Why should I care about WordPress Frameworks?



The WordPress Framework Discussion is Everywhere

You can’t spend a lot of time in the WordPress community without getting into a debate, well – maybe a discussion, about WordPress frameworks. Some folks will tell you they like to roll their own – going without frameworks.

Others just buy a theme from Themforest.net – without a thought of what WordPress Framework might be powering it. And still others want to get into the debate? Is Genesis better than Thesis? (Spoiler: Yes.) And with every discussion comes several answers that take you in different directions. What if you’re not an expert? What do you do?


The Developer’s Perspective

I know you’re not a theme developer, but to understand why frameworks exist at all, you need to put yourself in their shoes for a quick second. Developers (& I once, long ago, used to write some code myself) are lazy creatures – in the best sense of the word. They have no interest doing the same thing over and over again.

So they started creating code (a lot of rich code) that would then give them short-cuts. Easy ways to make things happen. Often this comes after having created several themes and they start noticing they always do a few things for every theme. That becomes part of their framework.

So in essence, a framework enables greater consistency and speed for developers, which could translate to lower costs to develop, which could translate to lower costs for end users. I’m not saying it always does – but the chance exists.

There’s another reason why developers code frameworks and that is that it allows them to focus on core features and functionality and let others create beautiful designs. This is particularly useful for developers who aren’t designers.

Enough about them…let’s talk about why you, as an end user, should care – 5 reasons, in no particular order.

The Five Reasons Why You Should Care about WordPress Frameworks

1. Frameworks speed up development – You saw me reference this above. Whether they’re using a “starter” or “option” framework is immaterial to you. What’s important is that they’re starting with part of the work already done. And that they’re likely using the same set of tools (including a theme framework) each time – which will improve their productivity. That’s great news for you if you don’t want to wait weeks or months.

2. Frameworks are supported – I know you look on themeforest, find a template, and tell your developer to use it – all because you like the look. But here’s the challenge. If they find a problem with the code, they may or may not be able to get quick support from a themeforest developer. Some are great. Others, not so much. But frameworks are often well supported, making things a lot easier for your developer.

3. Frameworks are good about splitting core & extra functionality – some developers that create custom themes pack a lot of features into them, which is great. But when you want to change a theme, you end up losing a lot of that functionality. Thankfully, some custom developers know better and create a plugin for those features. Frameworks help them by often focusing on the basics and leaving plugins to do the rest.

4. Frameworks often offer several pre-made child themes – when you look at many of the frameworks that are available, you’ll find that some come with pre-designed child themes. Depending on your needs, this may get you going right away without the need for a developer or designer at all. That’s pretty awesome (and might have been #1 if this list was in a specific kind of order).

5. Frameworks are regularly updated – you know how sometimes WordPress itself gets updated to a new version, with new features? You often expect your site will make use of those features right away, right? But they don’t always do that. Framework developers, on the other hand, are pretty aware of upcoming changes and work to upgrade their frameworks in time. This is often great news for your site.

Five Frameworks to Check Out / Ask your Developer About

First, these are in no particular order. Second, there are over 30 (by my last count) frameworks out there. These are ones I’m suggesting. I’m sure others have their favorites and I hope they chime in below in the comments section.

1. The one most referenced onlineGenesis by StudioPress.  Search results don’t lie, this framework is loved by developers, designers, and end users alike.

2. The one run by my favorite WordPress CEOBuilder by iThemes. You’ll often hear me say “speed of the leader, speed of the team.” Enough said.

3. The one supported by the folks that wrote (all) the book(s)StartBox. WebDev Studios have written almost every  major book on WordPress.

4. The one I use here on chrislema.comCatalyst. It’s like I get the power of Genesis with the options panels of a WooTheme. Powerful.

5. The visual editor frameworkHeadway. It’s drag & drop meets design-your-own-layout and that’s just pure awesome. Check it out!

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  • http://about.me/mikeschinkel Mike Schinkel (@mikeschinkel)

    Great article Chris, except for one sentence:

    So they started creating short-cuts.

    Calling frameworks a “shortcut” makes it sound like a framework is a quick & dirty thing and that there are better, more quality solutions. But I doubt that’s what you intended to imply, right?

    • http://chrislema.com chrislema

      Never intended that. Fixed it.

      • http://about.me/mikeschinkel Mike Schinkel (@mikeschinkel)


  • http://www.wpbeginner.com Syed Balkhi

    I personally love Genesis. Use it on all of my websites and client sites :)

    • http://www.deluxeblogtips.com Tran Ngoc Tuan Anh

      Yes, Genesis is very cool. I also use Catalyst, and it’s very fast to create a simple theme (without touching much to CSS).

  • http://www.facebook.com/christinahills Christina Hills


    I love this post and this discussion.
    And I can say, without a doubt, that the first 3 framework companies you mentioned:
    StudioPress, iThemes, and WebDev Studios all come from awesome people with deep integrity! They all care about their customers, and care about producing quality products.

