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First Look at Kirby, WordPress 2010 Default Theme Concept by Ian Stewart

When the WordPress Core Team met after WordCamp Orlando, canonical plugins weren’t the only big announcement for 2010. The other announcement was that WordPress would receive a new default theme in 2010, thus retiring Kubrick by Michael Heilemann.

Jane Wells announced the concept and immediately hinted at what the Core Team was thinking off:

The default theme doesn’t need to be a full-featured framework, it just needs to work well, look awesome, have good code and be a good starting point for beginning themers. We were thinking of a fairly minimalist design that would make it easy to customize.

Basically a ‘2010 Kubrick’, a slim and slick theme with modern look and ‘cutting edge code’. Enter Ian Stewart of Themeshaper and Thematic fame. Immediately after the announcement Ian had tweeted that he would make a concept and release what he thinks could be a candidate for the WordPress 2010 Default Theme. Some weeks later his theme, Kirby, was released in the theme directory.

In an introduction post to Kirby, Ian explains the thinking behind his Kirby theme and why it should not be a framework:

…while knowing that most people start their WordPress-theming with the Default Theme and, increasingly, their web designing with the Default Theme—knowing and suffering under that awful pressure and responsibility—how do you make it easy to tweak simply and make it easy to Child Theme—without turning it into a Framework Theme.

Trust me here. While people may be asking for a Framework as the Default Theme they’re not all asking for the same thing. Something as robust as Thematic will have people running screaming away from it. People that want Framework Themes can download Framework Themes. I’m not so sure every new user should have one forced on them.

Kirby, The Looks

I personally am a minimalist myself and every time I need a design for an own site the content has to be central. Content, not images or ads. I actually recently switched to a one-column design/mod on my personal blog, taking out every possible distraction. At the same time, hardly any theme I have worked with in the past has stayed untouched by me, the less changes I need to make the more I like themes obviously.
Kirby does exactly this and I could imagine using it on sites without making any major changes: it’s modern, it’s got appeal and still looks simple, very slick. What Kubrick didn’t do for me and lead me to k2 a long time ago, Kirby does.

It goes without saying that it is impossible to please everyone, but this theme is rock solid already; rock solid, albeit only version 0.3.1. Everyone who has been around for a while in the WordPress scene will recognise elements from other great themes, but the real strength of Kirby certainly is the typography. Kirby does not get in your way and focuses on that what matters most: the content.

What Don’t I Like?

Some elements in Kirby feel whether superfluous or aren’t complete enough yet. But that goes without saying for an 0.3.1 release:

  • I really am not sure if I need to see my mugshot gravatar with every title on the home page. While this might be interesting for co-authored blogs, it seems unnecessary for a single author blog. This should be optional, not a default setting.
  • While ‘About the author of this post’ blocks might have become fashionable and popular, for a default theme this seems overkill to me. On a single authored blog, I think there’s little sense to add this to every post. On multi-authored blogs, this could also be overkill, especially when an author posts more than once/day. I think it would be smarter to move this information to the author pages like we did here on BloggingPro.
  • Archives feel incomplete: personally I do think it would be better to add excerpts to the archives. The standard excerpt might not be the best option because cutting off at 255 characters often delivers a rather bad excerpt and that might have made Ian decide for the actual archives display. But without excerpt, ‘something’s missing’. When opting for this style of archives, I certainly would drop the tags. Especially because some people really overdo tagging categorising.

  • Right now I might be annoying but I do have problems with the ‘Posted in… | Tagged… | Comments…’ structure below posts archive view. As can be seen in the following two screenshots (resized to width 585px) this display can become cluttered. When using it with the popular Sexy Bookmarks plugin there is not enough of space above the metadata paragraph and the ‘Post a comment link’ goes completely lost in the ‘clutter’.
    In the regular view the ‘Leave a comment’ link goes lost as well when more categories and several tags are used. Which WILL happen, people love tagging and many love ‘over-tagging’!.

I do not think that a default theme needs to display post thumbnails in the default settings.

