Thesis 2.0 Review: 4 Reasons why I'm not a Convert

Chris Lema

The other day I finished up a review of 6 different drag & drop themes. Because I had started almost a month before, selecting themes, creating criteria, and more – I hadn’t included Thesis 2.0 in the mix. But since my review came out right after Thesis 2.0 did, it was logical that people would start asking about it and how it compared.

My Definition of Drag & Drop

Just so we’re all on the same page, here was my definition of drag & drop:

The end user can assemble the design of a web page by dragging and dropping key elements/components onto a “canvas” designing the layout/structure of the page.

My Evaluation Criteria

If you read my other article, then you know my criteria:

  1. Could it create anything other than a blog layout?
  2. Were there components I could drag and drop to create different designs?
  3. How many different kinds of components were available to me, did they allow for the kind of expression I was looking for, and were they easy to understand?
  4. Could I get going on my design without a manual?
  5. Were the drag and drop designs tightly linked to the page it was for or could I create designs that I could use for multiple pages?
  6. Did these themes take into account responsive design or mobile visitors?
  7. How close could I get to my target design/layout?

By way of short cut, I considered the quantity of components I could drag and drop (#2) and the coverage of those items (#3). What I mean is that a drag & drop theme may have 24 different kinds of components but if they’re all post-list-related (recent posts, top posts, most commented posts, etc) then it may have a high count but low coverage. Builder by iThemes has a small number but pretty large coverage. Because I care about both, I used two factors for it.

It was a good thing that #4 was on the list because Thesis 2.0 comes with no documentation – a really interesting and frustrating dynamic when some of its features are hidden (but more on that later).

The Result

So I started doing my evaluation, just like I had with the other six themes. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a score because I was too frustrated to finish. But I can tell you it didn’t beat the first 4 or 5. So rather than try to score it, I decided to give you the 4 reasons why I’m not sold on Thesis 2.0.

1. Difficult: The whole point of Drag & Drop is to make things easy

It’s a little thing but it’s a frustrating thing. Drag and drop should be drag and drop. We all know how to do it. So why make me click on Shift to drag and drop anything? And if I don’t click shift before clicking to drag, nothing works. No other drag & drop theme required me to click on shift, so it can’t be rocket science. Just saying.

2. Unintuitive: Creating new names for existing things is just confusing

I get that it was supposed to be revolutionary and a brand new start to the web all over. But guess what, other themes have had template builders for a while – like Ultimatum, Headway & Builder. So why create a new nomenclature, found in new places (not under Appearance), that do stuff that others already do? Just so you can call it new? It’s unintuitive and makes things really….maddening.

3. Maddening: Hiding features until I randomly click things makes me mad

Thesis 2.0 promises that it’s easy to create tons of layouts. Unfortunately you don’t know how to do it because there’s no link or button. Until, that is, you click on the name of your existing template, and then a pop-up appears that has an option to create a new one. Whoever designed that UI should be beaten and sent to work with Joomla. If I hadn’t kept trying for more than 30 minutes to find out how to create new templates, I might have just quit right there!

4. Backfired: You rushed to get it out…and it failed

The last reason I didn’t like Thesis 2.0 was because, after all the hoopla, it still changed everything (which likely will bother existing users) but didn’t make progress towards things I care about. Mobile and responsive design are big for me. I get why Builder, which is years old, doesn’t have a natural architecture that supports it. But Thesis 2.0 is new. So why doesn’t it support it natively. Maybe it does. Who knows? I surely don’t because there was no documentation. None! And the excuse was that they rushed to get it out the door (which would have been fine if it was intuitive). On top of that, some of the videos I found online referenced features that were no longer there (from an earlier beta). Oh the frustration!

So that was my take. Sorry I can’t tell you exactly where it sits, but it’s not in the top 3, so why would you include it in your investigation?

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  1. CoreyJamesLV says:

    Thanks for adding Thesis 2.0 to the eval Chris. Bummer it wasn’t a better tool, but glad I know before I jump into it 😉

  2. williamsba says:

    Get ready for the internet hounds to pounce!  Great review as always Chris

  3. Absolutely agree with you Chris! In terms of UI/UX it has been a complete fail for me. There are lot of obvious elements which can be improved. 
    Not to mention, there is no way to go back to WP dashboard or any other page once you are in the Skin Editor.

