27 thoughts on “The Death of WordPress Theme Frameworks Leave a comment

  1. As a former user of Thesis and Woo along with someone that has also created child themes for the Twenty Eleven and Twelve default themes, i can honestly say quality frameworks like Genesis make building and customizing your WordPress site far easier and more enjoyable than any other option.

    You can put together a new child theme in a matter of days using Genesis which you’ll find a huge challenge using _s or any of the default themes.

    The article Google released yesterday about Schema/Microdata. authorship and pagination also supports the use of a framwork like the new Genesis 2.0 HTML 5 version.http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2013/08/in-depth-articles-in-search-results.html

    Look also at the fact Yoast, Chris Lema, Sugar Rae and many others have recently moved to Genesis as a vote of confidence in the best theme framework for WordPress.

    On top of this. Yoast is also working on building child theme son the Genesis theme framework.

    Trying to customize a theme using_s compared to Genesis is no comparison unless you’re an experienced theme developer.

    I think the high attrition rate of new WordPress users has a lot to do with the fact they don’t start out with Genesis. If they did, there’s no doubt that rate would fall as its far easier to build your website using Genesis than using a default theme like Twenty Thirteen.

    On top of this, the support provided to Genesis users is outstanding and there’s also a great range of theme specific plugins for non coders.

    I do agree that other theme frameworks have become less popular, reasons for which have already been well documented.

    1. I should point out that I have nothing against frameworks. I maintain and sell one myself (albeit one that’s nowhere near as popular as Genesis). The point I am trying to make is that they are no longer necessary.

      WordPress has caught up and there is very little commonly used functionality that can’t be implemented using built in WordPress functionality. HTML5 and microdata stuff is simple to add for any competent web designer and not a compelling reason to use a framework IMO. Anything more complex can be added through plugins.

      Good support is a very good reason to buy a theme – but that doesn’t mean a theme framework is a requirement.

      Genesis being used by prominent bloggers has more to do with good marketing than it does the quality of the product. Many of these same bloggers were using Thesis previously and then changed to Genesis when Brian moved to Studio Press.

      Likewise Yoast making child themes has less to do with the quality of the theme and more to do with the popularity and the fact it makes good business sense to do it.

      Again – I’m not saying anything bad about Genesis – I even bought version 1 a few years ago so I could learn from it – and the team behind v2 is great so I’m sure it’s good. I just think it’s overkill.

      1. It’s clearly no overkill in my opinion.
        You may entitle “Genesis” as rock solid Parent Theme if you want to avoid the terme framework. Or just “theme” — that is always used with child themes. No problem here.

        Genesis was once again freed from some features with version 2.0 – as was with former versions 1.8.x and 1.9.x. Still, it is a foundation to be build upon and I won’t say that this whole thing is unecessary stuff.

        Genesis wouldn’t have top-notch community developers behind it and such a big ecosystem – especially also with plugins – behind it if it only would exist because of good marketing (which surely it has!).

        There’s a bigger picture: Genesis has very high abstraction of markup and has an API for devs included. It takes way less time to create design as child theme for Genesis as say, with “_s” or the default themes as basis. A lot of developers like me, or agencies or whoever… don’t want to mess with 15 or more templates and then make customized stuff from it and so on. With Genesis which breathes hooks and filters it’s so much easier and needs far less time!

        Genesis is a stripped down basis feature wise that also relies on some specific plugins or any plugins that just work with WordPress. IMHO this is some kind of a role model, compared to stuff, let’s say on ThemeForest or elswhere where all is stuffed/ bundled with the “theme”.

        I use this ecosystem for 3 years now, I have also written more than a dozen plugins for it, I won’t look back anymore! Before I wrangled with all those other themes whatsoever for every single project and messed with all those templates. I am glad I found Genesis and stayed with it, experiencing its evolution over the years — and it really growed and got better and better (just look at the code and inline documentation!).

