Kon-Tiki: A Fresh Coat of Paint

After almost 10 years this website features a new theme, Kon-Tiki. I started working on this quite some time back, but various priorities kept pushing this to the back-burner until I finally decided to go ahead and release it live on a couple of my sites. My personal page has had this for over a month now, and today this website cuts its final tie to Suffusion, which had been on this site since 3rd August, 2009.

Not Suffusion

Kon-Tiki is, in many ways, different from Suffusion. For one, when Suffusion started out:

  • The default WordPress theme was Kubrick
  • There was no Theme Review Team
  • WP didn’t have custom headers, custom backgrounds, inbuilt menus, featured images, custom post types, post formats, a Customizer, visual editing (aka TinyMCE), or Gutenberg, just to name a few big items
  • Even when features were introduced they took really long to stabilise. E.g. for a long time menus could not automatically depict the page hierarchy
  • “Responsive design” was a fad. I still think it is not properly done, but I am probably a singular voice of dissent

Suffusion bridged the gap in several of these areas and remained the ultimate theme for customization for a really long time, but gradually got harder to maintain, particularly given the ever-rising barriers from the Theme Review Team.

Kon-Tiki on the other hand comes to the table with many things pre-built into WP, thereby not requiring to set the base for itself. And quite unlike Suffusion, Kon-Tiki is not going to be a super-theme that contains every conceivable piece of functionality. Rather it will only have what is deemed absolutely essential.

Why Kon-Tiki?

As a kid I read about the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl sailing across the Pacific in 1947 from South America to the Polynesian Islands in a simple balsawood raft. He called his raft The Kon-Tiki, named after the Inca Sun-God Viracocha, whose original name was Con-Tici (or Kon-Tiki). The intent of his expedition was to prove that the Polynesian Islands were originally settled by South Americans and that they were able to make the journey across the vast Pacific with simple rafts.

Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki raft. Photo by Ggerdel – Fotografía tomada por: Gustavo Gerdel – BAB – Buenos Aires Buceo, licensed CC BY-SA 4.0

As this theme started taking root my philosophy became that of a journey by a raft (or a lifeboat), where one only gets to keep the bare essentials. I have been ruthless with plugin-territory items and have built in no features that one would consider inessential. To wit:

  • There are no options to pick fonts, or no options to customize theme skins! Considering that changing a background literally takes 1 line of CSS, it seemed like too much of a burden to put on a theme. What you see on this site has been done using the Appearance → Customize → Additional CSS settings that come from WP.
  • The theme has no Javascript. That’s right – zero JS. Well, it actually does have JS, but that only comes up on IE 9 or older browsers
  • There are no raster graphics or bloated font-icons. For all its goodness, something like FontAwesome loads up huge font files on your site, simply to show you some tiny graphics. I have instead gone the route of simple inline SVG icons
  • There are no blocks or shortcodes
  • The unminified version of the stylesheet is 31KB

Consequently Kon-Tiki is considerably lighter than Suffusion.

Nonetheless there is a lot of power behind the theme. After all, a simple raft would find it hard to sail across the Pacific if it wasn’t well-made! So it supports various layout features and a bunch of other smart options that give you control over your content.

Not Yet Released

If you are looking to download the theme, it is not yet available. Anywhere.

For starters it uses features that require at least PHP 5.6, and though WP has made an announcement, there are still multiple users on older versions. I tend to find this out the hard way when some Photonic feature inadvertently breaks for older PHP versions. I may submit this to the WP repository once things stabilize on that front. My biggest hesitation about this is the stream of absurd decisions that the WPTRT makes about what can or cannot be in a theme. And for all their talk about the Customizer API being very easy, it is unadulterated crap.

I haven’t made this available on external channels like GitHub either because there is still some work that needs to be done, such as better header support, and support for some essentials. In addition I am building out a “Kon-Tiki Survival Kit” plugin to support some font-management options, skins and plugins such as WooCommerce. After all, even when Thor Heyerdahl and his crew sailed they used some modern equipment like radios, charts and sextants!

Welcoming your thoughts on this!

12 Responses to “Kon-Tiki: A Fresh Coat of Paint”

  1. Sayontan,
    Looks good, I am looking forward to trying it out when you make it available. I will miss the flexibility of Suffusion but am slowly but surely moving all my sites off it to various themes but still miss all the functionality that you built in to Suffusion. Let me know when you want some ‘beta testers’ I will be more than happy to try it out.

    • Thanks, Colin. I might first put this out on GitHub for users and then try pushing it to WordPress.

  2. Hello,

    Looks interesting. At the moment I still use Suffusion on many sites, because it brought us a lot of functionality like fully responsive design, easy design changes, a lot of widget places, widget shortcode and much more. However, the time will coming to change to a new theme. Maybe Kon-Tiki is something for the future. I know any change to a new theme will bring us loss of functionality.

    • Hi,
      You raised a few topics, so I will address them one by one.

      Responsive design: I am hoping that I built Kon-Tiki out to be responsive. It at least seemed so when I tested!

      Widgets etc.: A lot of the concepts you have cited are not required as custom offerings any more as WP core offers them. E.g. if you switch to Gutenberg for a particular post or page, you can insert blocks wherever you desire. You could put in a “multi-column” block, which is the best approximation of an “ad hoc widget area” (Suffusion’s ad hoc widget areas are the ones that could be inserted using the widget shortcode). The multi-column block could get any of the blocks available to you and is considerably easier to use than a widget area with Widget Logic.In fact, this feature, and this feature alone made me less antagonistic towards Gutenberg.