  4. DavidJones69 says:

    Ever since Chris Pearson claimed he was the 3rd most important person in the WordPress community etc… From a couple years ago I don’t want to touch a thing he does with a 100 foot pole… Once you go douche it is hard to come back.
    Being a Maverick means you’ll can’t be trusted not to fly off the handle again…

  5. javorszky says:

    I bought the developer version of Thesis when it was still 1.6 (ish), so I got Thesis 2.0 for free. Since 1.6, I did actually learn how to make a theme, mostly through the custom function and documentation of Thesis, so there was a learning curve, but I got there.
    So along comes Thesis 2.0, and I’m wtf?! for like 5 minutes. I actually found it easier to get Reverie (based on Foundation 3), and re-hack that to support what I wanted to do. It was faster. And cleaner. And does EXACTLY what I want.
    But then again, I am a front-end developer, I might not be the target market.
    Reflecting on the review: totally agree. It’s $160 (around that) of cost, that I will probably never use again. :)

  6. Have loved previous versions of Thesis up to 1.8.5  Have not bothered…and have no intention of upgrading current Thesis sites to 2.0 for all the reasons you noted. The good thing about Thesis 2.0? It helped me decide what framework I’d be using on new domain installs. … and it’s not Thesis anymore.

  7. lisafirke says:

    I think you guys are missing out. Once there’s a bit more out there on the workflow, you will be amazed at the stuff you can build with Thesis 2.

    • lisafirke Thanks for the comment. I have no doubt that people will be able to do things with Thesis 2.0 when an entire ecosystem is built (boxes, etc). That said, my main point is that those same people could do incredible things with Ultimatum or Headway right now!

      • kristarella says:

        chrislema I agree with you on several points. My main complaint on other drag & drops is that in my experience the output is convoluted & not semantic, which hurts page speed & SEO. Thesis 2.0 does put out semantic code and, you’re right, when the ecosystem is up will be great. So I guess it depends what your definition of ‘incredible’ is… Something that creates a gorgeuos site, with beautiful code, without effort would be incredible. I don’t think it exists yet.

        • Where’s is the actual proof that a site running Thesis ranks better than an equal Headway og Genesis based site?

          The times of “magic H1-optimization” are over. Long gone. Whether you put your keywords in H1 or H2 tags is very close to irrelevant in Google’s current algo. The correlation-data supports this statement, SEOmoz does some good work researching such stuff.

          But it’s good snake oil to sell as a panacea to every clueless average Joe or Jane building their first websites. But it’s still BS. And selling BS to people who are easy to fool, is morally wrong, in my opinion.

    • lisafirke, while you are certainly entitled to your opinion, I tried fruitlessly to use Thesis 2. Chris L. has pretty much nailed the same frustrations I had. I am a techy person and have a coding background yet I still couldn’t figure Thesis out. There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING simple and intuitive about Thesis 2.

      If anyone out there is evaluating or interested in frameworks that help them be productive and build sites quickly and without digging deeply into code, then Thesis 2 is not for you.

      I was lucky in that I had bought from AppSumo and they actually refunded my money. There are LOTS of people complaining on DIY/Thesis forums. Most of them were not as lucky as me and they have lost their hard earned money to someone that doesn’t seem to care that he is ripping people off, and only selectively responding to people via Twitter.

  8. MikeLewinski says:

    One of the reasons I like OpenBSD is that the lead developer will not allow new commits without appropriate documentation. If the documentation isn’t ready, then that means the code isn’t either and it doesn’t make it into the source tree.
    When I hear people explaining how they didn’t have time to document, I wonder what else skimped on and what security holes may be lurking as a result.

  9. It’s awful.
    I got it for free, spent 20 minutes and it all became clear why the previous version was great.
    Utter utter fail.

  10. I agree with many of your points Chris. I recently bought 2.0 for $197 and I’ve been thinking refund.

    I’m not sure if a new framework has ever been released without ANY documentation from the original author. Seriously though,…has that ever happened? Relying on loyalists and 3rd parties for help just seems little- league. I mean,… this is Chris Pearson, not some kid in his mom’s basement. He should know better right?

    That being said, I believe that with any new framework there is going to be a steep learning curve (even with documentation/support sometimes) so I think I’m going to give Thesis the benefit of the doubt and ride it out.

    It does appear to be very flexible and fast, and just as you mentioned once the “ecosystem” is in place I think it will finally be worth the money.

  11. Chris – I just feel really let down about the new Thesis. I don’t know maybe I just ate up the hype like everyone else.

    I’ve been toying around with it and will probably see if I can cobble something together with it. My thought is that with Thesis 2.0 it has been developed for developers in mind. Not John Q Public (or an average joe like me)

    What kills me is the lack of documentation for the release of a new product. How can you do something as unprofessional as that?

    I still use Thesis for my own site. But I don’t know if I’ll ever swap to 2.0. I might just backtrack and go with a Woo theme that is already setup to be responsive and live with the limitations. :-/

  12. Helpful review, Chris!
    I’m a Genesis developer, and I’ve done some work with Thesis, too. Although I love Genesis, I think Thesis (pre-2) is pretty nice as well, I had no trouble working with it.

