The Thesis Theme by DIYthemes is with over 50,000 users, one of the bigger players in the area of WordPress theme frameworks. DIYthemes was founded in 2005 by Chris Pearson, who is also the creator of Thesis.
This Thesis Theme Review is based on version 1.8.5, which is the most current version to date. Thesis 2.0 is in the works for some time already. Last June, Chris Pearson expected that version 2.0 would be available somewhere in August of this year.
When 2.0 becomes available for download, I will have look at it and compare it with the version reviewed here – 1.8.5.
Child Themes and Skins
When working with themes I usually create a child theme, so that any of my customizations leave the original – parent – theme untouched. Another benefit of child themes is that you will not lose your customizations in case of a theme upgrade – which commonly means replacing the entire theme folder.
So my first action after installing Thesis is creating a traditional child theme – a child theme the WordPress way. Returning to the backend, I see that child theme is recognized by WordPress, and activating the child theme is no problem. However, when visiting the site, I notice a site without formatting – or in other words, the style.css is not found. In addition, Thesis presents a big green [Upgrade Thesis] button. OK, so this does not work.
Thesis does offer a Thesis Child Theme Starter Template which is available at GitHub, and how-to instructions are included in the Thesis Theme User’s Guide. So, I downloaded the starter template, containing a style.css and a functions.php file. So far, so good.
Checking the child themes’ style.css, it struck me that there is no @import rule referring to the parent style.css. So this does not seem to be a child theme as defined in the WordPress codex.
In the instructions for the Child Theme Starter Template, Thesis mentions ‘classes’. When you know a little bit of CSS, you are probably familiar with the CSS id and class selectors.
In this situation however, Thesis is not referring to CSS classes but to PHP classes – or in other words to OOP; Object Oriented Programming. That is heavy geek stuff! Anyway, somehow I was able to get the starter template up-and-running. Neither with the downloaded files, nor by creating the necessary files from scratch as described in the tutorial.
Of course, you do not need to apply a child theme or a starter template when working with Thesis. So let’s continue our Thesis walk through without a child theme.
The old-fashioned Thesis way is by creating a folder \custom within the Thesis directory and add any custom files (style.css, custom_functions.php, layout.css, etc) to that folder. This is basically how Thesis skins are developed. A Thesis Skin Starter Template is also available for downloaded from GitHub.
The Thesis Panel
The Thesis Theme supports natively one WordPress 3 menu – above the header – and installs with four custom widgets: Google Custom Search, Killer Recent Entries, Search Widget, and Subscriptions. Thesis incorporates two widgetized areas – Sidebar 1 and Sidebar 2.
The Thesis Panel includes six pages:
- Thesis Site Options
- Thesis Design Options
- Thesis Header Image
- Thesis Favicon Uploader
- Thesis Custom File Editor
- Thesis Options Manager
The Site and Design Options are the core part of the Thesis panel, so we’ll get back to those in a minute.
The Thesis Header Image and Thesis Favicon Uploader present to you the WordPress Media Uploader for uploading the header image or logo and the favicon.
The Custom File Editor looks quite similar to the default WordPress editor, except that Thesis adds a drop-down menu to select the desired file, and a color picker – and a [Big Ass Save Button].
The Thesis Options Manager is your assistant for backing up and restoring your Thesis settings. In either case, the Options Manger offers three choices: Site Options, Design Options, and All Options.
The Thesis Site Options
The Site Options includes six sections:
- Document Head
- Stats Software/Scripts
- Stylesheet Options
- Navigation Menu
- Home Page SEO
- Publishing Tools
All sections are serving one or more toggle boxes.
The Document Head gives you the ability to optimize the SEO settings of your site. A box you should definitely check is the checkbox below the Title Tag Settings. By doing this, Thesis will append the site name to the page titles of your site.
If you prefer a service like Feedburner to manage the RSS feed of your site, rather than the native WordPress feed, you should enter the URL of your RSS service at the Syndication/Feed URL box.
The Stats Software/Scripts section serves a text area to enter a tracking script like Google Analytics.
The Stylesheet Options give you the opportunity to deselect the usage of the Design Mode, which apparently improves site performance, which of course is only relevant in a production environment of live websites. While developing a design on a local host this option is not really relevant.
At the moment, the Navigation Menu offers two options; WordPress nav menu and Thesis nav menu. However, the Thesis nav menu will be deprecated in Thesis 2.0, so the WordPress menu is recommended here.
Besides the SEO related options within the Document Head, Thesis dedicates a section to the Home Page SEO. Here you can enter a custom home page title, a custom meta description, and the home page meta keywords.
