[development] Drupal 5.0 Theme - v2

Eric Goldhagen eric at openflows.org
Fri Sep 29 14:42:23 UTC 2006

I've been watching this debate with much interest.

I have to respond at this point with a number of thoughts and 
opinions. I hope this is viewed in the constructive manner in which I 

What is drupal and why does drupal have such a large userbase? What 
made drupal big? What is important to focus on? These are important 
questions to me and should inform decisions that we make, especially 
decisions about default theme.

One person in the debate supported their opinions by pointing out 
their association with the production of one of the largest sites 
using drupal. In my mind that is the wrong way to look at things and 
demonstrates a major danger for any f/oss project.

What the majority of users need and want will have little to do with 
that the largest users need and want.

I'm more interested in the opinions of people that have implemented 
drupal for large number of small groups than those that have done the 
largest high profile projects. As well, please keep in mind that this 
mailing list is not anywhere close to a representation of the users 
of drupal. What themes are popular? what have people, by their 
actions, told us they like/need/want? how does that inform or relate 
to the construction of the default theme?

Drupal is what it is not because of the one or two huge high profile 
sites using it. It is what it is because of the multiple thousands of 
small sites. The large folks will always have the money to make it do 
anything they want, so we must focus on what people with limited 
resources need -- in other words, the majority of users.

browsers: we must make a default theme that works in any and all the 
browsers in common use. All the small organizations I have helped out 
still have a good percentage of folks that use browsers that people 
here have said are not necessary to support in a default theme (yes 
this includes making sure nothing breaks too badly with IE 5). 
Ignoring those users would be a huge blow to the growth of drupal.

When I do a default installation to show drupal to a potential 
client, I can rest comfortably knowing that no matter what they hit 
it with, bluemarine will hold up and display as I expect.

The goal of a default theme is not to wow the user, a default theme 
should first and foremost have a simple goal -- do not get in the way 
of the user looking around and learning how things work.

window size: some seem to think that just because the average 
developer has a huge screen and most brand new computers have big 
screens that we can simply ignore the older machines and folks that, 
believe it or not, are still browsing the web at 600x800 pixels. To 
limit the core default design to large screens is foolish and will 
also limit the satisfaction people have with their installation.

rounded corners: please don't do it! don't re-create why slashcode's 
default theme sucked (I thought I left those messes far behind when I 
started using drupal as my primary cms instead of slashcode a few 
years back).

A default theme should be simple and have minimal bells and whistles. 
Avoid overly complex formatting and too many images.

fluid vs fixed width. For the use of node edit and creation screens, 
as has been pointed out, the default drupal theme must be fluid. 
Allow this to be changed in CSS or wherever if the user desires a 
fixed width, but please have the default state be variable width.

What is the use of a default theme? it is not to look really fancy 
and uber-cool, it should be simple and not detract from someone 
seeing drupal --  seeing the existence of header, footer, left and 
right sidebars and blocks; primary and secondary links, etc. (how 
they are separate and inter-related).

A default theme should make the structure of drupal (blocks / 
sidebars / regions / menus / primary and secondary links) as clear as 
possible to a new user, not hide these distinctions in a sea of 

I think there are different debates overlapping in this discussion so 
far. It is one thing to create really fancy looking themes to 
distribute *with* drupal, it is a completely different thing to 
design a default theme that will be the first place that most people 
interact with drupal. A default theme is about functionality and ease 
of modification of colors and sizes; optional themes distributed with 
core are about art and design.

This sort of concern is not "design by committee," it is about 
defining specs for a designer to work from.

Let's discuss what we all need and want in a default theme *before* 
the design work is done. Let that set of needs guide the designer and 
then get out of the way and let the designer design. Let's talk about 
what the header should be from a functional perspective, not about 
our like or dislike of washed out blue.

I don't care how wide the left or right columns are, I care that I 
can easily change their size via editing a css file. I don't really 
like the washed out blue tones, but I could not care less as long as 
I can easily modify values in a css file and get the result I want.

The default theme not only needs to be clean but it must be easy to 
change into something else with only css modifications. Drupal should 
allow me to let my designers tweak things without learning new skills.

Please don't do fancy hacks to have cute rounded corners; make clear 
and understandable code and styles that anyone with a certain level 
of knowledge can manipulate. Save the fancy stuff for non-default 

Much of what the theme under debate does and demonstrates is 
wonderful for a theme distributed with drupal, but in my opinion 
fails all tests for what a default theme should be.

I think we need to separate the debate and discussion of what a 
default theme needs from the discussion/review of any visual design 
mockups or proposals.

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