I’ll dive right into the news and then give you a little more of the backstory:
The Utility Pro Theme is no longer available for sale. If you currently have an active license, don’t worry. You still have access to our same great support team (thank you, Ginger Coolidge!).
After five years of creating, maintaining, and supporting Utility Pro, I’ve made the decision to take it off the market. This was a decision I struggled with for probably longer than was reasonable.
The original version of the theme, Utility, launched in the Fall 2013. It boasted support for the (then) newly released Genesis Framework 2.0, HTML5 markup, and mobile-responsive layouts. That sounds like No Big Deal in 2018, but at the time of release, those features were closer to the “exception” rather than the “rule” for WordPress development. Thankfully, expectations for front-end web development have matured over the years to include those standards (save the Genesis bit, of course).
Utility was a clean theme from both a design and coding perspective that I took pride in releasing. It also scratched an itch I’d long had to offer a product to the WordPress market.
A positive push for web accessibility
Fast forward a few months and in 2014 I was exposed to the notion of web accessibility. It fascinated me. I’d never considered the importance of making the web accessible to all people, regardless of how they chose (or were able) to access the content. If the WordPress mission is to democratize publishing on the web, then the idea of democratizing the consumption of that content seems like an obvious extension of the mission.
I dug in deep to understand common web accessibility issues and, in 2015, re-released the theme as Utility Pro, a child theme for the Genesis Framework that met WCAG 2.0 web accessibility guidelines. It also included full CSS and PHP support for internationalization and shipped with 10+ translations, two of which were Right-To-Left (RTL).
As a side note on RTL… Multiple conversations with Nir Rosenbaum, a Genesis developer based out of Israel, opened my awareness to problems faced in layout and code customizations for websites that read RTL. While internationalization doesn’t fall under the traditional umbrella of web accessibility, which is focused on the end-user experience, making code accessible to developers in other languages seemed like a natural extension of “accessibility in WordPress.”
At the time of Utility Pro’s release, accessibility in WordPress was still a widely unadopted concept. For example, in January 2015 there were fewer than 30 themes tagged “accessibility-ready” in the WordPress.org theme repository.* To narrow that down to child themes for the Genesis Framework, there were only two: Utility Pro and Leiden by Rian Rietveld. As they say in the Southern United States, that’s slim pickins.
Fast forward another year or so and I’m proud to report that the Genesis Sample theme and many other Genesis child themes upgraded to include accessibility support. Since that time, the Genesis Framework has also made considerable strides toward better accessibility. It may be my ego writing a revisionist history, but I believe that the very vocal efforts of Rian Rietveld, Gary Jones, Robin Cornett, Amanda Rush, and myself helped push the Genesis project (and it’s marketplace) toward better accessibility. I’m sure there were other influencers, so forgive me if I missed your name.
* As of this writing (October 2018), there are 122 themes tagged “accessibility-ready” on WordPress.org. While that’s certainly a positive trend, there’s still a LOT of room for making the 30% of the web powered by WordPress more accessible.
In summary, I feel proud of what Utility Pro accomplished both in terms of offering an accessible alternative for Genesis users and pushing the conversation of web accessibility out into the community.
So why am I pulling the plug?
If you’ve been around the WordPress marketplace for more than a few years, then you’ve noticed the shifts and trends for WordPress products when it comes to pricing, support models, sustainability, etc. I won’t rehash it here.
Suffice to say that sometimes the numbers just don’t work.
IF I was great at marketing, I could’ve attracted more customers. IF I did a better job at nurturing customers, I would’ve seen higher renewal rates. IF I focused full-time on development and updates, I could’ve seen a bigger return. IF there was actually a big demand for a developer-oriented WordPress theme for Genesis, sales would’ve increased. But that’s a lot of IFs.
The reality is that the initial theme represented over 5,000 development hours. Many hundreds of more hours went into theme maintenance and a significant re-work of the theme that was, unfortunately, never released. It was never released because I didn’t have the time to pour in any more hours with the hope of someday earning money from it IF I did all those IFs I’ve historically proven bad at doing. The sales numbers don’t support the development time. In fact, over the past year, they haven’t even supported the support time. Each month operates in the red and that’s a terrible way to run a business. In retrospect, I should have stopped the project a year or more ago. But it’s a project I’ve had a passion for and loved and I’ve had a hard time letting it go.
Let me throw a note in here for those of you who are my customers. I appreciate that you spent your hard-earned money with me. The fact that I couldn’t sustain the development of the theme is not your fault and I don’t mean to sound complain-y. My intent with this post is to explain, not complain. I deeply appreciate you and will continue to offer you full support for the term of your license. I’d rather gnaw my arm off than lose your trust over lack of integrity. We entered into a contract and I’ll hold up my end of the deal.
Is the theme really dead?
I mentioned earlier that a lot of development time went into an unreleased version of Utility Pro. The unrealized UP 2.0 included big changes, like PHP7, a move to object-oriented design, config-based setups, package managers, unit testing, CSS Grid, etc. It’s a powerhouse, albeit an unfinished one.
I’ve made the theme publicly available on Github. There’s one stable branch (master), and two others. One of those branches is largely authored by Gary Jones. Gary donated a lot of his time and expertise to the 2.0 project and I am 100% a better developer for having learned from him and studied his code. The other branch is my deconstruction and (and modified rebuild) of Gary’s branch in an attempt to fully understand the codebase and add in some of my front-end development darlings.
While the theme is no longer under development, you’re welcome to fork it, cherry pick from it, or generally do whatever you want with it. It’s GPL after all. Should you have some desire to take over development of the theme and “bring it back to life,” ping me and we can talk about what that might look like.
So, that’s the story.
p.s. If web accessibility in WordPress piques your interest, there’s a team dedicated to making WordPress more accessible. They’re rock stars. And, in some cases (ahem, Gutenberg), they’re trying to push a rock up a hill. If that’s your calling, join them in their efforts.