It is literally the one thing that no one was asking for, but we can all collectively agree is kind of cool. A block-based version of the old-school Kubrick WordPress theme exists.
Gutenberg lead Matías Ventura tweeted a quick video of it in action yesterday. Fellow Automattic engineer Riad Benguella had put the theme together.
Wait, what? 🤯
(I had no part in this, all credit goes to @riadbenguella.) pic.twitter.com/2WF8HShvSa
I am always on the lookout for those nostalgic plugins and themes that harken back to my early days on the web, the early-to-mid 2000s, the golden age of blogging. And, there is nothing that embodies that more than Kubrick, WordPress’s second default theme. It was literally named “Default” and represented the platform for over half a decade.
Even today, Kubrick/Default still has over 10,000 active installs. I wonder whether it is running on now-defunct sites or if the number represents still-active bloggers.
The theme was the face of WordPress during its rise to dominance as a CMS. Theme authors owe more credit to it than any others. It was copied, forked, repackaged, and redistributed more times than most of us will likely ever know.
Kubrick 2, as it is named in the GitHub repository, is still a work in progress. There are still a few kinks, such as single posts showing the excerpt instead of the full content. However, it is a working theme.
The shocking thing about it is how little code it took to recreate Kubrick with the block system. The original theme, last updated in 2020 and now at version 1.7.2, falls short of 11 kb of CSS. I cannot remember the last time I saw a classic WordPress theme with so little code. The block-based version currently uses a handful of
theme.json settings and has no CSS.
Of course, it did not take me long to dive into the site editor and start customizing. The most recognizable design aspect of Kubrick was its gradient-blue header. It was also one of the pieces that users from around the blogging world would customize to make their site feel like their own. They would decorate it with custom colors, gradients, and even images.
Today, with the block editor, that is far simpler than a decade and a half ago. Plus, there are more options.
With such power in my hands back in 2005, I am not sure if I would have pursued theme development at all. I probably could have done everything I needed to do within the WordPress admin. Kubrick was one of my first introductions to theme design, and I owe an unpayable debt to it. It is nice to know that its legacy continues to live on.
For old time’s sake, I spent a few minutes making modifications via the site editor — ever so slightly modernizing it. However, I did not want to lose the flavor of the original work.
I am as comfortable as anyone can be in the editor. I know most of its pain points, but this somehow felt more natural than usual. Maybe it was the simplicity of a theme from a bygone era. Perhaps the site editor and I were just seeing eye to eye today. Or, it might simply have been in the cards. I had a lot of fun venturing down memory lane.
I doubt Kubrick 2 sees a lot of action in the real world. Maybe a few folks who are as nostalgic as I am will install it when it is ready for production.
Much like Ian Stewart did with Kirby in 2010, maybe some adventurous theme author will take it upon him or herself to build a modern-day successor to Kubrick. One that both leans into the block system and has readable typography. I am getting older and blinder. A 13px font size is not as easy on the eyes these days.
Nice! Actually I miss this nostalgic theme. Unfortunately the original Kubrick theme is currently still not responsive.
The Kubrick Theme was my “first love” when I started blogging in 2005 🙂
After years, it showed a message, “you cant use new features using this theme” (or so…). As a result, I switched to Twenty Twelve, which I still use. It’s a fine and good looking Theme for Bloggers. And so was …and is Kubrick!
Check the comments on this post:
Classic And Kubrick Have Left The Building
Back in ’19 I forked it to update the theme for the block editor. I was easier than I expected. Most of my time was spent replacing depreciated functions.
After that block styling as usual for any theme.
I didn’t finish, but it was a fun exercise in modernizing an old theme.
If I’m not mistaken, this is the first FSE theme that has a sidebar. At least, I’ve been obsessively comparing them all and haven’t found another with a sidebar yet. The vast majority are one-column themes, with a mobile-suited layout (you know, the really big text, flat design, and all one column). They start to look all the same.
I’m still getting used to the full-site editor and definitely do not feel comfortable as of yet adding a sidebar to an existing theme, so this one is a gem for that reason as well.
Sidebar-less designs are becoming more common in general. But, you are right that it’s tough to find a block theme with one. I’ve built one once as an experiment, but the biggest holdup is not having a nice set of responsive controls for the Columns block yet.
Anyway, there are some other options. Stewart has a left sidebar. It’s one I haven’t reviewed. Hansen has a Content and Sidebar pattern, but it’s not the default. Phoenix has a sidebar, but it was never released to the directory. It was an early experiment.
Loving Stewart, I will definitely add that to my list of contenders! (I don’t love the red text but that’s an easy fix).
I have seen Hansen, and dismissed it immediately. When reviewing themes the first thing I do is click on the Elements post and look at the typography. If the text is full-width, it’s dead to me. Can I easily change the width of the text in FSE? Yes, sure. But it is an indicator that either the designer put this out in a hurry or they are lacking some design skills that make me not trust that they are careful with the details. Phoenix is the same, but not quite as bad (a bit of margin/padding, but not nearly enough).
So perhaps I should have said, this might be the first theme with a sidebar and acceptable typography. Because I had dismissed Hansen without even getting to the sidebar!
Also last night I came across another one, Responsive FSE that has a sidebar. https://wordpress.org/themes/responsive-fse/ So there are a few.
As the FSE gets more powerful, the theme becomes a bit irrelevant. I’m looking forward to that as themes are the worst aspect of WP (developers say it’s speed is the worst…but how much of that’s because of poorly developed themes running 30 plugins and a pagebuilder on top of it!?). Right now, the least-adjustable thing about FSE themes are the fonts…so I find reviewing the fonts is a big aspect of comparing these themes.
But WP moves so fast I have no doubt they add more fonts support down the road, and then all themes will be relatively interchangeable.
A web fonts API is coming in Gutenberg 12.8 and should land in WordPress 6.0. I have no doubt that we’ll start seeing font plugins popping up to take advantage of it, letting users choose from a range of options.
WP 6.0 should introduce global style variations (already in the Gutenberg plugin), which will let themes ship different site design presets. And, these can also use the upcoming fonts API.
So, there’s definitely some font-related stuff to look forward to.
Jamie Marsland from Pootlepress just released a how-to video for adding custom sidebars today:
Awesome! I discovered their plugin back in the day but recently subscribed to their YouTube and have since become a big fan. Thanks for the link I will definitely check it out.
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