Introducing Upfront

We’ve made something for you.

It’s the future of WordPress.

Really.

Technically, it’s a parent and child theme combo. In practice it’s a completely new way to customize and run a WP site, entirely from your front-end.

Which is why it’s called ‘Upfront’.

And you can try it right now.

WPMU DEV members, just head to themes and download a starter theme.

Not a member yet? Head over to our demo site, Upfront.pro to select a theme. Spirit is kinda nice. Turn on Upfront by clicking on ‘Customize Theme with Upfront’ in the top right, or just click here to go straight to Upfront in action.

So why does WordPress need Upfront?

Of course there are a lot of drag and drop theme builders, creators, composers and alike out there. From Headway to Pagelines via Divi past iThemes Builder en route to Themify and onto, naturally, the ever present Visual Composer.

But let’s be honest, these are, as a rule, not actually front-end, nor are they at all easy to use, and, perhaps most importantly, they just don’t stand up against the competition.

Competition, but I thought they were the competition?

Well, maybe they are ours, right now, but WordPress has a bigger issue – and it’s airing Superbowl ads.

Squarespace, Wix, WebsJimdo and Weebly are coming to eat our lunch.

No, seriously, wolf it right down.

And all of them have a ‘regular web user’ experience going far, far beyond that which WordPress can muster. With ambitions, development plans and marketing budgets that no-one bar Automattic can manage. Who aren’t really doing anything about it.

Maybe today these platforms can’t offer the flexibility and breadth of features that WordPress can, but they will, and more. More easily. More affordably. More better. Much much more better.

So, seeing that back in 2012 (well, 2011, but the first version got canned) we figured we’d try to do something about that.

And over 2 years later, with well over a million bucks spent and some serious blood, sweat and tears shed. Here we are.

So, what exactly does Upfront bring to the table?

Well, we’re glad you asked.

Upfront elements overview
Every upfront element is configurable

Amazing elements

Each upfront page contains elements and regions.

You can easily drag and drop elements onto your site and click on the cog to access element settings.

All of your core elements are there now, with plenty more to come.

  • Text elements allow you to customize borders and backgrounds, with a couple of clicks
  • Image elements make cropping, customizing and overlaying captions a synch
  • Gallery elements offer 99% of the gallery options you could ever hope for
  • Code and Widget elements that allow you to add any fancy code you like and, indeed, any WP widget from any plugin, just as you might add them to a ‘regular’ theme

And that’s just a selection, each element can have its CSS styles edited, be made an anchor or be grouped with other elements. And we’re just getting started.

Upfront elements overview
Background regions are the building blocks

Revolutionary Regions

Regions make up the background, and structure, of every Upfront site.

Add them wherever you like, fill them with color, video, maps or sliders.

You easily add in or divide full width regions to moreorless as many sections as you like, and even set regions to act as fixed full width background, like we have done in Scribe.

  • Full-width regions can stretch to 100% wide or be contained
  • Dynamic background regions can contain videos and maps (maps are soooo cool)
  • All of the functionality of the slider element can be used in a region too
  • Regions don’t have to sit in a grid, they can float too!

As the building blocks of themes, regions took us about 3 goes and 6 months to get right. Personally, they are my favourite feature.

Upfront elements overview
Unashamedly influenced by Medium

Tantalising Text Editing

Editing text on Upfront is as easy as double-clicking, wherever you like.

Then just select the text you want to format and… too easy.

Inserting images is also simple, and each starter theme comes with its own icons.

But that’s far from all…

  • Upfront enables you to create full posts and pages, as you see them.
  • As well as manage all of your posts, pages and media
  • Without ever having to enter the WordPress back end
  • What you see is *really* what you get
Upfront elements overview
There’s so, so much more

Responsive & Contextual

Customize and create specific responsive designs for specific device sizes.

Upfront is all about those grids, turn them on for alignment help.

And a right click contextual menu is always there to help.

When did you last get to edit how your site appears on mobile in under 5 minutes? Quite.

The future of WordPress? Really?

Yes, really.

Although, of course, while Upfront itself might not ‘take over the world’™ (WPMU DEV’s competitors are talented, lean and aggressive) it sure as hell is as close as any to the solution that the platform needs to remain relevant over the next decade.

Alongside hosted, rather than self-hosted WordPress experiences (of course, one thing Automattic doesn’t talk about are the actual % of WP market share that they own), which is why Upfront is also fully Multisite ready – and will become even moreso as we go forward. But that’s another post.

Right now, I don’t think there is any argument as to how WordPress needs to progress, and Upfront is in that direction.

So, what’s the plan / roadmap / next steps?

Something the development team are very keen to point out is that Upfront is still at 0.1.x stage and we believe we’re a long way off hitting 1.0.

Inevitably, at the stage where we’re first sharing this with the wider world, there is going to be a lot of feedback and different experiences that we haven’t had before. Your feedback is going to be invaluable in making Upfront more robust, elegant and intuitive. We’re super exited to hear what you have to say.

Of course there are a bunch of core challenges we’re already aware of and are working on, such as compatibility with ‘templated’ plugins, improved theme color experiences (should be released ~12 hours after this post) and how to offer a product that contains redactor as a 100% GPL offering (everything in Upfront is currently 100% GPL, with that exception, as they won’t let us… we’ve asked). And bugs, naturally, there will always be bugs.

So, over the next few months we’re looking to fix up any core issues, create a bunch of new starter themes, make the experience even smoother, provide you with awesome new elements, launch a builder so you can create Upfront themes from scratch and start natively integrating our core plugins.

And that’s just the start – we cannot tell you how excited we are about what Upfront can become in the next 12 months.

Exciting times!