In viewing, reviewing and using countless WordPress themes – free and premium – it’s clear to me that one of the biggest barriers between the user and the theme is not so much what the theme looks like, but how it works. Can it do this? Can it do that? And can I make it work without too much hassle?

If you look through premium WordPress theme websites, the most recurrent pre-sales questions begin with the words “can it do…”

There’s a very simple reason for this. WordPress developers and marketplace managers do an excellent job of showcasing new themes, and readers of this blog will know that I’ve had a couple of things to say about window dressing and its discontents, but they do scant little to show prospective customers how their theme setups work.

Some companies do provide screenshots of theme admin panel options, but that’s pretty much as good as it gets. The tendency is to focus 90% on the front end and 10% on the backend when it comes to marketing themes. When in reality, to make an informed decision as to which theme will work for your site, you need a 50/50 balance.

In short, this is a call out to the big guns of the theme industry (who have the financial wherewithal) to do more to provide real-time working showcases of both the front and backends of premium WordPress themes.

More specifically, I’d like to see the same amount of effort go into developing admin panel showcase plugins as there is for theme demo plugins. If we’re serious about raising standards and creating ethical marketplaces then surely customers should have the opportunity to see what they’re buying into.

Developers may be reluctant to get behind this idea, partly because it would mean really getting their admin panels ship-shape with optimum functionality and ease of use, but partly also because they might see it as another element of competition in an increasingly competitive market.

But in the long run everyone stands to benefit. Customers get to see behind the scenes and can make an informed choice on what it is they are buying. Developers will have to raise their game, but they will also see less “can I do…” pre-sales questions. WordPress as a platform will be making a small step further.

I’d love to hear what you think about this, whether you’re a customer, a developer, a designer or generally interested in WordPress. Let me know below.