Through Automattic, I’ve spent the past two years working as a sponsored contributor to the open source WordPress project.

As someone who’d previously spent most of my time working on closed-source, NDA work, this was initially a major shift for me. I’ve found that I truly enjoy this work though — it has taught me to share ideas early and often, and to appreciate the power of freely shared knowledge and the open web. I wrote an article about my first impressions for Automattic.design.

Below are summaries of a few of my favorite contributions.

Twenty Nineteen

Together, my friend and colleague Allan Cole and I led design and development for the Twenty Nineteen theme, released with WordPress 5.0. This was the first default theme built for WordPress’ block editor.

The theme launched in December 2018, and is included by default with all new WordPress installations. According to its theme page on WordPress.org, the theme has over 500,000 activate installations.

Twenty Nineteen relies on a beautiful and performant system font stack that marries traditional serif body text with modern sans-serif headings. Among its most striking design features is its optional duotone-style image filter for featured images. I’ve always thought of it as a blogging theme at heart, but like any good default theme, it’s versatile. We built the theme’s official demo site to showcase its use as a small business’ theme.

During the project, I worked on visual and UX design, project management, and development for key parts of the theme. I also helped encourage and facilitate community contributions, which are the core of any open source project’s success.

Since launch, I’ve continued staying involved with new default themes, most recently advising on the design of Twenty Twenty-One.

Gutenberg UI Iterations

For about 12 months following the block editor’s initial release, I worked on a series of smaller UI iterations and enhancements. Each change was relatively small, but they added up to a better experience.

As part of this effort, I also added global support for prefers-reduced-motion to the block editor. 🙌

Improving Accessibility in WordPress 5.3

I collaborated with the project’s Accessibility team to improve the accessibility of WordPress’ UI in preparation for the project’s 5.3 release. We increased the contrast of UI elements throughout the interface, made button states more clear, and more.

Design Experiments

I spearheaded creation of the WordPress Design Experiments plugin and repository. This is a space for quick prototypes and explorations around WordPress UI. Here are a few experiments that I personally built for it:

Block-Based Themes

WordPress themes are at a moment of transition. In the past, a WordPress theme dictated everything about a website’s front end — the front-end HTML, the colors, the layout, and more. As WordPress’ full-site editing project moves further to completion, much of that control is being handed over to users.

This is a massive mindset shift for people who’e built their career developing WordPress themes and sites. To help folks navigate these changes, I’ve written and spoken extensively about the transition, and I also founded the community’s first regular meeting on the topic of block-based themes.

In addition, I’ve personally contributed many freely available proof-of-concept themes to help folks understand and experiment this new format. Here are just a few examples:

I’ve also contributed substantially to the block-based version of the default Twenty Twenty-One theme in that repository.