This website – and all my websites are built with WordPress.
WordPress handles the backend, and all my content – but doesn’t produce the frontend – or what you see right now.
For that – you need a WordPress Theme.
I use the Thesis Theme for WordPress to develop this site – and all my sites.
Properly speaking, it’s not a Theme, but more of a “Theme Framework.”
Most pre-built themes come with a very limited set of options. So the design you pick out is the design you are limited to – there’s no tweaking this font or this color.
For most people – that’s perfect. No programming, no PHP, no CSS, no HTML. Just a really good looking blog.
But if you want your website just so. You need a Theme Framework. Here’s why.
A Theme Framework basically is halfway house between building your own Theme (tedious) and picking out a pre-made theme (limiting).
There’s only a few out there, and among the top 2 – Thesis and Genesis, I use Thesis.
I’ve developed dozens of websites with it – for myself and for clients with Thesis.
So whether you are an amateur looking for the best WordPress theme – or a web designer looking for a way to develop sites rapidly…here’s some of my pros and cons of working with Thesis Theme.
Cons of Working With Thesis Theme
1. You have to be comfortable coding
This is my main complaint about Thesis – they need to be clear that you’re going to have to work with code if you want to do anything useful in Thesis.
The sales page makes it sound like you really don’t have to do much to customize it…when you really do.
Here’s screenshots of what Thesis is like “out of the box.”
Now, most all of the code you need to customize your site is on their very helpful tutorial. And – I will say that to get the customization that frameworks offer – there’s no way around forcing you to code.
That’s just how websites work. But I do wish they had a big disclaimer “IF THE WORD CSS SCARES YOU – DO NOT BUY”
As we’ll see in a bit, my Pros of working with Thesis are essentially the same as the Cons.
2. If you make a mistake coding – you have to reset via FTP
Greek? Yeah – anyone who uses Thesis knows what I’m talking about. Here’s what I mean.
So you make all the big changes to your website in the functions.php folder (the screenshot above).
Those changes are in PHP (a computer language) – it’s easy enough to copy and paste code from helpful people, but if you don’t know PHP well, then you can’t spot errors.
Unfortunately, PHP errors are unforgiving you get a big ‘ole error message – and you can’t just delete the bad code within the Thesis workspace.
Nope. You have to open up your FTP client, and log in to your web host, and remove the bad code from there.
Sound like a pain? It is.
The answer – put your code in something like Notepad++ to “cleanse” it and look for errors?
Sound like a pain? It is.
3. The DIYthemes (the company that makes Thesis) has a development cycle of “whenever”
Chris Pearson is the founder and developer of Thesis. His philosophy of web development is to put out perfect products…when they are ready. Most other firms have a set cycle of incremental updates.
Hence, the joke in the Thesis support forums is that Thesis 2.0 is the WordPress version of Bigfoot.
4. Thesis uses unique CSS classes
This is also a pro because of the incredible capabilities…but it’s a huge con when you are first learning Thesis.
Thesis couches a lot of design elements in unique classes that can create a royal frustration making certain designs work (I’m looking at you .format_text h1
5. Thesis vs WordPress Foundation
WordPress makes a huge deal about the General Public License. Basically, it says that you can use WordPress however you want to – as long as stuff that is made with WordPress abides by the GPL as well.
This area is super-controversial. In fact, you can’t find Thesis in the WordPress Theme Repository because of this issue.
Basically, WordPress says that Themes have to abide by the GPL. DIYthemes says that they have a unique product – that isn’t a Theme in the strict sense of the word, and can therefore create a different (more strict) license.
It’s a huge fight. And even though I tend to side with Thesis – you really can’t talk about your development work around WordPress people…because they take it as an insult.
So when I was at WordCamp Atlanta – I felt only 80% part of the community.
It’s much too complicated for now – but it is a con to me, even though DIYthemes would say that the separate license makes Thesis possible.
6. Updating is not integrated.
Since it’s not in the Repository, you can’t just click “Update” when it’s time to update.
Instead, you have to dive into the FTP. It’s not hard, and once you’ve done it, it’s super easy – but not as super easy as clicking “Update.”
Pros of Working With Thesis Theme
1. The HTML markup is perfect.
I cannot emphasize how important this is for Search Engine Optimization, speed, and security of your website.
There is a standard of how HTML is supposed to be written – and way too many Themes do not produce it correctly.
So when you write a blog post, page, whatever – it’s stored in a database. When a visitor loads that post, WordPress asks the server for it in PHP. Your Theme converts it from a PHP request to HTML – which is the language that your browser reads to “show the website.”
Many themes, when converting from PHP to HTML do an outstandingly horrible job.
Your website loads slower – you might have security flaws in it, and it exceedingly hard for the Google-bot to figure out what the page is about.
Good markup is key, and Thesis does it well.
2. The SEO is easy and robust.
While there are some amazing WordPress SEO plugins out there – Thesis does make it quite easy to do the SEO basics without getting bogged down on some of the more technical features (while still allowing you to add the technical features in the functions file)
3. Custom site development is fast.
Once you get past the steep learning curve – Thesis + Chrome Developer Tools allows you to build any site you can imagine fairly quickly.
4. Helpful support forums.
Enough said – DIYthemes has an amazing support forum, separate and distinct from WordPress where they answer questions quickly.
5. Thesis forces you to learn to code.
I’m by no means an expert in PHP. However, Thesis forced me to get comfortable with it – and to really understand CSS + HTML in ways that I would’ve never before.
To get a truly custom site, you have to get your fingers dirty with code – and being forced to do it with a Theme Framework has been super-helpful.
6. Thesis uses custom CSS classes.
Yes – this was a con also. The thing is that once you learn them and wrap your mind around custom classes…the are super-powerful. It just makes things more flexible (like landing pages, etc).
And that is my conclusion. Buy Thesis – but only if it sounds like it works for you.
One other note – once you commit to Thesis – you do get kind of sucked into it. It’s always important to keep up with the WordPress community at large (if you are a dev/designer).