When it comes to WordPress themes, you have a lot of choices. That's the strength of the WordPress platform. However, there is a whole class of WordPress themes known as "frameworks". These consist of an overarching general theme with a huge variety of child themes added on to it. They are usually paid, but promise a whole variety of benefits including constant developer support. Due to the ease of developing child themes, they also attract some of the best design talent looking to monetize their creativity.
Probably the most famous theme framework is known as Genesis. If you've been a WordPress developer for a while, you would almost certainly have heard of it. You may have seen a whole bunch of cool looking blogs utilizing the Genesis framework and thought to yourself "how do I get that?". In this article, I'll take a look at some of the reasons to use a framework theme, specifically Genesis. And show you screenshots of my site to illustrate the various advantages.
But it's not all sunny skies. There are a few caveats when opting for any framework based theme, and will be looking at the disadvantages as well.
Advantage 1 – Easy Customization
A large part of working on a WordPress blog is taking a theme and making it your own. Changing the colors, deciding the layout, configuring the sidebars, inserting your own custom text etc., are all steps in the process of creating a unique blog even though your theme is used by many others.
In order to aid with this process, the Genesis framework provides a huge number of unique "hooks". These relate to every aspect of the WordPress page allowing you to have detailed customization of every aspect of the WordPress layout. For example, say you want to have custom content just before the "title" of every WordPress post. In a regular WordPress theme, you would have to modify the core theme file itself – there will most likely not be a standardized way to go about it.
However, Genesis provides the "genesis_before_post_title" hook where you can place your own customized code before the title. To make life even easier, the official "Simple Hooks Plugin" lets you write the code for each hook directly into a settings page as shown below:
In the above example, note how you can even execute PHP shortcodes by ticking the appropriate checkbox. The Genesis framework has a handy list of short codes allowing you to quickly insert details about post metadata etc. So when it comes to customizing the look and feel of your website, the Genesis framework allows you to do so in a scalable modular way without having to touch any core theme files.
Advantage 2 – Responsive Design
Genesis is designed from the ground up to be displayed on a variety of screen sizes. The sidebars for example automatically change their location depending on how wide the screen is so that your users don't have to scroll from left to right to view your entire page. This is a huge consideration in today's world where an increasing number of people are using mobile devices to access their content. While there are many responsive themes in the WordPress repository, the best looking ones are not free. With Genesis, you can be guaranteed that your site is going to display well on a mobile device.
The studiopress website provides a handy tool for testing your blog on various screen sizes. In the screenshot below for example, I've loaded my blog and you can see that it responds gracefully to a screen width of 320 px and 480 px.
Advantage 3 – Best Practices and Updates
The creators of the Genesis framework promise to always use the best coding practices. This gives you the confidence that your theme is optimized and using resources in the most efficient manner. This has ramifications for the speed of your website as well as making sure that future updates of WordPress don't break it.
In addition as a paid product, the Genesis framework will always be up-to-date. Since it's successful and used by a large number of website administrators, you can be sure that the creators have enough resources and motivation to ensure that the code base is current.
Now let's look at a couple of disadvantages of the Genesis framework as well as Child Themes in general.
Disadvantage 1 – Not Free (Duh!)
It may seem obvious, but having to pay $60 for a theme can be a big deal for some people. Certainly if yours is not a professional website and if you're not learning money from it, you have to think about whether or not you want to make the investment. Personal bloggers or those not aiming to generate revenue from their website are therefore least likely to use a paid framework theme.
Disadvantage 2 – Non Standardized Code
While the Genesis code base is modular and implements the best coding practices, it's definitely not standardized. It's true that you have a great deal of customizability via the various Genesis hooks, plug-ins, and short codes. But if you want to do something out of the box, you may find that tutorials on the web are not of much use. For one, it is highly inadvisable to modify the core Genesis framework files. And second, what you see might not be recognizable at all.
For example, here is a screenshot of the "home.php" file of my child theme.
This certainly looks very different from what I'm accustomed to with other WordPress themes. Unless you spend time figuring out how the pieces of the framework fit together, you're not going to be able to make many manual modifications to the child themes without messing things up. And that's a disadvantage – every WordPress framework is different and you need to make the investment to understand how it works. Often, this requires a re-understanding of your existing knowledge which might be putting off.
With these disadvantages in mind, you have to decide whether or not they are outweighed by the modularity and flexibility of framework themes. If you're a professional website developer, then a framework theme like Genesis will allow you to customize your clients websites in a standardized way with the assurance that they will always remain up-to-date and never break.
But if compatibility, familiarity, and price is what you're looking for, it might be worth giving the Genesis framework a pass.
Nick Anderson writes and operates professional website developer, they provide excellent WordPress tools and web hosting for webmasters.