Less is more
Twenty Twelve is at the same time stripped down and sophisticated in a way we’ve only previously seen in sandbox and development themes like Toolbox and _s. But unlike these themes, which were created specifically to be used as baselines for new themes, Twenty Twelve is fully built out and ready to take on the challenges of pretty much any content you throw at it. Twenty Twelve is responsive, conforming to small and large screens and providing custom navigation for smartphones and tablets; it is in line with current ultra-minimalist design trends, putting content and typography front and center; and it has tons of cool features built in for beginners as well as advanced users. All in all it makes for a great theme whether you just want a fresh look for your site or you want a good baseline to start from when you build your own child theme or full-on custom theme.
If you ask me, one of the most important aspects of the Twenty Twelve theme is its simplicity in design, code, and implementation. When the Twenty Ten theme was released, it was a revolutionary shift from the old and stale default themes. Twenty Ten was simple to work with and had lots of advanced features under the hood like custom background color, custom header images, and more widgetized areas people could take advantage of. The next theme in the series, Twenty Eleven, built on this concept and introduced more advanced features like a custom front page template, a featured content slider, and other elements. However, the advancements of Twenty Eleven came at a cost with the theme being far more complex on the back end and far more convoluted and tricky to work with.
Considering this, Twenty Twelve is a step in the right direction. Gone are advanced features that few used in practice, replaced with simpler, more meaningful templates and tools to make customization and use as easy as possible.
Twenty Twelve at a glance
The key features of Twenty Twelve include responsive design and custom phone and tablet menus; a custom front page template as well as full-width and sidebar templates for pages; full support for Aside, Image, Link, Quote, and Status post formats; full Theme Customizer support for all the standard WordPress functions; Google Fonts integration; and the standard header image and background color support we have come to expect from modern WordPress themes. Not to mention a clean and modern design with the content front and center.
Even with all this, the true power of Twenty Twelve can be found on the back end. Twenty Twelve is a leaner and cleaner theme than its numerically named predecessors. This is great for novice theme tinkerers and advanced theme developers alike. The theme provides more bang for your brackets, separating out functions and templates in separate files and folders and wrapping up functions in conditional functions, actions, and filters to make modifications and interactions easier. In my opinion, Twenty Twelve could be the new standard from which child themes and full themes should be built.
I say “could be” because quite a bit of controversy has stirred up around one decision made by the theme creators: It doesn’t seem to support Internet Explorer 8, at least not the way that is expected.
Twenty Twelve is fully responsive and ships with a custom mobile menu for smaller screens. This much is to be expected from a modern WordPress theme. However, in implementing the mobile menu function the developers of the theme made an interesting and controversial decision: Rather than setting the desktop stylesheet as the default for the theme and making special media queries for smaller screens and mobile devices, they chose to set smaller screens and mobile devices as the default and wrap the styles for larger screens in media queries. While this is no problem for modern browsers that follow the new HTML5 standard, it is problematic for older browsers like IE8 because the provisional media queries that create the layout for larger screens is not understood by these browsers. As a result, users of older browsers like IE8 get the mobile layout on their full-size screens.
The theme developers argue that this is not an issue for two reasons: One, the mobile version of the site is perfectly acceptable even on larger screens, and two, people shouldn’t be using old and outdated browsers like IE8 to begin with.
While I agree with both these statements, I believe our job as web designers and developers is not to police the Internet but rather to provide great experiences for the end users and educate them in the process. And since we have little to no control over what hardware and software the end users choose to access our sites, we need to provide the best experience possible for all of them regardless of their choices.
We can’t let older technologies hold us back from implementing new standards. In that case, providing a suboptimal experience for users with older browsers would be acceptable. However, the IE8 issue in Twenty Twelve is not caused by this type of situation but rather the choice to set the mobile styles as the default and wrap the desktop styles in media queries. In other words, they turned the theme stylesheet upside down on purpose. Had it been turned right side up, this would not be an issue.
These are the types of issues that arise in open source and they are incredibly interesting and frustrating for everyone working in open source. Unfortunately, more often than not the end users are left in the dark about what’s going on and get the impression that things are not working right. That is not the case at all. The great thing is that these issues are usually resolved through a collective effort, and a solution to the IE8 menu problem in Twenty Twelve is imminent.
If you want to read more about the IE8 menu controversy and get an idea of how these things happen and how they are resolved, check out the forum streams Excellent base for child themes and nav bar fails in IE8 as well as the track ticket. They provide for some interesting reading.
Check out Twenty Twelve right now!
Though it may sound dramatic, do not let this minor controversy deter you. Twenty Twelve is a great and forward-looking theme and a excellent basis for child themes as well. If you are itching for a new look for your WordPress or WordPress.com site, you should give it a spin and see what you think. There are lots of customization options and you can easily make it your own. Once you’re done, post your thoughts, ideas, and questions in the comments below.
Interested in more?
• The Twenty Twelve theme at wordpress.org
• WordPress 3: Building Child Themes at lynda.com
• All WordPress courses on lynda.com
• All courses from Morten Rand-Hendriksen on lynda.com
Suggested courses to watch next:
• WordPress Essential Training
• WordPress: Building Responsive Themes
• WordPress Mobile Solutions