A Theme In Review
People with WordPress websites are lucky. There are thousands of “themes” that they can choose to give their site a particular look. I occasionally get the urge to do makeovers on my own sites, and sometimes I even have the time to do so! Since I’ve settled on WordPress after using lots of CMS systems, I’ve used a lot of themes. I had been using the Epik child theme for Genesis for a long time. It’s quite feature-rich, notably its many front page widgets. I like it a lot, so it took some convincing to get me to change.
I found that theme. It’s Utility Pro, by Carrie Dils. I’m not as much of a WordPress theme fanboy as many people are, partly by temperament, and partly because I get to see all the code. Some theme code is ugly, even in some hugely popular themes. (I might name names, unless the parties in question send me some unmarked bills). That’s why I was pleasantly surprised with Utility Pro, and I’m happy to recommend it.
Carrie is no stranger; she has been putting out quality work for a long time, has written a lot of helpful tutorials, and is well-known for doing regular podcasts about Genesis and WordPress. So we start with the very solid basis of her expertise. But wait, there’s more. 😉 For even more goodness she has consulted with other top professionals who have particular specialties, such as Gary Jones (code auditor), Rian Rietveld (accessibility expert), and other contributors. Because of that, it has an unusually rich combination of features.
Love Those Features!
It’s mobile-first: when a phone user views the site, code that’s intended for larger screens isn’t loaded, which gives phones a speed boost. Given how mobile browsing has exploded in popularity, this matters.
It’s Accessibility-Ready (aided by a couple nice free plugins). This is still somewhat rare in WordPress themes (and let’s face it, the web in general), but it’s more important than you might think.
One source I found says that the number of people with disabilities in the US is close to 20%, and around half of them use the web.
- People with problems gripping and lifting may suffer trying to read lots of content
- Blind people may use screen readers, which need accessible pages to work effectively
- Colorblind people have difficulty with low color contrast situations
- Accessibility may be mandatory in government sites.
Nicely Coded Right To Left
Utility Pro also supports Right-to-Left (RTL) languages. If you will be working with one of those languages, this will give you a big head start.
It’s also translation-ready, and ships with 9 non-English language translations at last count. (Wow!)
Beyond that, it has plenty of nice home page widgets where you could put a “call to action”, photos, post summaries, etc. There’s even one that goes above the header. (Cool, no plugin needed for that anymore!) It also has a landing page template, a useful item in our social media world. It includes 4 theme color options.
It has a nice implementation of Backstretch, which gives a handy way to have a large background image. In the theme instructions you’ll find tips on how to make this work well. This is great, because when using Backstretch (or other large photo background methods), the user is shocked (shocked!) when their overly large, unedited photo looks awful or brings their site to its knees when it’s uploaded to their site.
The responsive menu is a really nice piece of code. Bravo!
It just does a lot of things superbly well! There is much more thought and care put into it than almost any theme that I’ve seen. Carrie cares about supporting her customers, too, which can’t be taken for granted.
Who else would enjoy using it? Its solid foundation could be used for just about any kind of site – blog, ecommerce, photography, etc. A developer could easily use this as a base theme. Its svelte but neutral look could be adapted to nearly anything. Its international features would make this superb for someone who works with several languages.
Yet, it doesn’t try to do too much, so it isn’t bloated like the monsters you see with larger admin panels than mission control (cough, Themeforest). Since Utility Pro is lean and fast, it may not appeal to those who want thousands of features with which to destroy their site. It sports 3 layouts: sidebar-content, content-sidebar, and full width. Good call! If someone wanted the tricky complications and congestion of other layouts, those could be turned on with a few lines of code and then CSS-tweaked into shape. Note – for those of you who aren’t Genesis geeks yet, this theme requires the Genesis theme – it’s a child of Genesis, so to speak. Check out Utility Pro!
My home page isn’t a blog, so one quick change I made was to take out the WordPress loop from that page. Of course, I also played with colors, and then I added a big background image. I had Font Awesome bits on my site already, but ended up using the plugin that Carrie recommends, which is pretty nice and has some additional goodies.
UPDATE – as of July 2015, I’m also using Utility Pro on my fitness blog, Fitness Tabby. As you’ll see, it has a clearly different look and feel from my home page, and this speaks to the theme’s versatility.
Any questions or comments about Utility Pro, please let me know in the comments!
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