        I never saw this point that frameworks might be over. The term maybe as it is fight from so many people but I almost never can follow the arguments that come with it. I just experience it some other way in real life.

      2. Thanks for the feedback. I was sure there would be people with differing opinions and that’s fine πŸ™‚
        Keep in mind though that there’s a difference between Genesis (and theme frameworks) and _s. _s is a starter theme, you’re not meant to use it as a parent – you’re meant to modify it and turn it into something different. I think this is where the future lies as it gives you a lot more freedom and a lot less of the weight of a full blown framework.

        If you want to use a framework then I think the best option is something like Hybrid – that you can just drop in to a theme. You still have your own templates and styles and nothing is prescribed – but it gives you a bit of extra power and flexibility.

    2. I think the missing term is “toolkit” or “toolkit approach”, to be more exact. It’s something a colleague of mine came up with a year or so ago (sadly he left the blogosphere for good, so I can’t link back to his article).

      So this supposed toolkit approach would be similar to what we already got: Plugins, combined with a basic theme. The toolkit part is, that we add components to the theme as required. Eg. if you need a full-blown custom sidebar API, drop that component in. Then maybe you need a really simple slideshow like Unslider, that just does what it’s told and nothing more – drop that one in, too. Oh, and you need a properly working header image – yet another component to drop in. Et voila: Your theme’s ready – now go for customization πŸ˜‰

      The bigger thinking part in these decisions is thou, what to choose as component (integral part of the theme) and what is best left sitting as a regular plugin. But still, those regular plugins are just part of the toolkit approach as well – you pick, what you need, maybe even what you might need (because you should know your clients best), but never ever need to pick up stuff thats absolutely in the way, like some complex portfolio post-type system, which is only required for actual portfolio-focused sites, etc.

      cu, w0lf.

      1. That’s certainly another approach to the system. In this case you will need to have all the elements of the tool kit ready – whereas in most cases a lot of it won’t be needed so there could be time wasted in building this toolkit.

        Personally I still think a light starter theme is the quickest way to build a new WordPress site.

  2. Great insight, Ben. I agree that frameworks are playing a reduced role in the ecosystem. I wrote an article on WordPress theme frameworks as well. To summarize, “Frameworks are struggling to solve more problems than they create.”

    I also postulate on the issue of SEO being a marketing gimmick. There is no doubt that it has been abused as such by many (or most?). But I think there is a bigger question at play which comes up in my article and it is this: When does a feature belong in a theme as opposed to a plugin?

    People in our industry who understand UX know this is not a cut-and-dry question. Often times, we opt to put each thing in it’s right/logical place as programmers at the expense of the end-user, who is actually using the product(s) every day.

    1. The separation between themes and plugins is something I generally see quite clearly now – but it took me a while to get there and to understand the distinction.

      I made the Nominate social voting theme a couple of years ago – and it’s become a convoluted beast. The most common pre-sales questions I’ve had for that theme is if it can be used with another theme. If I were to make it today then Nominate would be a plugin for sure.

  3. I agree and disagree. Essentially any theme you use that has pre-built features that you use as a building block, I consider a framework. The only way you would not be using a framework is if you literally started from blank template files every time you built a website. Even if you start with just a stylesheet that has styles for elements you frequently need, that’s what I’d also call a framework. So in that sense, frameworks will never go away.

    I do think that these big frameworks and parent themes cause more problems than they should, but that’s likely because of the learning curve. I just started researching Genesis, and I love that it includes great seo features and schema microdata. Stuff like that I don’t want to worry about integrating into my own custom framework, that’s why I want to use something that’s ready to build off of. However with massive frameworks like Genesis I feel overwhelmed with the learning curve, even though I’m a seasoned WordPress designer.

    Using my own custom parent theme, which I built from _s, I simply edit page templates and markup to suit any project. I create very custom WordPress sites for my clients, and I sometimes think that frameworks and large parent themes are more ideal for people who don’t need to build entirely custom layouts, functionality, and designs.

