Catch FSE is a bold, business-friendly WordPress block theme – WP Tavern

And another themed shop is jumping on the bandwagon. Catch Themes’ first block-based theme, Catch FSE, landed on WordPress.org over the weekend.

The company is one of the most prolific authors in the official WordPress theme directory, with a total of 109 themes. There are only a few others with such impressive work, at least in numbers. An average of more than 10 new releases every year over the past decade is no small feat, and that’s just accounting for the company’s free themes.

At a time when WordPress is still in a transition phase from classic PHP-based themes to ones built entirely from blocks, the community needs leaders in the space to move the project forward.

With the multitude of features in WordPress 6.0, I expect more and more authors to join the adventure.

When considering new themes, I usually install them a few days in advance and test them intermittently. Then I decide if they are worth sharing with the Tavern audience. However, in this case, I’m going blind. Well no entirely blind. I’m familiar enough with some of Catch Themes’ past work to know that the company has produced some well-designed projects. Also, I had a quick look at the demo.

My immediate reaction after installing and activating Catch FSE was disappointment. The homepage did not look like the theme screenshot or what was shown in the demo. Instead of the business-friendly layout I expected, I looked at a standard list of blog posts.

Default home page blog posts.

This shouldn’t happen in the era of block themes.

Theme authors are not entirely responsible for this problem. Those who submit their designs to WordPress.org have been conditioned over the years to do so. This was a necessity in the era of classic themes, because users didn’t have the same control over their homepages as they do today. The site editor gives them that freedom, and it also breaks the shackles that have held theme authors back for years.

Now is the time to be bold. Now is the time for theme authors to put their signature to their work, showcasing their design skills with those custom homepages they’ve always wanted to provide out of the box. Now is the time to break free from those draconian guidelines of an era that block-based themes leave behind.

Catch Themes, if you’re reading this, I want to see a front-page.html model in version 2.0 which generates the following:

WordPress demo site home page that features a header, a large hero section, and three featured content boxes.
Design of the Catch FSE demo homepage.

Give users an immediate solution instead of forcing them to create a new page, select a template, and go to the template editor to customize it.

A list of blog posts is a perfectly acceptable default for a theme, and Catch FSE works well enough—these gradient “read more” buttons are also adorable. However, if the screenshot and demo show a custom homepage, that’s what I expect to see upon activation. And, based on my somewhat educated guess, that’s also what the average user will expect.

After tinkering with the theme for a while, I realized how well designed it was. The typography makes for an enjoyable reading experience. Each model was well presented. The footer “widgets” even looked fine. Catch FSE was suddenly heading to the top of my list of favorite themes this year.

And, I have to take another moment to appreciate the gradient used for the theme’s buttons, as shown in this screenshot of the About Us template:

Media & Text block serving as the basis for a "About Us" model.  On the left is an artistic image of a laptop computer.  On the right is a demo text and a button.
“About us” block template.

Those who have followed me long enough know that I often hate dark designs. Automattic’s Livro made me rethink my position earlier this year. With Catch FSE, I go beyond just tolerating such designs to enjoying them. Well, some of them. Let’s not go crazy.

What Catch FSE does as well as any theme is to offer a well-designed set of block templates. In total, it ships 15 that users can choose from.

WordPress post editor with template inserter open.  A CTA template with a title, paragraph, and button sits in the content canvas.
Inserting a call to action template in the page editor.

From a development perspective, other theme authors should take notes. Following the DRY principle, Catch FSE regularly reuses its own designs in its models and games.

The theme saves 10 block styles, but it’s impossible to know what most of them do without trying them out first. The user-facing label simply says “Theme Style” for eight of them. What does it mean? If it’s the theme style, shouldn’t that be the default style?

Most are usually design variations for the different blocks they are attached to. They can change typography, colors, or other styles, as shown in the following screenshot of the Blockquote block with the “Theme Style” assigned to it:

WordPress post editor with a quote from Shakespeare in the content canvas.
Assigning a custom style to the Blockquote block.

It’s actually a nicely designed Blockquote style, but I never would have known it was something I would want to use if I hadn’t dug. Custom block styles suffer from a small discovery problem by default, and cryptic names for them do users no favors.

Most of the issues I encountered with the theme were with the comment list design. However, it does not yet use the new Comments Query Loop block shipping with WordPress 6.0. In a future release, I would like to see the author spend more time bringing it up to standard with the rest of the theme design. At the moment, it looks like a feature that was added after the fact.

Catch FSE is a freemium theme with a commercial add-on plugin that offers three custom blocks and 10 templates. I like to see upsells focused purely on adding value.

I have often said that the next generation of freemium themes cannot be like the previous one. Developers will need to focus on enticing users with solutions to their problems instead of nickel-and-diming customers, by locking necessary functionality behind a paywall. The block system is a game-changer, and when most users can flesh out their site designs through the built-in WordPress site editor, old-fashioned upsells won’t cut it.

Turnkey, plug-n-play solutions are required. I may be so far off base that I’m not even in the ballpark, but I anticipate that block models will be a central part of it. Once commercial theme authors understand how to market and build with these new tools, we will see an explosion of growth in the block-based theme space.

Catch Themes’ 10 business models are a start, but I imagine the company will have to keep pushing the envelope to see a worthwhile return on its premium upsell. It’s time for experimentation as the field is wide open.

My biggest headache? The name.

Attention all developers: Can we stop naming the themes “Something FSE” and “Guten Something”? It’s confusing and it’s hard to remember which project it is. Take the time to find something that stands out in the crowd.

Catch FSE is a bold and beautiful theme, ready for business, but it needed a name to match its personality. I just hope people remember it.

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