The first quarter of this year, I became in interested in WordPress theme frameworks. The biggest advantage of a framework is that it provides a tool to build a WordPress site from scratch, without much coding – or no coding at all.
In order to get a grip on this topic, I started with some stock-taking. Since I did not have the time to examine all 40+ frameworks, I condensed the first listing to a long list of twelve. Eventually, I ended up reviewing ten WordPress frameworks:
- Dynamik Website Builder
- Thesis 1.8.5 & Thesis 2.0
- Ultimatum Theme
- Xtreme One
The question that indisputable pops-up is: What is the best framework? And I guess the answer is: none of the above. Since actually, the question should be: What is the best framework for you?
The best framework for you, is the framework that offers the best fit for you based on your current expertise, experience and expectations. In this post I try to provide a summary that will help you answer the question yourself.
Choosing a WordPress Theme Framework
Creating a website requires structure and styling. The structure of a WordPress website is constructed of HTML and PHP, and the styling is composed with CSS.
So in what extend does a framework support you in creating the structure and styling of a website? Does the framework offer drag-and-drop? And does it require knowledge of PHP or CSS to complete a website with a given framework?
Another important consideration are child themes. Several frameworks allow you to create a child theme next to the framework in a separate folder. With others you build the website on top of the framework – not all let you export the website as a child theme. Some developers prefer child themes, especially regarding client projects. How important is this to you?
The following table summarizes the answers to these questions for the reviewed frameworks – with some special attention for those supporting drag-ans-drop:
Four frameworks allow you to create page layouts by drag-and-drop: Headway, PageLines, Thesis 2.0, and Ultimatum. Only with PageLines you will have to code the CSS manually. With Headway, Thesis 2. 0 and Ultimatum you can compose the styling with point-and-click.
Creating layouts is quite easy with Builder, and the framework supports child themes. For the creation of CSS, Builder offers the Styling Manager plugin. All-in-all, Builder supplies a complete system to create a WordPress website.
The Catalyst framework offers a complete system for creating layouts and styling – both by point-and-click, without coding. With Catalyst you can build websites fast and easy on top of this framework, which you can export as a Catalyst child theme. Technically this child theme is a not a child theme to the Catalyst Website Builder but to Catalyst – you only need Catalyst to run it, not the Catalyst Website Builder.
Dynamik Website Builder
The Dynamik Website Builder uses the Genesis Framework and offers comparable features as the Catalyst Website Builder. A comparison of the two was published here last week. Although you create a website on top of this framework, you can export it as a Genesis child theme. This child theme is a not a child theme to the Dynamik Website Builder but to Genesis – you just need Genesis to activate and run it, not the Dynamik Website Builder.
The Genesis Framework is a powerful and flexible framework that does support the use of child themes. When you want to create custom websites with Genesis, you will have to code. Part of the PHP coding can be achieved by applying pre-cooked PHP available on the internet. An easy alternative – and a stepping stone at the same time – is facilitating a ready-to-deploy child theme for your website.
Headway is a true drag and drop framework. Adding a new widget area is as simple as drawing a box with your mouse. Really! It is almost magic. You can create custom layouts without touching any code, and for the styling you only have to point-and-click – again no coding needed. And last but not least, Headway supports child themes.
Your first experience with PageLines will probably be comparable to mine; a bit confusing because of all the available boxes. When you are passed that, it is really a very nice framework that allows you to drag-and-drop custom page templates. Although PageLines does offer some basic styling by point-and-click, you will be coding CSS sooner or later. PageLines supports child themes.
October 2nd, Thesis 2.0 was released as a successor to Thesis 1.8.5. Thesis 2.0 looks promising, but it is not a finished product. Unfortunately. In addition, Thesis 2.0 is completely incompatible with 1.8.5. The past month, the Thesis 2.0 User Guide has increased from one to three pages! Customers who have purchase Thesis 1.x can still download and get support for v1.8.5. New customers do not have that option, they can only acquire Thesis 2.0.
Ultimatum is another framework that allows you to create websites without coding. Layouts are created by drag-and-drop, and styling is a matter of point-and-click. The current version does not support child themes. Word is that the next major update, which has been announced for November 22nd, will be able to support child themes.
Compared to the other frameworks, Xtreme One looks a bit like a no-frills framework, however working with it is really quite straightforward and therefore easy. Building page layouts is a matter of pointing-and-clicking. For the styling however, you will need to code CSS manually. Xtreme One does support child themes.
My Personal Thoughts
Basically, you do no need to know any PHP to work with these frameworks. Genesis is an exception, but only when you want to get the most out of it.
With most frameworks, you do not even need to know how to code CSS. However, a little knowledge of CSS will make your life a lot easier.
The only framework that I cannot recommend at the moment is Thesis – especially for people who do not have any prior experience with Thesis 1.x. The main reason? Thesis 2.0 is still work in progress.
And I am a bit worried about Xtreme One, since it seems that there is not much going on lately. Their last blog post, regarding the release v1.5.2., is dated May 15.
My first website was a pre-CSS, table-based creation. Fortunately, I am currently quite comfortable with CSS and do not mind coding it with a text-editor like Notepad++. However, since I am not a trained coder, I am very happy with these WordPress theme frameworks.
My ultimate goal is to create websites based on Genesis child themes which I have build from scratch myself. Actually, you only need a few lines of code to create a basic Genesis child theme. In the meantime there are enough alternatives.
And I am very curious for the next version of Ultimatum, which is scheduled to appear on the framework’s first anniversary; November 22nd.
I have to admit that I am a bit relieved that I have been able to complete these review series on WordPress theme frameworks. Of course, I will continue following the products mentioned in this post, and it will be my pleasure to keep you informed about my findings.
Hopefully these series, and especially this post, will help you choosing the best framework for you. When you think that I have missed a spot, or when you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to leave a comment or drop me a note.