Last year I did an interview with one of the co-founders of WPShower. At the time, this fledgling theme production duo from Eastern Europe had released a handful of clean and functional WordPress themes and had begun to garner a considerable social media following. Their work was picked up by several key online design outlets, including Smashing Magazine and WordPress Theme Garden, and rightly so since their free WordPress themes offer excellent solutions for anyone looking to set up a simple and functional blog.
Then in late 2010 everything fell silent. Despite the occasional murmur on Facebook, there was very little indication of what their next move would be. Had they stopped producing themes altogether? Were they gearing up for a major announcement? Had they been abducted by aliens? Such was the storm of questions swirling above the WPShower rain cloud. And then bam! WPShower staged its 2011 comeback last week by launching a complete overhaul of their website, and with it, a brand new premium WordPress newspaper and magazine theme called “Unspoken”. In this review I’m going to take a closer look at the Unspoken theme to find out whether it lives up to its $59 price tag and to get up to speed with WPShower’s latest endeavor.
Despite the quiet sentiment conveyed in its name, the Unspoken theme packs a feature-rich punch. It comes with enough bells and whistles to power a fully-fledged news website. In fact the design very much reminds me of the The Guardian Online website in terms of its treatment of content by media type and thematic field.
Whenever I visit the Guardian website, I instinctively know which areas of the front page to scope out relevant to my interests. The Unspoken theme offers similar content curation potential with the ability to color-code specific content groupings such as an Editor’s pick or Featured posts section for example. It also makes great use of integrating content carousels, multiple widget areas and extensive advertising spots. A lot of thought has gone into creating optimum ad spaces that are prominent without being intrusive.
But before we get carried away with complexity, let’s be honest for a moment, how many of us are likely to commit to the development of a new online newspaper or magazine? How many of us will actually make use of this degree of sophistication in a theme, brilliantly executed though it is? Very few, right? But this is where Unspoken starts to get interesting, because aside from the main newspaper layout there are two other templates to choose from: a blog layout and a magazine layout.
The magazine layout is essentially the same as the blog layout except that it features a gallery carousel at the top of the front page. What I absolutely love about the blog layout is the ajax switcher between list view and gallery view of posts in the blog stream. It is this ability to pair content down to a simple stream that opens the Unspoken theme up to a much wider audience. In fact, I think WPShower should have been even more radical in this shape-shifting exercise by allowing for the removal of complete sections of content such as the extended footer and secondary layer of navigation for example.
WordPress theme development today is a difficult balancing act. Not only do developers need the ability to balance the general with the specific, the aesthetic with the functional, mass market with niche market, but somehow they also have to make this experience as open to the WordPress beginner as possible. While the Unspoken theme excels in most of these tasks, there is still some work to be done in adding to the user-friendly admin panel so that the level of complexity displayed so brilliantly on the front-end becomes even more exploitable on the back-end!
As it stands the options panel is more than adequate and simple enough to use. It allows users to manipulate general settings such as theme styles, font types, custom logos, footer text and analytics code. There are also some neat single page options such as the ability to switch on or off social bookmark links, author bio blurbs, related post sections and ad spots.
Other noteworthy features include six unique styles ranging from serif to sans-serif font styles and black, blue and grunge backgrounds. The theme also comes with some bespoke page templates including a sitemap template (a must-have in terms of SEO), an innovative tag cloud template with an alphabetic listing of content tags, a wide layout template and a gallery template that taps into the native WordPress photo gallery function.
One final aspect of the theme I want to mention before rounding this review up are the number of bespoke widgets on offer; 10 in total! These range from the more conventional twitter and flickr widgets, popular and recent posts, comments and archives, to the more elaborate front page content and ad widgets allowing you to shape and position the newspaper/magazine elements with freedom and ease.
Overall, WPShower’s Unspoken theme is a feat of WordPress engineering that marks a very promising foray into the premium market. The theme’s ability to handle the complexity of a newspaper or magazine website and the simplicity of a solo blog, coupled with an elegant and clean design grants it a place at the top of the competition in this theme category. I look forward to seeing more work from this dynamic duo from Eastern Europe, and a hint at the next project has recently been announced on the WPshower Facebook page. All that’s left for me to say is: Go and check out the Unspoken Theme yourselves!