      Easy design changes: Things like layout configuration (0, 1 or 2 sidebars), page width settings, disabling headers / footers / menus for pages, picking from full / excerpt / tile / thumbnail views etc. are all present in Kon-Tiki. Those are essential parts of design. Customization of theme colours and fonts aren’t in the theme core, but those are not very essential, IMO. I will be adding some of them via the theme and some of them via the Survival Kit though.

      • Hi Sayontan,

        Thanks for your response.

        Widgets etc.: At the moment I don’t use Gutenberg because of some disadvantages and failures (most of them occur because of some plugins – but it is getting better). It look like our text show me really the first advantage of Gutenberg. Problem of such situation is still the fact changing old known steps to new one…

        Easy design changes: At the moment I like the theme and icon selection very much. For example the easy customization of theme colours on my own website between entry, blog and gallery. However, it isn’t a function which will be used very often, but creation of a new website is much more easier.

        Looking forward for the first release :-).

  3. Hi Sayonton,

    I appreciate your efforts, especially those faced with WP, team and their so called support, ‘in the time of Suffusion’. But in the end you created a champion in Suffusion. The multi column being a stand-out feature since no other theme of it’s time – I stand to be corrected – gave such multiple choices that included widgets in the package.
    With all is said and done, style is no longer as big a feature as it used to be. Although Suffusion found favor with the SERPS and through that they delivered. I installed Suffusion in 2011 and in two years, three of my Suffusion sites on different subjects reached from 60,000’s to 80,000 on Alexa world ranking and I’m in Africa.
    The best I can say, is if Kon-Tiki can perform in this new-age-tech market, anywhere near what Suffusion could in it’s time, then hats off to you, I’m in. What will it’s price be? Bless you, and peace be with you. P.S. I still use Suffusion and it won’t be easy to let it go.

    • Thanks.

      Yes, the multi-column feature (I guess you are referring to the suffusion-multic and suffusion-column shortcodes) was pretty neat. That being said, such features are now a part of Gutenberg, hence WP core – you can use the multi-column block, which I have done on a few pages on this site including the Suffusion home page.

      But all said and done it will not have anywhere close to the skinning options that Suffusion had.

      What will it’s price be?

      With my fresh coat of paint came a renamed site description: “Photonic, Suffusion and Other Premium-for-Free Projects”. So the answer to your question is: 0.

  4. Hi Sayonton,

    I’ve been using Suffusion almost since you launched it and still do today. It simply works and I love the flexibility but only use ~ 30% of the customization capability. I’ve been concerned that the “next” WP release will break Suffusion but am unwilling find another theme that gives me what you provided with Suffusion.

    Very eager to try out the new “raft”. My input would be: Is it possible to create a “conversion” kit/code/template/??? for all your Suffusion base to early covert to Kon-Tiki? Probably necessary given your description but wanted to ask.

    Thnaks again for your contributions

    • Hi Alan,

      My input would be: Is it possible to create a “conversion” kit/code/template/??? for all your Suffusion base to early covert to Kon-Tiki?

      I haven’t given this much thought, but my instinctive response is, “No”.

      It has been 10 years, and lots of things have changed both, in WP and in web design as a whole. So, many things that made sense to design earlier are no longer relevant. Even some of the foundational aspects such as sidebar widths operate very differently today. I pretty much threw away the code from Suffusion (specifically the code around styles), but kept many of the concepts in place. So, structurally the theme might feel familiar (though it will all be in the Customizer), but much of the old Suffusion base will have nowhere to move to.

  5. Pleasant surprise to see this, looks good in my brief first impression. Hope you do take the next steps that will make it available.
    Regarding responsive design it is so much about google (and others) finding that the ‘text is readable’, that and a collapsible menu.

    • Thanks, Reza.

      Another facet of responsive design is also speedy loads. I still remember that my whole opposition to the 2012 way of responsive design was that it focused on adding more things (JS, CSS etc.) to a site to get it to render nicer on a system where there was less ability to handle them (smaller screens, slower data speeds).

      I believe the biggest driver of change in this area has been Google, which has pretty much threatened people that search results would be “mobile first”. This has had mixed consequences.

      Firstly, people like to ensure that their sites are more readable on mobiles without having to pinch / zoom, and in fact Google used to notify webmasters that their sites have readability issues. This caused several “premium” themes (e.g. Thesis) to clean up their act and get on the responsive bandwagon. I myself had received notifications for at least one of my sites regarding this.

      Secondly, in a bid to make their sites render better on small devices, people added more CSS / JS assets … but that raised the load times for the pages. And that is where Google’s second dimension came in – pages slower on mobiles get penalised! This is the challenge I was more interested in solving with Kon-Tiki.

      From a personal standpoint, I had to build out my wife’s business site a few years back, and I picked Divi (just because I wanted something that looked better, not something that was coded better). There hasn’t been a single time that I have not regretted this decision – it required me to move to a VPS, every now and then something breaks, and after the most recent security upgrade a few months back my site went down. Reason? Divi needed more than 128MB to run a single instance! That was when I decided to get back to developing Kon-Tiki, so that I could give her site a nicer, cleaner look using a fraction of resources that it currently does.

      From a development standpoint this has been fun. I had a lot of fun trying to figure out a browser-safe font-stack that looked gorgeous straight out of the box, and what I came up with looks great across the board. It was also fun trying to come up with the optimal way to bundle icons without loading a whole icon-font, or without constructing icons for each skin.

      The challenging part really has been an analysis of everything in Suffusion (which, in all likelihood is more than what several premium themes have today) and determining what stays in Kon-Tiki, what moves to the survival kit and what gets the axe.

      • Thanks for the detailed reply 🙂 When I started a project a while ago I started with Blankslate (with Siteorigin), didn’t even contemplate Divi or similar. The site certainly is on the lightweight side of things, and responsive too.

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