Kirby, The Code

There is no doubt that developers and designers will have an extensive look at the code of every ‘default theme candidate’ and this is actually what I like about Kirby. Some might argue that the functions.php of Kirby too big is but I think there could be even more included. Kirby’s theme functions are well thought out and most things in the functions.php are not more ‘cutting edge’ than Kubrick, with its numerous conditional tags, was.

Personally I hope Kirby will offer the option to activate post thumbnails and also maybe some more options within the theme. It is admittedly a difficult and thin line to walk between being a solid default theme or becoming a framework but popular themes have shown to need several options. ‘Multiple columns’ seems to be one ‘compulsory option’ nowadays.
k2 Has shown that even a custom header image does not have to exclude the option of having a fluid theme and albeit the way ‘Dynamic columns’ in k2 are implemented can be argued about, it is something worth to be considered for a default theme.

The stylesheet analysis, I will leave to the pundits. Probably the stylesheet of the 2010 Default WordPress Theme will still be analysed, dissected, discussed and argued about in 2027 anyway. ;)

Final Words About Kirby

There is not much not to like about Kirby. Kirby takes the best of 2 worlds: solid default looks (‘k2 modernised’), build upon a rather simple stylesheet, without superfluous AJAX and with less issues and a smarter ‘thinking design’ than we know from fe. Cutline.

If not the 2010 default theme for WordPress, I certainly do hope to see Kirby on soon.

Ian’s introduction post to Kirby: link | Kirby in WordPress Themes Directory: link.

Categories: WordPress Themes
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  1. Ian Stewart ) says: 1/7/2010

    Thanks for the lengthy review and criticisms, Franky. I really appreciate it.


    • Franky Branckaute ) says: 1/7/2010

      Thanks for creating Kirby, Ian. It doesn’t happen often that a good new theme is added to the repo, let alone one as solid as Kirby. Some great thinking went in Kirby and I hope it will become ‘one more popular Ian Stewart theme’ and who knows re-2010 Default Theme.


  2. Lucas Cobb ) says: 1/7/2010

    I have been following Ian’s Kirby updates via twitter for a few weeks now and have really liked being able to follow Kirby’s development from inception to 0.3.1 and beyond. True is the point brought up about the mugshot on the homepage with every post title is a bit obsessive, I can really see it working on a blog with several post authors. It might be a welcome change to display category images instead as I find that useful when I dont feel like reading and just want to check for a certain type of post and can get there much faster with a visual marker. All in all its been one heck of a ride so far and I can’t wait to see where Kirby goes in the future.


    • Franky Branckaute ) says: 1/7/2010

      Lucas, it was interesting to follow the development of Kirby on Twitter. I certainly enjoyed how it came along.

      I like the idea of category images and have used something similar in the past (in a Cutline mod, just before plaintext it to the functions.php took), but again I think if implemented this should be optional. Not as a default for the whole (WP) blogging world and their 3 nephews.


  3. Dave ) says: 1/7/2010

    Thanks for the review. I think I like it… and seeing as how a ton of wordpress blogs end up using the default theme, it will be nice to have an updated, fresh theme.


  4. Josh ) says: 1/8/2010

    Hi Franky,

    I suppose I could probably alleviate one of the issues you mentioned… I’ve actually seen quite a few themes that don’t allow ample room above each section, so I could probably add my own bottom margin to SexyBookmarks to compensate for themes like that.

    What do you think would be enough? 25px? 30px? 50px?


    • Franky Branckaute ) says: 1/8/2010

      Hi Josh, thanks for jumping in. That of course would be the best option for Sexy Bookmarks. Considered that many themes and designs use 20px-25px between paragraphs something along those lines would be a good standard.

      Btw, I think whitespace should always be at the bottom of elements, not at the top. But for me it was a great to show the cluttering here. ;)


  5. Josh ) says: 1/8/2010

    Thanks for the input Franky…

    I’ll make sure to add that in the next release. The reason I had left 0px margin on the bottom was for the overall look of the icons sitting on some sort of platform or stage and coming up from out of it.

    However, I can see now that it’s caused some issues I hadn’t thought of in the beginning. haha


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