    I’m very interested in seeing how Genesis could benefit my work, but I’m also turned off by it.

    1. Your definition of frameworks is just semantics. What you call something and what other people call something can be different. What you are referring to is what I call Starter themes. In my mind a framework shouldn’t be changed – it’s a structure to build on top of. So frameworks should be parent themes only. Starter themes, like _s, are designed to be edited as new themes and then later used as parent themes – which nicely sidesteps the grandchild theme issue.

  4. I would like to interject with this thought. _s has been built by the core development team responsible for WordPress in the first place, Automattic. They are also the developers of Thematic, a WordPress Framework. Needless to say, both _s and Thematic were still being updated, as of 2013-04-09. Don’t you think that there may be some merit to both of these options if the core WordPress team hasn’t abandoned it yet?

    I am not expert, so please voice your opinion for or against my comment. As far as I am concerned, I would much rather use something developed by the company that brought you WordPress, than come other source, considering that they are on the forefront of the changes actually being made to the WordPress infrastructure.

    So, have you use Thematic? What are your thoughts on this particular Framework, and how it fits into the WordPress world? Do you think there is a place for it in a developer’s workflow? I have been looking into _s, as well as Thematic. I own Genesis, as well, but I am less keen on using it.

    I’m mostly just thinking aloud (ahem … in type), but if anyone has a strong opinion one way or another, I’d love to hear it.


    1. Hi Michael.

      Thematic was initially developed by Ian Stewart who was later hired by Automattic. As far as I know Automattic is not in any way associated with Thematic now – apart from this previous link.

      _s on the other hand is developed and maintained by Automattic exactly as you say. However _s isn’t a framework – it’s a starter theme (which is what I was suggesting is the future of theme development). If you read the _s description on the homepage then the first thing it says is ‘I am a theme meant for hacking – don’t use me as a parent theme’.

      Genesis is a great theme, but in my opinion it’s all a bit unnecessary. An awesome starter theme, like _s is just as good – and allows a lot more flexibility.

  5. Hey there.
    Totally a newbie in all of this and was plowing the web for some info for people like me. I am not a designer (although i do have some PSD background) not a programer (but did manege to create a few websites via Dreamweaver and did study HTML a long long time ago). I have no desire to create themes for clients but i would like to create one kick ass, ever evolving, blog for myself (given the above skills, or the lack there of).
    Would a person like me benefit from a framework+theme combo and if so what would be the best theme for this? a pre-designed one or rather something of a more open nature like Prose (for Genesis) or Dynamic (Catalyst/genesis).
    would be grateful for you incites on the above.

    Thank you.

  6. As an all day WordPress developer based in Belgium, I totally agree. Less footprint and code cluttering is ultimately more performance.

  7. After hiring freelancers for three straight projects that have resulted in unstable themes, I’m hiring a Genesis Framework dev specialist for my next (and first child) theme. I’m sure I’ve just had some bad luck, but I’m willing to sacrifice a larger code footprint for an end product that’s more stable to withstand plugin and WP updates.

    1. Hey Gregg – it’s a shame you’ve had such bad luck with your freelance developers. If a theme is coded correctly then it should never have to worry about WordPress updates.

      I should point out though that I don’t have anything against Genesis – I just don’t think it’s the future of theme development. They’ve managed to carve their own niche/ market and are doing incredibly well at it – but nobody else with a framework has managed to make any major impact.

      1. Thanks, @Ben. I didn’t pick up any vibe that you had anything against Genesis. I was just sharing my experience in the wild as a non-dev that needs to count on stable websites to run my biz.

        The key comment in your reply was, “If a theme is coded correctly then it should never have to worry about WordPress updates.” And there is the problem. The dev goal posts evolve so quickly, that only the best devs are able to keep up. I’m hoping a dev working from the Genesis Framework is less likely to create an unstable theme compared to a non-framework dev. So long as they’re only manipulating your child theme and not the base code/framework itself. But, I’ll know soon enough.

