When you have a WordPress website, one of your most important decisions is what theme to use. This will not only give your site a “set of clothes”, but will also influence how your site is used and perceived.
Many people don’t know where to turn to get themes. It’s tempting to use a free one, available from the WordPress site. I’ve done that myself, and some are great, but many are pretty bad. Stepping up to a premium theme for a few bucks will usually get you decent quality and tech support.
Buy Now, Scratch Head Later
In my work I use the Genesis framework, which greatly facilitates WordPress development. I use it when I’m asked to make a custom theme from a graphic design, and this comprises most of my work. Frequently, though, I’m asked to work on a site where someone has already purchased some slick premium theme, often from Themeforest. It’s great looking and has a big list of extra features. But the theme buyer has found that they can’t quite get the site to look and work quite the way they planned.
So they ask for help. Sometimes my job is very quick and easy in this situation, a few appearance changes, some structure changes, add a few features, boom, we’re done. But if the client has a lot of ideas, this may be a bigger deal than expected.
But why? I paid good money for that fancy [insert vendor here] theme and it has a zillion features!
When you get a theme with every feature imaginable, it’s fun. But there may be a hidden downside. Because so much is built into the theme, it becomes pretty massive and complex. When significant changes are requested, I often need to “un-build” much of this stuff to make it happen, and that takes a lot more time than it would if I were working on a Genesis-based theme, for instance. Another odd by-product of feature-laden themes is that if you have 500 options, you’ve got an extra learning curve.
Fully Pimped Out
One analogy would be if someone bought a Lexus, but suddenly decided that they like a BMW better. So removing all those Lexus features and adding others to make the BMW isn’t easy. What if you buy an Armani dress, but after getting home you decide that you really wanted an Anne Klein look instead? It’s a pretty big deal to turn that Armani into an Anne Klein, so it would have been easier if you had only bought the Klein, but you didn’t know that in advance. Or you’ve decided that women look better in dresses than you do.
As my main man William said, there’s the rub. If you don’t have serious web skills, you can still get a nice site using a commercial theme if you’re reasonably computer-literate. If you can buy into the cool features of your hot new theme without alterations, then you’re all set, and the best-selling themes have legions of admirers like that. That’s a BIG IF. If you want to tinker, change, and build, you may need some extra help.
Flare or Flair? One Hurts More When You Pick It Up
Last week I worked on a site using the Flare theme. (When I first heard of this popular Themeforest choice, I thought its name was the usual typo that people use when they are trying to indicate that something has “flair”). The theme is darned cute! If you like this cuteness as-is, you could have a site up pretty quick. My client wanted lots of changes, though. The styling part of the admin panel has confusing terminology – my client and I struggled to figure out the choices. It was like suddenly becoming a non-English speaker, but having to figure it out anyway. Also, while writing new CSS for the theme styling, I swore many times. This theme’s CSS is as dense and complex as any I’ve ever seen, so overriding it took much more time than I usually need. On the plus side, this theme handles responsiveness very well (mobile devices, iPads, tablets, etc.)
I’ve coded some Genesis child themes from scratch faster than this job went!
Stop The Presses! Or At Least, This One
Now yet another Themeforest whopper has crossed my path, and like all of them, it’s so pretty! Pressmate advertises itself as “incredibly simple”. Well, I’m just a web developer, so I guess I may not have the necessary technical background to use it. Just like Flare, it’s got tons of admin panels, all coded in such a way that, well, I guess the people that wrote it might be able to find stuff. No place to put custom CSS. For a programmer, so many theme files that unless you’re psychic, you could be searching for days to find where things are. Does 1200+ files sound incredibly simple to you?
Programming hooks and filters? There do seem to be some here and there. But are they publicly documented? No.
What does this mean to you? If you have this theme, and you want a developer to make changes that aren’t in its gargantuan admin, the developer will have a LOT more work to do than if you had a lean and mean theme, like a Genesis theme, with handy hooks and filters galore.
Lest I be all negative, I will say this: it is responsive! But making any significant changes will require a lot more money than the purchase price of the theme itself. But if you like the theme as is, as many probably do, you’ll be fine.
I also have done jobs recently with themes by Themify and InkThemes, and the difficulties were similar. The common thread is that these tricked-out themes have the scent of being built by visual people without a lot of consideration for programmers’ needs. WordPress hooks make a theme programmer’s job much easier, and surprisingly, many premium themes lack them (or at least don’t document them). Fortunately, Genesis has loads of them, as does Thesis and other well-built themes. Although Woo Themes are extremely visual and dense, they have started adding documented hooks to their themes and plugins – I applaud them for that!
I’d be interested in hearing your experiences with premium WordPress themes!