    In the annals of web development blogging, your line is a classic!
    “Whoever designed that UI should be beaten and sent to work with Joomla”

    The drift I’m getting so far is that they rushed this thing out. And one irony is that, to me, pre-2 Thesis public documentation was in somewhat better shape than Genesis documentation!
    Thanks! Dave

  13. I’ve been using Thesis for 2 years, and while I’m not a developer I can say that I feel comfortable writing a little CSS and finding the functions that I need to add into the functions file to do what I want.

    Since downloading version 2.0 I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to stay with Thesis but as I’m not a developer, all of these “boxes” make my head spin and I can’t figure out how to use them. I’ve been looking at Genesis and I have used Pagelines in the past. I took down Pagelines because of the horrible SEO and my drop in search engine page views.

    Maybe I will try one of these drag and drop themes.. I don’t know what else to try!

    • Hi @Amanda like you i used thesis old version one and a half year. Recently i switched to genesis framework. Because i had some bad experiences. But now i have to rethink about thesis 2.0. I’m totally loving it features & concepts :) Like you initially I had hard time to figure it out but now i’m pretty much used to it.

  14. Well, I agree with all those reasons you have posted Mr. Chris. The newer version of thesis was not at all newbie friendly theme. I don’t know why many claims it is easy to use, but well in my case it is not. I am also having problem regarding their drag and drop thing, it is very funny when I forgot to click the shift button and thinking why nothing happens :D. And overall I am really is frustrated with their new version.

  15. I tried Thesis 2.0 and it was freakishly bad. I mean what were they thinking? Hard to use, confusing, 23 minutes into the training video and they had STILL not created a two column layout. Really, WTF????? I dropped it forever at that point. Took way too long. And then sucks right out of the gate.

  16. Been with Thesis for years. Can’t stand the new upgrade!

  17. I standardized on Thesis about 4 years ago and got to the point where I could finish a pretty nice site in a couple of days. I had to build another site this week and decided to try Thesis 2.0. I downloaded it on Wednesday morning. It’s now 12:30 AM, Saturday morning and I’m struggling like a newbie. The last straw came when I couldn’t figure out how to change any of the attributes on the h1 tag.

    I’m going back to 1.85 in the morning and I’ll finish the site this weekend.

  18. Thank you, thank you Chris for posting this review. I have been a huge Thesis fan and like you, this upgrade just left me cold. Now I have validation that it just wasn’t me. And thanks to this new upgrade, I’m going to look at some of the other site builders you mentioned in your post. Thanks again.

  19. I’m with everyone else. I built lots and lots on Thesis. I even used it exclusively for a while. But I spent 20 minutes with 2.0 and then started moving everything to Genesis. What they released as 2.0 wasn’t even worthy of a beta test.

    I put that rubbish in the bin.

  20. Have any of you tried the Catalyst Theme (Framework). It comes with the Dynamik child theme and looks awesome.

  21. I try thesis 2.0 and It’s not responsive ready, even though they add the viewport did not work on ipads

    • Joel,

      I was able to make Thesis 2 responsive by deleting the width and using max-width instead. Then in columns, I simply added percentages and then used a CSS media type to make sure that the content column and sidebar would expand to 100% on mobile devices.

  22. Totally agree with you assessment. I tried it out and really hoped that they had something good. More competition benefits us all. Needless to say I was dissapointed. Check out my review (Nov 2012):

  23. 2.0 is epic fail. And Thesis directs you to a video by a developer who sells $150 membership to help you install and troubleshoot with 2.0. Really? What is that all about? I’m staying with 1.8 until I can figure out Genesis. There is a reason why ProBlogger and Copywriter moved to Genesis. SEO can’t be that bad with Genesis, right?

    • SEO is awesome with Genesis!

      • Thesis was unique (SEO and custom hooks) but now that it’s trying to get into Drag and Drop race, LATE, it’s not even close…especially against Genesis and WooThemes. Not impressed with the steep learning curve and the complexity of it all. If I can get SEO with Genesis and the ease of Drag & Drop, then, why learn such a complicated and convoluted theme? Thanks for the review!

