Introducing Ballyhoo, a block-ready minimalist WordPress theme

8th November 2021 Updates & Videos, Web Design No Comments

Ballyhoo, a free block-ready minimalist WordPress theme, has been released onto the WordPress theme directory today. I have been working on the Ballyhoo theme in various forms since 2018, so it is a relief to finally have it on the WordPress theme directory.

For those who don’t know what a WordPress theme is, it is a website design and layout that WordPress users can add to their site. It determines what the website looks like and, to an extent, how it functions. You can either build your own theme (as I have been doing for my own websites since early 2020) or get one off the WordPress theme directory (as I did for Homework Help For Kids until the redesign in 2020) or upload your own.

Here’s the story behind it.

How I developed Ballyhoo

Since 2018, when I learned how to develop WordPress themes (which controls the appearance of a WordPress website) I had always wanted to submit my own WordPress theme that can be used on other WordPress websites for free. So I started to develop Ballyhoo, which would be a minimalist theme that could be used in a wide range of websites, from blogs to online shops.

From scratch, I coded every single line of the theme. I then submitted the first version of my theme to the WordPress theme directory on 10th March 2018. It wasn’t approved, because there were quite a few issues with it. I replied, saying

Thanks, @rabmalin [who reviewed my theme]! I guess I have a lot of work to do…

Me on 10th April 2018

And I certainly did.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Over the next 3 years, I improved the Ballyhoo theme and submitted it multiple times. Each time, it was rejected for various reasons.

(There were other rejections as well, but these are the most prominent ones.)

Most of the time, I had to resubmit my theme because the ticket was automatically closed 7 days after if there was no reply. Getting someone to review your WordPress theme took several months. Each time, I hoped that they would approve my WordPress theme so millions of websites could potentially use it, but this didn’t happen.


Eventually, when the 10th rejection came along, it was April 2020. I was getting ready to launch the Homework Help For Kids website redesign. By this point, I knew that there was something fundamentally wrong with the code that I had written for the Ballyhoo theme – and it was to do with the way that text that had to be translated into other languages was handled (such as error messages and labels).

So, in June 2021, whilst the details were being finalised for the Aircraft Buyer website (see how all these link together?), I had a lightbulb moment. What if I used the Underscores framework that I had used for the Homework Help For Kids redesign (and was about to use for the Aircraft Buyer website) to re-build Ballyhoo? And then I did it.

After a few tweaks that I had to make in order to pass the criteria, it finally made it onto the WordPress theme directory today after 16 attempts.

The Features

Block Styles

The recently-developed versions of the theme (1.0.11 onwards) is very different to the versions of the theme I developed before 2020 (1.0.0 to 1.0.10), including some options in the WordPress post editor (which was drastically overhauled in December 2018) called “Block Styles”.

The available Block Styles for the Verse block.

Block Styles allow you to choose what the particular element on the page looks like.

Block Patterns

There are also 4 block patterns available with the Ballyhoo theme. Two of them are building blocks that could be used to build the website with the (still-in-development) Full Site Editing tool that will be released later this year. Another one is the light headings that are being used on the Ballyhoo theme’s website.

Block Patterns are a series of elements (like paragraphs and quotes) arranged in a certain way to make a pattern. There are endless possibilities of what you can do with this.

Another one is a fact file template, because Ballyhoo is designed to be used in a wide range of cases, meaning it is very hard to design block patterns that can be used by a wide range of websites.

The Fact File block pattern in action with The Librarian from Discworld.

I will be adding more block patterns in the future – if you have an idea for one, let me know! There will also be more features added to the theme in time (including some of the ones that I had to take out from 1.0.10) but I tried to minimise the amount of features in this theme so it would get through the Theme Review process.

Minimalist Design

Ever since I started coding Ballyhoo in 2018, I wanted it to be used for a wide variety of websites, from blogs like this one to fully-fledged e-commerce websites. The only way (design-wise) that I could do this was to make it as minimalist as possible, so that it could be used for whatever the user wanted.

A demonstration of the Ballyhoo theme using the fictional brand Laura’s Cupcakes.

If you want to get Ballyhoo for your WordPress website, go to your website’s admin area, then Appearance > Themes then click “Add New” and search “ballyhoo”.

Update – 20.1.22: I have submitted a new WordPress theme called Ballyhoo Blocks to the WordPress Theme Directory. Why am I doing this, you ask? I’ll explain why below:

As part of the ongoing revamp of the WordPress experience, the next version of WordPress (5.9 at the time of writing) will include a Site Editor, which will allow users to edit the layout and appearance of their website, providing they are using a “full site editing” compatible theme.

I had to make a decision of whether to update Ballyhoo to become compatible with the new site editor or create a new WordPress theme that looked similar to Ballyhoo but built with the Site Editor in mind. The “classic” and “block” themes are built in completely different ways using completely different languages (“classic” themes are mostly built with PHP, CSS and HTML, “block” themes are mostly built in JSON and HTML with a scattering of PHP.)

I decided to build a completely separate theme, which is now currently going through the WordPress theme review process.

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