As this is being written, we are just past the one year mark since Associate-O-Matic introduced templating. This site was knocking out themes in advance of the template rollout, with four completed in the first month alone. Now the finishing touches are being applied to template #16, and it’s probably going to take a minimum of three weeks from start to finish.
But the obvious reason that it’s taking longer now to develop a theme is that the details are more involved than ever. The first template (Bluescan) was actually a redesign of a custom job done before templating was possible. It was an exploration of how to alter a layout from a table-based system to CSS. The learning curve was very steep. The designs now start and finish in pure CSS, doing things that were never possible before. One such change is the introduction of extra custom colors. These are color choices built into the schemes that cannot be changed from within the AOM control panel. The PHP scheme file itself must be edited instead. This ability was only added in v5.3.0, and in some places, there are fallback color choices if you use the template with an older version of AOM. Eventually the fallback options will not be included, as more users upgrade their AOM setups.
Also with practice comes the ability to delve deeper and deeper into the layouts, and to rearrange items on the page. The active category menu in Heliotrope, the double column layout of X-Site, and the ability to move away from static button sets means that users can make their AOM stores look less and less like the default layout. And by maintaining as many of the control panel options as possible, the variety allows for further customization.
Some users are doing amazing layouts on their own, but it should be mentioned that it’s always going to be easier to make radical design changes for a single site, as opposed to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ theme. Mainly because you already know what category and subcategory links you’re going to use, so grouping them into separate boxes, etc. is just a matter of copying and pasting. If you don’t know what the links are going to be beforehand, it’s much more difficult (if not impossible).
However, that said, the holy grail is still to come up with designs for any niche that make a site unrecognizable as an AOM storefront, but still with all of the functions and features. Many of the templates available here at AOM Skins can be considered as small steps in that direction. It’s a goal that I feel has not been reached yet, but comes closer with each new design.