        The big reason Genesis won the framework war is by merging with Copyblogger, who had/has a loyal audience that is willing to try many of their recommendations. A few years ago, Thesis and Copyblogger were in bed together, so had there not been a merger, I’m guessing Genesis would not have pulled out so far ahead. The good news is that it appears they’re fanatical about getting their framework right and building a strong community of like-minded devs that work with one another to improve the product. Let’s hope. Because as someone that needs simple, stable websites for my biz, it’s an important niche to grow and get right.

    2. Gregg, I wonder how did end your experience with Genesis development? Was it better than the previous themes?

  8. _s is a great way to go in theme development-and it might be the course of action of choice for the seasoned developer. It allows one’s users to create their own child themes and update to the latest theme effortlessly. It does present a drawback for the theme author though-updating his/her hacked theme to the latest _s version isn’t a one-click process.
    I’ve gone down the heavily customized, premium child theme route [which requires users to create grandchild themes] and reading this, I feel I need to go back to the drawing board. Lots of sleepless nights ahead-awesome! Thanks

    1. Actually for _s the developers don’t recommend you update the theme. It’s meant to be a starting point – the whole point is you edit it to it’s different and so making updates doesn’t (always) make sense.

      It’s working well for me so far πŸ™‚

  9. Hi guys,
    I’ve stumbled upon this post while searching the web for wp frameworks reviews. It is really interesting point of view and I tend to agree with author’s thoughts.

    But let me give you my point of view as a non-tech user. I have an idea. I want to build a business around this idea and I need a wp driven site and ecommerce functionality.

    And do you know what I am doing for 10 days up to now? Of course you don’t. πŸ™‚ I am reading hundreds of wp blogs, reviews, critiques, good and bad feedback and things are going more and more complicated…

    Well, as a newby, I’ve started with themeforest. Nice looking themes, but many negative reviews. I have some basic html/css knowledge as well as some past experience with Drupal. I quickly saw TF themes will be far away from fast loading performance.

    Then I moved to Woo as I intend also to use woocommerce plugin as a ecommerce solution. Well, I did not like their design, but I was ready to take it.

    And suddenly Genesis came to my google results. Great and positive feedbackall over the web.

    You see, my number one goal is site speed as I want to build promotions referral site to many different retailers and I hope to have hundreds to thousands products and instead of cart, checkout, payment methods, etc., I will redirect users to the actual retailer. So I need a fast website, not bloated with many unneeded features and at the same time updates to be smooth and properly made. And since StudioPress don’t have woocommerce ready theme, yesterday I have decided to use Genesis frame with Eshop theme from ZigZagPress as Eshop showed really good results on pingdom tests.

    Now, reading this article and your comments I am again shaken in my believe that I found the right solution. Do you think this combination will work at fast performance grade? You see, I don’t have the knowledge to make heavy customizations and somehow ready theme solution is my way to go…

    Thanks for reading this not so short comment.

    1. If you’re not technically savvy then something like Genesis or Woo Themes will be the best way to go. Starter themes are only really good for people who want to create new theme designs.

  10. I don’t know if frameworks are going to ‘leave’ anytime soon, they are meant to help us in different ways. I can’t imagine as a developer to not have a starting point. _S on the other hand, can be used as a blank theme or framework, BUT it’s a framework. My 2 cents.

      1. Ah ok πŸ™‚ In that case I’m agreed I guess. I don’t think frameworks will leave entirely – but I still think their relevance is diminishing. And 100% agreed that developers should have a theme starting point, whether that’s using a parent theme or a starter theme. Anyone who starts from scratch every time is just making extra work for themselves.

      2. From my point of view, frameworks are made for … ‘developers’, cuz they come packed with all kind of features and styles. If they start from a blank theme, we hear that suicide rate is rising.

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