WordPress Theme Frameworks: The Advantages

by Brittany Horton on June 10, 2011

Have you ever asked yourself  “What is the advantage of using a WordPress Theme Framework instead of  a regular old theme?” It’s a common question. You’ll find it time and again in forums, blog posts, and comments. In fact, after we have our first discovery session with our clients when we start on a site design or redesign, we discuss just this question.

Why Choose a Default Theme

If a site is truly a “simple” site or there are extreme budgetary constraints, we may stick with a customized WordPress Twenty Ten theme that comes as one of the default themes in your WordPress installation. It’s an easy way to get a site up and running quickly, and it is still allows you to make minor edits to customize the look and to match your brand. Here are some nice sites we’ve done using the Twenty Ten Theme.

Tinogona Website Design using WordPress Twenty Ten Theme Family Resource Center of North Texas Website Design using Twenty Ten theme Family Healthcare Website Design using Twenty Ten Theme

Why Choose a Theme Framework

Most people want something that is unique to them. When that happens we’ll consider more powerful theme frameworks as we design and develop their sites. Just a few of the advantages we have found with using Theme Frameworks include:

  • Easy Upgrades for Framework and for WordPress when using Framework Child Themes;
  • Nice integrations with many popular plugins;
  • Extra functions that build on the base WordPress install;
  • Easy customizations to child themes; and
  • Improved speed and load time

What is a Theme Framework?

Focus Theme - A Clean and Powerful Theme for WordPressA theme framework is a theme that allows you to have additional capabilities and functionality added to WordPress that regular themes do not, without a lot of extra coding or difficult customization. They also usually offer child themes, so that you can customize the child theme without messing up your global settings.

If you purchase a regular theme (or even use one of the many free themes out there) and want to customize it to add your own personal touch so you don’t look like an “out of the box” website, you can sometimes run into the issue of “breaking” the theme and making things not work with your WordPress install or other plugins.

That is not the case with a theme framework. They often bring a lot of customization and new capabilities into WordPress and make creating websites more efficient for most developers and designers. Using a good one means that you do not have to start from scratch, and they give you a VERY strong and good base to start from.

Choosing a Theme Framework

If you are considering using one, we highly recommend the StudioPress’ Genesis Theme Framework. We find Genesis with the addition of one of their many child themes is a great place to start for

  • beginners who are  seeking a nice, straight forward and easy website with a nice design. Child themes have nice options such as a featured area, default widgets for users, menus, and some social media connections.
  • experienced WordPress users who are wanting a more customized website. If you are comfortable diving into the code of your theme, you can easily add small customizations, images, colors, etc to the custom.css of that child theme making this theme a little more customized to your needs. You can also add any additional plugins or functions that add the additional features that you want.
  • those of you looking to build out your own custom design. When you’re choosing a child theme that has the functions that you want your custom design to do (featured area, rotating images, portfolio sections, etc), much of the heavy lifting is done for you. You, or your developer can make edits to the custom.css and functions.php to make the website EXACTLY what you are looking for.

The Advantages of a Theme Framework

Updating WordPress is Easier

One of our favorite advantages is that when it comes time for updates, you do not have to worry about losing any of your customizations.

You can also rest assured that when it is time to upgrade to the ever-changing new WordPress version, that you’re less likely to experience downtime because a stray conflict in the upgrade breaks your site. Good developers are well aware of possible issues and work to ensure compatibility with the newest versions of WordPress. And if there is a conflict, these developers are usually quite responsive. This is a huge relief for many websites.

Plays Well with Plugins

Another pro to a good quality theme framework is its relationship with plugins. Some themes have issues with plugins, but we’ve found the ones we work with usually play very nicely with the most popular WordPress plugins. Of course there will be a few plugins which may not work with your theme, but that is where the support comes in. When you purchase a theme framework, like Genesis or other reputable brand, you often are also signing up for their support. If you ever run into an issue where a plugin you need is not working with your theme, you can submit a ticket or thread in the support pages to get help with this problem. Also, many plugin developers will develop plugins that specifically work with some of the larger and more popular theme frameworks. This can narrow the scope considerably when your searching for the best plugin to add functionality to your site.

Speed

Speed is another factor when it comes to using a theme framework. Creators know how the speed and load time factors impact websites and thus, they build their frameworks with this in mind. Making sure that the pages and code are minimized to expedite load time is a very nice feature of frameworks. See our related post for more information.

Cost Savings

Sure, there are plenty of “free” themes out there that are quite enticing to use. We always caution against these as the developers have made them for a very specific need, usually their own. And when it comes time to add new functionality or expand your site, it can cost you more to integrate the changes. More often than not, businesses eventually find their way to some sort of a theme framework so they don’t continually find themselves reinventing the wheel. When you start with a theme framework, you very well could be saving yourself time, money, and unnecessary anguish.

Themes in Action

As you can see, we are very large supporters of the theme framework, and love the StudioPress Genesis Theme Framework. We’ve also had good luck with Thesis Themes. If you are interested in using a theme framework and aren’t quite sure where to begin, just let us know. We’d be happy to help get you going in the right direction. Here are some sites (in addition to this blog) that we’ve recently developed using Genesis.

CCD Counseling Website Design using Genesis GPLP Website Design using Thesis The Brickhouse Gym Website Design using Thesis

What are your experiences or questions regarding themes? Let us know in the comments.

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