A better word for "Themes"?

We are very picky about words at Discourse.

Everything needs to be just right. We will go through enormous amounts of effort to get the words to match the concepts.

I am worried the word “Theme” to describe the concept of themes may be a tiny bit off.

For me, conceptually, themes are building blocks, your site’s design is composed of many “themes” aka building blocks or little lego pieces that you can either author or source from github to build the castle that is your site.

The word “theme” can often be thought of as a single cohesive concept as opposed to a collection of bits so the concept is slightly fighting with the implementation.

Is there a better word to describe our intention with themes any better?

cc @mcwumbly @jomaxro


My first thought was “scheme”. But I think I like “palette” better.

To me palette is about colors. I am wishing for a word that describes the composability of the bits. maybe “block” or “segment” or “chunk” or maybe just theme is as good as it gets.

Plugin was great from the outset cause it is crystal clear you can have many plugins.

Since we’re talking UI, maybe something from atomic design?

What is Atomic Design

Atomic design is methodology for creating design systems. There are five distinct levels in atomic design:

  1. Atoms
  2. Molecules
  3. Organisms
  4. Templates
  5. Pages


For context, are you thinking about “theme” as a user (“I pick one theme from user settings”) or as an admin/designer (“I can build a theme by combining existing themes”)? As a user, I’d say themes is just fine, and likely a great description for the feature. Alternate thoughts as a user would be “skin” or “style”. As an admin, I agree theme doesn’t really describe the building block idea of adding them together - but I’m not really sure what else to suggest.

Maybe we could we expand the use of plugin? What about “Visual Plugin”, or “UI Plugin”?


Theme is the correct word, pretty much all forum software since forever has called it that.

Basically I don’t support this idea that themes need to be these tiny composable blocks. That’s a bit overengineered, and certainly should not be exposed to anyone other than forum admins…


Maybe “skins”?

Using Themes « WordPress Codex

Fundamentally, the WordPress Theme system is a way to “skin” your weblog. Yet, it is more than just a “skin.” Skinning your site implies that only the design is changed. WordPress Themes can provide much more control over the look and presentation of the material on your website.

Maybe Style, or Layout. Look and feel?

To me, a theme is the “setting” of a location or party, and I’ve also always associated it with skins/layouts/styles of applications and websites.

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I agree. Gmail is another example where they use the term “theme” to describe the complete thing.

If the building blocks are helpful, use a different name for those blocks. I think “components” may be a good fit. Themes and components also follow the terms used by bootstrap, for example.


I also think that “Theme” works just fine. My gripe was rather with even the elements of a theme being called theme. Even if they technically cannot be distinguished, if they are used as parts of themes they should be referred to as theme elements, sub-themes, style elements or the like.


I prefer “Theme” the term implies an amalgamation of multiple parts. It is far better than alternates like “Styles” or “Designs”. You could use a modifier like “Theme Packs” , “Theme Bundles” or “Theme Base”, but I really like the simplicity of “Themes”.


If all that’s changed is the color scheme, then call it “color scheme” :slight_smile:

SitePoint came from vBulletin, where plugins were called “mods” and themes were called “styles”

phpBB calls them “extensions” and “styles”

Just the same, I think if it is planned to sometime in the future have a folder similar to the plugin folder that could contain template files, emoji and avatar sets etc. and this feature will become more than only CSS, that Themes would be the better term.


I don’t think there is a NEED to find something else from what is already understood by people generally due to the use of this term in almost every forum software and beyond.

That said, if we are really looking for terms to describe smaller composable blocks for themes then we can create a new term. Ideally, we should not do that, but using any existing term would cause confusion with various other usage in practice. The final composed outcome as presented to the user should still be called themes.

One such term that I can make would be THEMELETS which can be thought as small themes or a word-play of theme + template (= theme templates).

After writing this, I thought I would Google this term and I found that some people have already used it (check the following three examples).


OK, thanks for all the feedback here:

I went with “Theme” for top level themes for now and “Theme Component” for a “piece” of a theme.

With this in place, I changed the ordering always to show “default” theme first followed by user selectable themes in the list.

If a theme is a component of another theme I highlight that in the UI.

Combined this change does provide quite a bit of clarity.

I completely agree that for end users the word “Theme” is just fine.

For admins there are now 2 terms:

  • Theme: top level theme
  • Theme Component: A child of a theme

Theme Components have a restricted feature set, (no custom colors or default / user selectable options)


If, for used theme components, there would also be an icon next to the theme-component name in the list of themes, it would be perfect. (Or is that what you’re saying only that it’s not in the screen shots?)

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I plan to add an icon, it just requires a bit more judo :crossed_swords:


So…per the original commit themes can have child themes, which can in-turn have child themes (grandchild themes :baby:!). How is that affected by the recent changes?

No impact at all. A theme component can be composed on many theme components.

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Composition (and sub categories off that).