From a starter theme, back to scratch, and back again

Written by Chris Butterworth - July 2, 2020

Ok, so it’s a bit of a long winded title but bare with me.

Back when I first started learning about the power of WordPress and developing themes, I did what many others did and used a starter theme to get going. ‘Starkers’ and ‘underscores’ were the two main popular starter themes that were around back then (nearly 10 years ago) – ‘underscores’ is still used by many, with nearly 10,000 stars and numerous forks on GitHub to show this.

Starter themes were great, they taught us best practices and how to work with creating a brand new custom theme. Having a set of templates ready to use, customise and work with instantly saved a huge amount of time.

After a while, there came a point where these starter themes were no longer cutting the mustard – best practices were updating, working processes had changed, build tools were starting to come in yet these starter themes were starting to be left behind. As such, I started developing custom themes from scratch and did so for a while with varying degrees of success. I built a library of snippets to use to help with development such as quickly introducing build tools, adding a WordPress loop or query to a page, creating a shortcode (pre-Gutenberg), all of which helped speed up the process of developing a custom theme while still giving the creative freedom I craved. I honestly thought things couldn’t be more focussed on performance and, as an effect of that, carbon emissions.

When I started at Wholegrain Digital, I learnt that they had spent a lot of time creating a starter theme that was being used on every project. I’ll admit I had mixed feelings, but after realising that the custom themes I’d developed over the years have a lot of the same components, I knew that I needed to delve deeper… and I’m glad I did. You can find out more about Granola and it’s journey in a blog post written by one of the key developers, Josh.

If you didn’t have time to read that blog post, Granola is the modular starter theme for WordPress created by Wholegrain that speeds up development and focuses on digital sustainability and performance through the compression its build tools bring to the table. It’s also completely open source. so helps other developers have an amazing starting point for developing their own custom themes.

Getting to grips with Granola wasn’t difficult; it follows a lot of best practices, has great build tools and is already well established internally. Giving the flexibility and control of working from scratch with the boilerplate functions for theme components, build tools and dependencies is amazing, removing a lot of headaches with it.

Granola has changed a lot since I first started, with the introduction of coding standards, new and improved build tools, and direct integration with Advanced Custom Fields PRO to create Gutenberg blocks meaning we’re ready for the next project that comes our way.

As Wholegrain Digital continues to grow, so will Granola. It will continue to be the starting point for all our projects and evolve as updated tools and practices come along. Take a look at our work to see how effective Granola can be, and if you like what you see, why not get in touch with us to see how Granola can help us create an incredibly efficient website for you, too!