The Current State of Drupal Admin Themes
Themes, themes, the magical fruit… wait, nope, I'm pretty sure that's something else. Anyways, I believe we're to a point in the Drupal community where we no longer have to scrounge around to find good looking and FREE Drupal themes that have long since been readily available in the Wordpress community. Of course, us Drupalites know how awesome and powerful Drupal is, but we've all heard the same thing, "Drupal's admin theme is crap, Wordpress just looks so much better."
It's true, Wordpress does have a very clean user interface, and it's something they've perfected over the years, but that doesn't mean that Drupal can't get to that point. Seven, the default theme, isn't terrible by any means, but there are some things we could do that makes it better.
Unfortunately, the administration interface probably isn't a prime concern for the core team, so it's up to the contrib community to take that task on. Luckily, some of us have already stepped up to the challenge to create very clean looking Drupal administration themes along with some additional tools that will make your admin experience more enjoyable not just for you, but your users as well.
Here I'll be showing off a list of free Drupal administration themes on Drupal.org, while giving a couple screenshots of what they look like in use. I tested each of these themes on our in-house distribution, Open Enterprise Pro, looking at a content admin view, a standard blog entry, and the appearance page to show various aspects of how it handles form elements and Drupal messages.
Top Seven Drupal 7 Admin Themes
You might be wondering, "But wait, that's the default Drupal admin theme?!" You're right, it is, but it's definitely better than some other admin themes out there. The good thing is if there is something wrong or wonky with another admin theme, you can always default back to Seven and you'll be fine. Like I said, it's not the best, but it's definitely not the worst.
Classic Rubik. This is currently LevelTen's admin theme of choice, because it looks great generally no matter what you throw at it. Based on the Tao base theme, Rubik provides a clean admin theme that covers pretty much all aspects of Drupal admin. One of my favorite parts of Rubik is, if you notice in the blog entry screenshot, the sidebar. This is great when you have meta data fields, like tagging, category taxonomies, or boolean settings because it feels more semantic. Of course, it hasn't been updated in a year, but you'll find it to work pretty well.
Cube is based on Rubik, so you won't find too many differences between the two, but it's a change. The main difference you'll notice is the site navigation embedded in the top, the page tabs, hover states, and list elements. Like I said, I love the sidebar, but unfortunately it seems to be broken which is kind of a bummer.
Stanley started out as an implementation of Twitter Bootstrap. Though Stanley eventually phased out using Bootstrap in version 2.x, the theme started by drawing inspiration from Bootstrap. It looks great and has makes the primary tabs look like an administrative menu, but it doesn't play too well with Admin Menu, which of course is one of our favorites. The great thing about Stanley is that they were smart about what module people use when working with Drupal, so they accounted for Views, Rules, Search API, and more. Just for the fact that they thought about this, I would give them a shot and try it out for yourself.
If you've ever installed and used Commerce Kickstart v2, you've probably seen the Shiny admin theme. It has a very Twitter Bootstrap feel to it if you look at the buttons and color scheme, and it has been recently updated so it's not a bad theme to keep in your back pocket.
Ember is an excellent new responsive admin theme that's meant to be used with the Spark distribution. It was based on Seven and meant for Spark users, but it turns out that it works pretty well by itself. Also to note that it was built to work with the Navbar module (Toolbar in Drupal 8), and while I'm not a huge fan of Navbar myself (when compared to Admin Menu), it looks pretty slick. Also notice that Navbar is meant to be responsive, so the menu can appear at the top of the screen or as a sidebar (shown in the screenshots below). If you're curious, download both and give it a shot. You might surprise yourself.
I saved Adminimal for last, as personally it is my favorite admin theme that has potential. I say this because the theme is still in dev and there are things that need to be fixed, but I definitely like where it's going. It has a flat UI, very Google-like in the interface, nice looking icons, and overall very smooth experience. Now I think that in some instances, the text could be smaller and it needs help with select lists and radios, but overall I think it's a great start at an admin theme with a lot of potential. The theme ships with a module that cleans up Admin Menu with the same design, and it looks really cool. So if you're tired of the same old look of Admin Menu, and want to try a new admin theme, give Adminimal a shot and let the maintainer know what you think.
Notable and notorious.
There are a lot of themes out there. Believe me, I know, I just checked the interwebs.
Here are a list of some themes you might want to look out for as they didn't bode too well for me when I tried them out, or they're just plain… old.
- RootCandy - Drupal 6 called, they want their admin theme back.
- BH Bootstrap - It says on the project page that it seems to work better than fine as a normal admin theme, but I didn't have the same experience. Unfortunately I can't recommend it.
- Paddle Admin Theme - I downloaded it, but it obviously still needs some work since you have to clone it just to get it. Looks alright, so I'll keep it in here for archiving reasons.
So here's a giant list of free Drupal admin themes that are at your disposal. Rubik is great for all around admin look, but if you want to try something new and fun, try out Ember or Admininal and give them some feedback. I'm sure they will appreciate the gesture.
What are some of your favorite Drupal admin themes or tools that you use on a daily basis?