There's been talk of how difficult it is to stand out in the WordPress professional theme space lately. David A. Kennedy at ThemeShaper says Gutenberg is going to change this “in a big way.”
David thinks the new editor will add such versatility to all themes that it will shift the market's focus from theme functionality to design. Theme shops will need to differentiate themselves with exceptional design and by “doing the invisible things that make their experience its best.”
He's right: activating a theme or major plugin for the first time is an important experience for new WordPress users. Smoothing that experience has been a priority lately for several large hosts, as well.
Remkus de Vries has been investigating the onboarding experience for WordPress plugins and themes. He is challenging the community to produce more plugins and themes that provide a positive installation and setup experience. While acknowledging that some good examples exist, Remkus emphasizes they are far too rare.
On that note, Rich Tabor has announced Merlin WP, a WordPress theme setup wizard meant to improve the theme onboarding process. Installed within a theme, Merlin guides the user through theme installation, any recommended WordPress plugins, the Customizer settings, widgets, and even demo content. Rich is looking for feedback on the beta.
Last but not least, Bluehost has announced it's own new onboarding experience, which has been in the works for the past six months. The screenshots show how much Bluehost has streamlined the process of selecting a theme and managing multiple sites. They have integrated MOJO Marketplace as well, so customers can obtain plugins along with support directly through the new custom interface. I love what they're doing here. Additionally, all new Bluehost accounts will automatically get a WordPress install.