The Publishing Tools section includes two boxes. The first one lets you enable support for Windows Live Writer (WLW). Windows Live Writer is a Windows application – of course – for creating and managing blog posts.
The last item under the Site Options is a field where you can enter your own text to replace Thesis’ default “Big Ass Save Button”.
Thesis Design Options
The Design Options are Thesis’ center of gravity. It is the place to shape your website. The part of the Thesis panel offers the following sections:
- Site Layout
- Display Options
- Home Page Display Options
- Fonts, Colors, and More!
- Post Images and Thumbnails
- Comment Options
- Multimedia Box
- Feature Box
Every section includes one or more toggle boxes. Let’s examine these one by one.
With the Site Layout you define the number of columns that your site will have (1, 2 or 3) and you can enter the desired width for each of these columns. The minimum width for a 1 column website is 300 px, and the maximum with for a 3 column website is 1934 px. Setting your preferred column order of the content area and sidebars is a matter of one radio button.
The Display Options section lets you tweak your preferences for the site’s header (site name and/or tagline), author bylines, how you want to display archives, comments, tags, the widgets in your sidebar, admin links, and whether you want to display excerpts or the full content of your featured posts – Features in Thesis lingo.
Posts on the homepage can either be Features or Teasers. Thesis displays the full content of Features – or the content until the Read More tag when one has been applied. The remaining posts on the homepage are Teasers. Teasers are presented as excerpts in grid view, without thumbnails.
By default, the first two posts on the homepage are served as Features, and the other posts as Teasers. You can alter these settings at the Home Page Display Options. Displaying all posts as Features or Teasers is also possible.
Fonts, Colors and More! is a very comprehensive section, since you get the ability to set font, font-size and colors for the Body, Content Area, NavMenu, Header and Tagline, Headlines, Bylines and Post Meta Data, Code, Multimedia Box, Sidebars, and Footer. Thesis offers about six dozens of fonts – including Google Fonts – to choose from. Colors are set with the aid of a color picker – but you can also enter the hex value directly.
At the Teasers section, you configure your settings for… the Teasers. Here you can tweak the Teaser Display Options. For example which meta you want to show. But also the date format, the read more link, and the desired font sizes.
The horizontal and vertical position for post images as well as thumbnails are set at the Post Images and Thumbnails section. In addition, you can enter your desired dimensions for an auto-generated thumbnail of the first uploaded image – in case you do not provide one yourself.
The Comment Options serve, again, a lot of options to match the presentation of comments and trackbacks according to your preferences – including the size of the avatar.
Thesis comes with a Multimedia Box which is positioned on top of the right sidebar(s). This Multimedia Box can display rotating images or an embedded video. In addition, you can enter some custom code, or hide the box altogether.
We might consider the Feature Box as some kind of a flexible widget area. You can enter about anything in here: welcome message, advertisement, whatever.
To make use of the Feature Box, you need to get your hands dirty with some code. However, you will find a tutorial how to use this widget area on the site of DIYthemes. Hopefully Thesis 2.0 will add an additional widgetized area to the Widgets page.
Thesis Plans and Pricings
The Thesis Theme framework is available in two flavors:
- the Personal Option for $87
- the Developer’s Options for $164
The Personal Option allows you use the template system on one website. The Developer’s Option lets you to use Thesis on all the domains you own yourself. In either case, you will get lifetime upgrades and a 30-day money back guarantee.
At the moment, you can start with a personal license and upgrade to a developer license for only $77. The upgrade price will increase when Thesis 2.0 arrives.
Customers of the Developer Option, who want to run the framework on a client’s site, need to purchase a Client Site Option. The price of a single Client Site Option ranges from $40 to $32. This price depends on the number of client licenses you purchase at once.
The Site Options help you to set-up the general stuff, while the structure and design of your site is created at the Design Options. In general, you select options by drop-down menus, check boxes, radio buttons, and self-explanatory text fields. Whenever additional information might be needed, it is there – right under your mouse.
— pearsonified (@pearsonified) December 7, 2010
It is too bad, that Thesis does not work with third-party SEO plugins. According to Chris Pearson, on Twitter known as @pearsonified, SEO belongs to the theme’s monopoly. In my humble opinion, the final decision should always be to the user.
Checking the User’s Guide for more details about child themes, I stumbled over this line “Classes are how you will interact with Thesis 2.0, so you need to understand them”. That frightens me a bit, since it implies that you need to understand OOP to get the most out of Thesis 2.0. Hopefully, Thesis 2.0 will not only be a powerful tool to geeks.
By the way, when you check the Thesis Gallery Showcase you will see that it is also possible to build business websites with Thesis – not just blogs.