What is the Best WordPress Theme Framework?
Posted on November 26, 2013 - 16 Comments
Coming into WordPress can be a daunting thing. For many people, the thought is to grab a theme and get going, until you start to discover that you need more ease of use.
If you do not code and want a good solution for your own business or for your clients, you can typically go one of two ways.
- Grab a WordPress theme framework with ease of use.
- Buy a clean theme and download plugins that will simply work.
Let’s explore some of the major players in the WordPress theme framework game and explore those options, as well as take a look at what can be done with a clean theme.
Table of Contents:
- When you should and shouldn’t use a WordPress theme framework
- Genesis Theme Framework
- Headway Theme Framework
- WooTheme Canvas Theme Framework
- iThemes Builder Theme Framework
- Dynamik Website Builder
Why you should use a WordPress Theme Framework
A theme framework takes a lot of the initial code out of WordPress.
There is still plenty of room to add visual elements (using HTML and/or CSS) into the design, but theme frameworks are designed to guide a user through the design and function of the website.
Theme frameworks DO NOT create the website for you.
Rather, theme frameworks guide you through the process in a way that eliminates major CSS and PHP coding. For example, you might use our Modern Estate WordPress theme for real estate websites. This would give you a pre-made theme with plugins and design elements in place to allow for easy creation of listings and call-to-actions. However, if you wanted to make the website a very specific color, you would have to look at the CSS and tweak it a bit.
In the above case, and in the case of most theme frameworks, you create what are called child themes.
What is a child theme?
Throughout this article, I am going to reference child themes. A child theme is a theme that has been created USING one of the existing frameworks. You see a lot of this with theme frameworks like Genesis or Canvas, where the initial framework is basic enough that it is easy to create a different visual style or technical function around the framework.
There are also tons of child themes out there. An example of a child theme is Dynamik, which is a child theme based on the Genesis Theme Framework. In order to use Dynamik, you must first have Genesis purchased and installed.
Some WordPress themes EVEN support built-in one-click child themes, to make it easier than ever to build a website with the colors and font sizes you want.
Choose your workflow
Another reason to look into theme frameworks is for the differing workflow. With a theme framework like Headway Themes, for example, the operation is entirely drag-and-drop. However, if you are a user who likes to use drag and drop in other applications, it may be easier to wrap your mind around a theme framework like Headway when building a WordPress website.
Why you should not use a framework
Once you drink the theme framework “Kool-aid”, it can be tough to leave.
For getting fast and easy solutions, WordPress and WordPress theme frameworks are a great option. The problem comes when suddenly, you or your customer wants to add or subtract things from a website.
There is potential, when attempting to code or add a plugin to a WordPress-powered website, for a theme framework to restrict the capability of *insert function here*. Worse yet, some theme frameworks are so bottlenecked that you may be denied access to entire plugins or — even worse — be forced to purchase additional extensions for the theme framework. I know this to be the case with more weighty frameworks like Headway.
While your restriction will vary, there will almost always be a loss in control and page-load speed if you are using a framework and not a clean theme.
Genesis WordPress FrameworkDeveloped by: StudioPress Price: $59.95 – One time fee | Unlimited Uses
The Genesis WordPress framework is the obvious first choice on the list, since it is easily the most popular of the available WordPress theme frameworks.
Genesis is great because of the sheer number of child themes available for it. It is popular, so many other developers and designers will use Genesis as the backbone for their themes. They know a majority of people are already going to have Genesis, so they develop with the hope that previous Genesis customers will additionally purchase or download their themes.
Genesis is also one of the cheaper frameworks out there so it is less of a money-sink. We actually prefer this method with our themes too, as it means a lower barrier to entry. If you are confident about your product, there is no need to overcharge for it.
What Genesis lacks
Genesis is a fairly dry theme framework by itself. It is truly designed to be used with other child themes (Heck, they even sell their own child themes!). In fact, the business model is to sell you on the cheaper framework and get your wallet down the line with other child themes. Genesis, by default is a cleaner theme framework with workable sidebar widgets and more expandability to other WordPress plugins in the repository.
I can see a lot of disappointed faces by users who think that Genesis is going to solve all of their design woes in one click. You really are supposed to be using this framework with other child themes, so additional acquisition of specific themes will probably be required.
Genesis is great for the reseller who is going to wants to buy a child theme for a client, get some widgets working, and get out. If you are looking for more custom work for a client, you may want to look elsewhere.
Headway WordPress FrameworkDeveloped by: Vesped Inc. Price: $59 Singular User | 1 Year of Support, $199 Unlimited Users | 1 Year of Support, $99 3-Users | 1 Year of Support
The theme framework that we pitted against Genesis on our web show, PressThis, was Headway Themes.
The purpose of putting the two together was to show two completely different mindsets on how web design can work. With Genesis, as stated above, the base is very clean and simple, and you add plugins or other child themes to make your design soar.
