And now we have yet another theme store joining the fray. WordPress.org has just received its first block-based theme from Catch Themes: the Catch FSE block-based theme. The firm has 109 themes in the official WordPress theme directory, making it one of the most productive authors there. At the very least, only a handful of other artists can boast such a remarkable corpus of work.
For the past ten years, the firm has released an average of over ten free themes per year, and that doesn’t even include paid themes. Now, as the WordPress platform moves from basic PHP-based themes to those created entirely from blocks, leaders in the sector are needed to help move things along. With the avalanche of new capabilities in WordPress 6.0, I fully expect an influx of new authors to join the fold.
Prior to writing a review of a new theme, I like to install it and play about with it for a few days to see how it works for me. Afterwards, I consider whether or not to share them with the Tavern audience. The problem is that in this scenario, I’m taking a leap of faith. I’m not completely deaf, though. The Catch Themes projects I’ve seen in the past show that the company has done some excellent work. In addition, I had had a cursory look at the demo.
After installing and activating Catch FSE, my first thought was that it was a waste of time. The webpage did not resemble the theme’s screenshot or the demo’s preview image. I was surprised to find a typical blog post list instead of the business-friendly appearance I had hoped for. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be in the age of block themes.
Some of the blame lies with the theme authors, but not all of it. Over the years, those who have submitted their designs to WordPress.org have been trained to do so. Classic theme users didn’t have as much flexibility over their homepages as they do now, therefore the need for this was obvious. Because of the site editor, theme authors no longer have to be bound by the restrictions that have plagued them for so long.
It’s time to take a risk. That personalized homepage that you’ve always dreamed of putting on your theme is finally here for you to show off your design skills with. It’s time to throw off the shackles of a bygone period in favor of a more open-ended approach.
Instead than requiring users to create a new page, select a template, and then enter the template editor in order to alter it, provide an immediate solution.
Catch FSE’s blog post list works well enough, and the gradient “read more” buttons are also a nice touch. The screenshot and demos show a custom homepage, therefore I expect to see it when I activate. And, if my educated estimate is correct, it’s also what the typical user expects to see.
A little more experimenting with the theme revealed how well-designed it really was. It was a pleasure to read because of the typography. There were no hiccups in any template. Even the “widgets” in the bottom looked and felt right. Catch FSE quickly rose to the top of my list of favorite themes this year.
Those of you who have been following me for a while know how much I despise dark patterns. Earlier this year, when I learned about Automattic’s Livro, I had to reevaluate my views. I’ve gone from merely tolerating these designs to actually loving them with Catch FSE. The majority of them. Let’s not go too far out of our way.
Catch FSE, like any other theme, provides a well-thought-out collection of block patterns. There are a total of 15 included, from which customers can select.
It’s a good idea for other theme authors to take note of this. Catch FSE follows the DRY concept by reusing its own patterns in its templates and components.
With ten block styles listed, it’s impossible to tell what each one does without experimenting with them. For eight of them, the label that appears to the user merely says “Theme Style.” I don’t know what that means. Shouldn’t it be the default style if it’s the theme style?
The majority of them are alterations to the original designs of the various blocks to which they are tied. Typography, color schemes, and other design elements may be altered.
Unless I was looking for anything specific, I would have never noticed that Blockquote was so well-designed. By default, custom block styles have a problem with discoverability, and their cryptic titles don’t help matters.
The design of the comments list was the most problematic part of the theme for me. However, the new Comments Query Loop block, which was introduced in WordPress 6.0, has not yet been implemented. I’d like to see the creator devote more attention to bringing it into line with the rest of the theme’s design in a future update. It has the appearance of being an afterthought at the moment.
There are three custom blocks and ten patterns available in the commercial add-on plugin for Catch FSE, a freemium theme. Seeing upsells that are completely value-added is refreshing.
There can be no more freemium themes like the ones we have now. Instead of nickel-and-diming clients and keeping essential functionality behind a paywall, developers will have to focus on luring users with answers to their problems. In an age where most customers can create their own site designs using the WordPress site editor, the old-school upsells won’t cut it.
There is a need for plug-and-play solutions. I could be completely wrong, but I believe that block patterns will play a significant role. The block-based theme market will explode as commercial theme creators figure out how to promote and build with these new capabilities.
The ten commercial designs created by Catch Themes are a good place to start, but I expect the company to keep pushing the envelope in order to get a good return on its premium upsell. Experiment while the field is still wide open.
My biggest little complaint? The title. Please, all developers, take note: Why do we keep using the terms “Something FSE” and “Guten Something” to describe themes? There are too many projects to keep track of, making it difficult to recall which one is which. Think beyond the box and come up with something unique.
Although Catch FSE is an eye-catching and professional-looking theme, it was missing the right moniker to go along with its personality. I can only pray that people recall it.