A block-based WordPress theme by Anders Norén – WP Tavern

I have been secretly keeping an eye on Anders Norén for the past couple of weeks, waiting for the moment when he pushed his first block theme into the WordPress directory. I noticed him for the first time when he tweeted a screenshot two weeks ago. And, today was the day it happened. Tove landed on the review portal several hours ago, and I’ve been tinkering with him ever since.

Although not yet downloadable from the directory, the exam system is moving much faster than in the past. It should be available soon. In the meantime, anyone who wants to try it can grab their ticket’s ZIP file.

I called his latest WordPress theme, Eksell, “the standard by which we should judge all other” themes, and Norén has a habit of posting solid designs. Could he do for the blocks what he has been doing for the classic in recent years?

The truth is, going 100% in blocks has limits. Designers can experiment and test new things, but the underlying system falls short of what’s possible with traditional themes. However, there are some feats that are much easier to accomplish. Much depends on the creator’s goals and how they work with the system instead of fighting it.

At first glance, Tove was no more impressive than most of the block themes I’ve installed and enabled. It seemed simple enough, but I imagine that’s what the theme will look like in the future. Many will be a wide open canvas that will allow users to create whatever type of site they want. The themes will mainly add personality.

One area where they can and will shine is in custom block designs. And Tove has over 40 of them.

The theme is flexible enough to be used with various sites, but it focuses on cafes and restaurants. Many models rely on this, such as custom menus, call-to-action buttons, etc.

Patterns are those pre-built elements of a design that users can mix and match to lay out the pages however they want. It also opens things up for theme authors by not having to make strict choices about how something like the homepage looks, for example. The theme offers some suggestions and the tools to put them together. But, at the end of the day, the end user decides how it all plays out.

With Tove, I created my homepage in a matter of minutes, as shown in the following screenshot. All I would need to do is populate it with personalized content.

It felt empowering to just mash up a handful of the theme’s 40+ designs and create a layout that I was comfortable with. That’s what theming really should be: handing over the keys to users and letting them take the wheel. The theme’s job is just to let them drive in style.

There are other things to love about Tove as well. It has several user-selectable custom styles such as horizontal dividers for the Columns block. However, my favorite is the shaded style for adding a blue drop shadow to multiple blocks.

Blue drop shadow on the image of a coffee in a cup in the WordPress editor.
Shaded block style.

The theme is not for everyone. The color scheme is a bit flashier and will not suit all sites. Not many designers could achieve Tove’s diagram, which is why I think I love him so much. Like Norén said in another tweet, it’s “like a plate of macaroons”. Some can work with just about anything. The rest of us are just fans.

I wouldn’t call Tove revolutionary, but it doesn’t have to be. It is built on an experimental system which still has many problems to solve. However, it’s nice to see what one of the best designers in the WordPress community can do with a limited set of tools. Norén has definitely pushed the boundaries, which should elevate the block’s theme development space.

Can’t wait until all the elements of the full site edition are in place and we can open this thing.

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