  24. I recently built a site for a client and struggled with Thesis 2.0 originally, but once I got my head around it found it much more comfortable than 1.8.x. As someone who has a web design background I may not be the target audience of your original review as I know how to manipulate the css etc, but I have to say that I’m looking at how to convert my current 1.8.5 site over to 2.0.x. I can fully understand the negative reviews though as it was totally different to the previous versions and had a distinct lack of documentation. One point of frustration for me so far is that there is no easy way to convert old versions over to the new version. Other than that I have fallen “deeply in love” with Thesis 2.0. While I’m no longer working in the web design industry, I still have a few existing clients and I have no hesitation on using it to build/re-design their sites. I would not suggest to a newbie/novice that they use it however as the learning curve can be a little heavy.
    Also, as someone who used Joomla for a couple of years, I also loved the concept of the UI developer being beaten and sent to work with them. Gold!
    Thanks for the review mate, but it really isn’t as bad as all of that once you get used to it.

  25. Hello Chris I’ve been working with different WordPress themes and templates now for a few years, mostly for clients while I work on their SEO, which is my main concern. I do however occasionally build websites and so my knowledge of html, css and other areas of design is pretty solid. I found Thesis one of the trickiest of all the themes I ended up adjusting or editing for clients, though FashionTheme was the worst. Funnily enough I am now about to launch my own blog and was wondering if the new Thesis design had improved … seemingly not. I’ll now go take a look at your recommendations and see if there is a theme that I feel will save me the time and pain of building my own WP blog rather than start altering one of the WP standard themes. Thanks again.

  26. I agree completley.

    I thought it was just me. I can’t code but at a push I can cut and paste stuff into the editor. I’ve got a MSc in IT and I’m a Cisco networking expert so not an idiot IT wise.

    I tried to get a basic looking site going but navigating around was a nightmare. I went looking for help and some programer starting telling me I had to edit the php code to change a box on the front page.

    I finally gave up. I never asked for a refund but it was a waste of money.


  27. As a longtime Thesis user, I appreciate this review. I’ve upgraded one of my sites to 2.0, but am afraid it will never do for many of my clients. Unfortunately, I just bought that 10-pack developer set and I’m not sure if I’ll ever use it!

  28. I’ve got to agree with you. This is the most impossible software to use ever.

    Admittedly, I’m a complete numpty when it comes to HTML and CSS. But I was sold on the fact that it was for beginners.

    On it’s sales page they talk about ‘no code necessary’. And it was the complete opposite.


  29. Hi Chris,

    I found your post having suffered extreme frustration and disappointment at the hands of thesis 2. I had two questions for you.

    1) Are you some special plugin for your commenting system here? It doesn’t seem to be the default wordpress commenting system. Would appreciate the name of the plugin or a link.

    2) Of all these thesis alternatives you speak of is there one you’ve found yourself preferring over the others? How can I decide on one over the others? I had a look at headway after Oliver recommended it and I quite like the look of it. But there appear to be so many of these things offering more or less the same product I’m not sure how to proceed in choosing one. So would appreciate some tips.

    Many thanks.

  30. One thing you mentioned here: “revolutionary and a brand new start to the web” is one big problem with Thesis.

    It’s the arrogance that bothers me. “The whole world is so wrong about to anything on the internet, we’ll teach you the way it should be done and if you don’t get it then you’re just stupid and should give up whining”

    I got to grips with Thesis 1.6 through 1.8 by coding with the php, even though I am not a coder. I started to get familiar with it and then Thesis 2 just totally put up a brick wall on what I had learned and I ended up losing interest. I agree, drag and drop should be self explanatory.

    Also I’m not interested in spending a week designing a new website that just took me half a day to do with the free responsive theme, which may not measure up on paper to Thesis, but enabled me to build a much better looking and faster-performing site. Seriousy, Responsive more like a premium theme to me.

  31. I’ve made a review of thesis 2.0 myself. I agree with you, many things are confusing. However, on the other hand I have never seen a DnD builder that tries to mimic HTML and CSS structures and do it really well. I think that you need to be fluent in how HTML and CSS works together with the structure of how internals of WordPress works to use thesis 2.0 with its full potential.

    In other words, thesis 2.0 fails in its promise to be easy to use, it depends on your knowledge in HTML/CSS. They should market it as the only framework that truly separates design from code without limits. Adding responsive design is super simple, just as creating custom widgets for clients, without a single code change at all.

    Lack of documentation is unfortunately its biggest deal breaker for many, it takes too much time to get used to because of this.

  32. Thanks, Chris. I have been looking to get Thesis for past few months, except that the SocialTriggers skin is still not availablle. Now that I have read your review, it seems I have been waiting in vain.

  33. I can’t agree more, Chris! Thesis is just a theme that I will never ever use

  34. Glad I found this, after years of using premium bloated themes and still having to hack them the way I want I decided to create some of my own and try frameworks.

    Probably won’t be touching this one, for the obvious above reasons.

  35. Has anything changed with the Theme? A lot of people use it or are they just following the hype?

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