What the Heck Are WordPress Theme Frameworks? • New Tricks
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The buzz around the WordPress Meetup Groups no longer is which theme should I use but rather, which theme framework is the “best” to use to learn to develop WordPress sites. But before we can even get into that, lets answer the question, “What exactly is a “framework”?

What the heck does that mean?  The official WordPress Codex definition  is “a theme that is designed to be a flexible foundation that can serve as a parent theme for building child themes.”

If that didn’t really do it for you let me give it a try.  A WordPress theme framework provides the PHP , HTML, CSS  and Javascript files for a fully robust, functional theme which can actually be used as is but are really built to make developing a child theme based upon the parent go faster and easier. These frameworks  tend to have more features and styling options than a typical theme, along with the ability to easily make these modifications without having to rely on a lot of coding.  If in the future, the theme developer updates the parent theme, the modifications based upon the parent theme will remain intact.

There are quite a few well known WordPress theme frameworks. Thesis by DIY themes, Genesis by Studio Press, Headway , and Thematic are just a few. There is a nice list on WPCandy that compares features and pricing of 23 theme frameworks.

I actually recommend that if you are a complete WordPress beginner you may be better off getting the feel of some of the free themes that come without a lot of bells and whistles so that you get to see what WordPress does right out of the box. The default theme, Twenty Ten is a good one to start using to make basic modifications to the actual theme files. It is easy to play with using Firebug and you can learn a great deal how themes are constructed by starting with one that does not have a very individualized set of user defined options and therefore lots more complicated under the hood.

But once you know your way around a theme then the real question becomes is it Thesis or Genesis? I actually like them both for different reasons and different clients. I have to admit once I learned to use Thesis it was hard to tackle the learning curve on another Framework. When you really understand how to use one of these frameworks you can put a new site together pretty quickly. Actually designing a site to the client’s specifications is of course another layer of complexity but putting together a new theme design can go quickly.

I think Genesis is easier to use right out of the box because it comes with a bunch of child themes all ready to go. So if you are really not a designer, you can still use one of these pre-made child themes and be ready to launch in short order. You can certainly do better than that if you have some graphic design skills so you can customize the child themes but it is not imperative. There are a lot of businessy looking themes in their library. A developer’s lifetime license is 164.00 and you can have them all. I love having the ability to choose from all of them and it is a lifetime membership allowing you to download new themes as they are released.

I use Thesis theme a lot for consultants, coaches,  writer or anyone who wants to feature their content. (Although Genesis just came out with a child theme, Prose, which looks a whole lot like Thesis.)  Thesis comes with many user modification options so that a new user can change the size of the body, size and number of the columns, the colors and font sizes and oh so much more. Thesis offers a custom CSS files and custom functions files for your changes to the code so that the original parent files do not get overwritten when Thesis goes through and upgrade.  There are huge numbers of Thesis fanatics who post the code to make lots of other changes that take a little tweaking that is over your head. But they are really easy to follow since they basically require you to copy and paste some CSS into the custom CSS file and some PHP into the custom functions file and Voila! Thesis costs 87.00 for an end user license and 164.00 for a developers license.

I have written two other posts with some examples of how we used various Child themes from Genesis Theme to create client sites as well as some examples of  sites we have created using Thesis.

Which theme framework do you like best and why?

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  • Howling Dog Themes

    Hi Judi, Would love to introduce you to the K9 Canvas framework from Howling Dog Themes. As you point out Prose by Genesis and Thesis are a lot alike. Howling Dog Themes provides an alternative that is more intuitive, more flexible and cuts development time. Please don't take us at our word, we would love to provide you a review copy if you'd be interested in doing an unbiased write up.
    My recent post HDT Framework & K9 Canvas

    • judi knight

      David, I just went to your site and looked at the videos on the K9 Canvas framework. Looks very interesting. I would love to take it for a spin with a copy to review.

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