Currently, the three most recent default themes are included in each installation of WordPress, and it’s the most recent one – Twenty Seventeen – that is active when you first create your WordPress site. Default themes older than the three most recent ones can still be downloaded and installed from the WordPress.org Theme Directory, but they don’t come bundled with the system.
The default themes are the first themes many WordPress users encounter. A lot of people use them as they are – the default themes have always been some of the most popular ones in the WordPress ecosystem, and for good reason. Most of them are really good. Others customize them with their own colors and fonts, or even create child themes to enable more comprehensive changes. For developers, the default themes serve as good examples on how to get the most out of the latest WordPress features.
To date, ten default themes have been released for WordPress. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and go through all of them, from the earliest to the most recent. All of them are still available for download, and most of them have been kept up to date with features that have been added to WordPress over the years.
Classic — 2004
It’s a common misconception that Kubrick (see below) is the first WordPress theme, but it was actually preceeded by Classic by one year. Classic was not only the default theme up until the release of WordPress 1.5 – it was the only theme. As you might have guessed, it wasn’t called Classic back then. It didn’t have public facing name at all – it was just the way the WordPress front-end looked.
It wasn’t until version 1.5 that themes were introduced, and up to that point, WordPress users had the option of either using the design that WordPress came with or make changes directly to the system files. Neither option was particularly appealing, which leads us to WordPress 1.5, the introduction of the template system and a theme that makes me all warm on the inside every time I look at it.
Default (Kubrick) — 2005
Default, or Kubrick as it is better known, was the WordPress theme many of us used on our very first WordPress website. Hardly surprising, considering that Kubrick was the default theme in WordPress for five whole years. It was released in version 1.5, and remained the default theme up until WordPress 3.0.
Kubricks iconic blue gradient header and rounded corners were cutting edge back in 2005, and the theme still holds a special place in many WordPress users’ hearts. Considering that it is close to 15 years old, it has aged surprisingly well.
Twenty Ten — 2010
Still, a lot of advancements were made by both WordPress and web development overall in those five years, and when WordPress 3.0 rolled around, it was past time for a new default theme. That theme, Twenty Ten, was the start of WordPress plan to release a new default theme every year – a schedule that they’ve mostly stuck to since then.
Twenty Ten replaced the blue gradient header of Kubrick with the new header image functionality – a reflection of the changing times, since it would’ve seemed pretty wasteful to spend all that bandwidth on big imagery when Kubrick was new. Twenty Ten was also the first default theme to be translation-ready.
Twenty Eleven — 2011
Twenty Eleven picked up where Twenty Ten left off, with a familiar layout (title up top, header image and horizontal menu, content and sidebar) and a similar aesthetic. It did include a small concession to people who were tired of the white backgrounds: a dark mode, which inverted the color scheme.
The biggest addition in Twenty Eleven by far was that it was responsive – it adopted its width to the width of the device it is viewed on. The iPhone had been out for a couple of years, and mobile web browsing was starting to become a thing. Twenty Eleven was the first of the default WordPress themes to be ready for it.
Twenty Twelve — 2012
By 2012, WordPress was trying to outgrow it’s reputation as a blogging engine and eager to prove itself as a proper content management system. Those goals were reflected in the new default theme introduced in WordPress 3.5, Twenty Twelve, which included a page template for the front page and a full-width template. The extra page templates made it useful not only as a blogging theme, but also for corporate sites of the simpler variety.
Thanks to the advent of web font technologies like @font-face, Twenty Twelve was also the first of the default themes to include an embedded font: Open Sans. A year later, Open Sans would also make its way into the administration panel of WordPress.
Twenty Thirteen — 2013
Up until this point, the default themes included in WordPress stuck pretty closely to the aesthetic introduced by Twenty Ten: Clean design, crisp typography and conservative color schemes that gave photographies center stage. All that changed with Twenty Thirteen. If any of the default themes in WordPress can be called controversial, Twenty Thirteen is the one.
The most eye-catching thing about Twenty Thirteen is its colors, with a vibrant default header image and different background colors for each post format. It was quite a departure from Twenty Twelve, and not just in terms of colors. Twenty Thirteen also took a step back towards the classic blog structure, with a single-column layout on the front page that puts the posts squarely in the center.
Twenty Fourteen — 2014
The default themes experimental years continued with Twenty Fourteen, which took the default theme in more of a magazine direction. A wide layout with a small sidebar gave ample space to big imagery, and Twenty Fourteen was the first of the default themes to rely heavily on featured images in its design.
Good use of widget areas made Twenty Fourteen very flexible, and it remains a popular choice for magazine websites to this day. It’s still used on more than 300,000 websites.
Twenty Fifteen — 2015
After the color explosion of Twenty Thirteen and the expansive magazine layout of Twenty Fourteen, it was nice to see the default theme take a step back to its blogging roots with Twenty Fifteen. With its simple sidebar layout, crisp typography and grayscale color scheme, Twenty Fifteen was refreshingly straight-forward. Nothing about it is especially remarkable, really – it’s just a really nice theme.
To this day, Twenty Fifteen remains a really good choice if you want a simple blog theme for your website. As demonstrated by the website of the WordPress Foundation, it doesn’t take a lot to really make it shine.
Twenty Sixteen — 2016
The emphasis on blogging continued with Twenty Sixteen, which dusted off the classic layout of Twenty Ten/Eleven/Twelve and gave it a new coat of paint. Well-considered typography, the ability to choose different color schemes in the Customizer and a solid responsive design makes Twenty Seventeen a worthy successor to the original Twenty themes.
Twenty Seventeen — 2017
The most recent default theme in WordPress could also be my favorite. Rather than focusing on either making a theme for blogs or making a theme for corporate sites, Twenty Seventeen decided to both – and pulls it off with flair. Good use of settings in the customizer, nicely laid out page templates and fantastic use of the typeface Franklin Gothic makes Twenty Seventeen a theme that puts most premium themes to shame. In 2017 and onwards, you could do a lot worse than to stick with the default theme in WordPress.