With Headway Themes, the premise is VERY different. Headway is a theme framework more in line with what a new WordPress designer may expect.
The idea of Headway is to take the PHP code out of your hands and implement it into the website at the click of the button. For example, if you want to display only one category on a page in your WordPress website, you would simply select that option from inside the visual editor of Headway. We know that this is a simple change in PHP code here at the studio, but if code is not your bag, this is an elegant solution.
Also, Headway is a drag-and-drop editor that works with blocks. Do you want a navigation bar in that one spot of the page? Select “Navigation” and drag it to the appropriate place.
Headway Themes gets Expensive (Tech and Money)
It is true that Headway is also fairly expensive. Because the interface is so visual, you truly need to buy extensions to get your site to work. And they sell them in what are called “blocks”. Much like the navigation block mentioned earlier, Headway sells premium blocks to get specific function out of the website. Need to add user registration to Headway? Buy the “Community Builder” Block for $47 and you can integrate bbPress (a popular WordPress plugin for user registration and forum creation) into your Headway website.
I could have just as purchased a theme for $59 and then downloaded the free bbPress plugin or found another option suited to my needs, but Headway makes it a tad easier from a coding perspective.
Headway, given the amount of drag and drop load, is also a bit more expensive on page loading speeds. In my experience using this theme versus our Socialize theme, I found that my pages loaded more quickly, and, in response, I literally got a 100% increase in visitor traffic, simply by using a faster theme.
Google likes fast websites.
The Developer Plan is the Better Bet
Headway’s Developer option gives you access to one of their blocks (community builder block) for free as well as early beta access.
If you are going to jump into this framework and are planning on selling it to others, you need this block. So much can change in a new update with such a complex website tool. You will want to know exactly what is going to change so your clients do not have to find out for you.
Beta access gives you these tools, and it is only in the developer option.
Canvas Theme FrameworkDeveloped by: WooThemes Price: $99 for Unlimited Users | 1 Year of Support
I always really like WooTheme’s products because they always embrace the clean interface of WordPress and do not try to do something out of the ordinary when designing the look and feel of their products.
With Canvas, you are given a template driven theme framework, that allows you to set specific sections of the website by selecting items like header or footer and tweaking template options and color options.
And of course, Canvas is compatible with every other Woo brand, like WooCommerce and WooSliders. So if you are already using WooTheme’s other products, this may be the best choice.
The navigation in the back-end is simple, and allows the user to click on one section and edit all you would need to edit within that section on the design front.
iThemes BuilderDeveloped by: iThemes Price: $80 for 5 Users | 1 Year of Support, $150 for Unlimited Users | 1 Year of Support
iThemes Builder is another click and add theme framework, similar to Headway.
In this case, you build the layout by adding “modules” to a website or webpage.
Does your client not want a blog section in their website, which is made of landing pages? Simply do not include that module and the change will be made to the page.
For clients with all sorts of different needs in their web design, this is going to be the best option to use, and it’s price is not that bad comparatively.
LoopBuddy and BoomBar
The developer version of the theme framework, comes with two extensions called LoopBuddy and BoomBar, which add awesome functionality to the original theme framework.
LoopBuddy allows a page to display posts of a specific category, for example. So if you have a website of cars, but you only want to display the articles about Toyota on the Toyota page, you can do that by selecting only the ‘toyota’ category for that page. Essentially, LoopBuddy takes all of the PHP code out of what is called the WordPress “loop”.
BoomBar creates visually captivating top bars, so people can click on bright call-to-action to subscribe or buy a product. If your website has a sale, this is also a great tool to promote this.
Dynamik Website BuilderDeveloped by: Cobalt Apps Price: $79.95 – One time fee | Unlimited Uses (Requires that you have purchased and installed Genesis)
Dynamik website builder is an interesting beast in that it is actually a theme framework within a theme framework. None of the other WordPress theme frameworks we have looked at can say that!
Dynamik requires that you have already installed the Genesis theme framework. It return an error on the install otherwise.
Once you have installed Dynamik though, you will find that it is a very cool product, specifically for its CSS and PHP editors.
If you are the developer looking for a theme framework that makes A/B testing or overall coding easier, this is the framework for you.
Live CSS Editor
Dynamik features a live CSS editor, so you can actually view your live edits to the design of the website as they are made and then save the changes. This makes it easy to quickly get a website up for a client with the right colors, font styles, and link styles.
Want to see these theme frameworks in action?
We have a whole playlist on our YouTube channel dedicated to showing you these theme frameworks in action as we go through them.
Take a look at those if you want to see some video content and a bit of the theme frameworks, both on the back-end and front-end.
Get active in our community
We are always looking at and exploring new theme frameworks. As we continue down the path of discovering the best of the theme frameworks, we will add to this page.
Let us know if you want us to discuss any here or on our WordPress web show, PressThis. We are always looking for new topics!
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Are none of the above solutions meeting your needs? We do custom website work as well, if you prefer a more hands-off approach to creating your website.