    I recommend them to all my students

    (I don’t personally know the people behind catalyst and headway so I can’t comment)

    :) Christina

  • http://twitter.com/paul_wp Paul de Wouters (@paul_wp)

    why no mention of Hybrid Core?

  • http://chocoholicsbuffet.wordpress.com chocoholicsbuffet

    Yes no mention of Hybrid…my personal framework of choice…and it is free…

    • http://chrislema.com chrislema

      That’s why I said “add your own”. Thanks guys.

  • http://twitter.com/MaltonWebDesign David Andrew (@MaltonWebDesign)

    Im finding that as WordPress evolves there is actually less need for frameworks, although uou could argue that it is their development that has guided that evolution.

  • http://www.kolonel.net kolonel

    Hey Chris,

    Been watching the WP Watercooler videos, which got me onto your site.

    Love the debate over frameworks, and wondered which framework you would recommend for someone starting out. Have had a look at Headway, which seems to be very flexible without knowing too much (if any) code. But can this be detrimental to the long term learning curve ?

    Keep up the good work.

    • http://www.webmatros.com Oliver Nielsen

      Nope, not detrimental at all. Headway’s design editor has labels that correspond to the respective CSS properties. So you use the same knowledge. AND Headway has a great CSS editor for custom CSS input, which gives you live feedback / preview, which makes it much easier for CSS-newbies to learn CSS.

      I love Headway;-)

  • http://www.belize.com M.A. Romero

    We use frameworks but have seen an evolution to less support and in some cases even shuttering support forums. It appears that some developers are developing frameworks to foster a culture of dependency. I would hope that WP continues to evolve so that we can rely less and less on frameworks in the future.

  • http://twitter.com/graynotgrey Ed Gray (@graynotgrey)

    Yes, I have come to the same conclusion about frameworks for all of the same reasons: development speed, consistency, and support. I liked the previous version of Headway, but the current version is a completely different, a total rewrite. There is no upgrade path and none of the previous add-ons work. I just could not get use to the new interface.

    I currently really like Pagelines. Similar to Builder with drag and drop page template layout creation. It includes support for Twitter Bootstrap, LESS, custom post types, shortcodes and Font Awesome icons – all great time savers. There is excellent documentation and support. There is even a built in plugin and themes store.

    However, the trade off is that it will be more difficult to switch to another framework or theme, but isn’t that the case with anything that is highly customized?

    • http://iammike.co Mike Zielonka

      Gotta love PageLines! :)

  • http://www.mathewporter.co.uk Matt Porter

    I agree with you, especially now that there are so many great frameworks available to build on. They are continuely evolving and being contributed to and make developing alot easier.

  • http://iammike.co Mike Zielonka

    Great list Chris, but I really feel that your missing one of the best: PageLines.

    PageLines gives you amazing modular power for developer and end user. For example I can create my own comments section and then with PageLines drag and drop I could but my comments in my footer or header if I wanted to…not sure why I would but its cool that you could if you wanted. :)

    As far as IK, PageLines is also the only framework that has build in a PHP compiler for LESS so that it all your LESS compiles on the server into 1 compiled CSS file which makes it lighting fast. :)

    Like @ed said above, having Bootstrap built into core is awesome.

    There are so many great features built in like modals, carousels, grid, sliders, and more. If you can’t find a feature in PageLines core you can add just about anything from the PageLines store.

    Seriously check out the features of PageLines and hit me up on twitter if you have questions: @mikezielonka

    • http://chrislema.com chrislema

      I own Pagelines and have used it on this site. That said, I’ve found it’s one of the harder frameworks for end users to understand. While it does support drag and drop, the issue is knowing what you’re dragging, and where you’re dropping and where it will show up. I find that any theme that introduces additional metaphors (“blocks”, etc) creates some challenges for end users to understand. This is why I think Thesis 2.0 has really struggled.

      • http://www.webmatros.com Oliver Nielsen

        That is so true Chris. I feel the exact same way about PageLines. I hope they’ll clean up the nomenclature in PageLines 3.0. It *could* be an amazing framework. Just needs a cleanup.

        • http://iammike.co Mike Zielonka

          I can’t tell you a ton…but I’ve been Alpha Testing PageLines 3.0 and it WILL be amazing! Let’s not call it a cleanup or a invention but an iteration that takes it to the next level. :)

          I’m begging my friends at PageLines to let me talk more….as soon as I can…I’ll fill you in! :)

  • http://www.wpgra.com Arafin Shaon

    Thesis is missing WOW! Just wanna know which framework you personally recommend?

    • http://chrislema.com chrislema

      Search my site. You’ll see why it’s not listed. On this site I use Catalyst.

      • http://www.webmatros.com Oliver Nielsen

        Just curious: How big a part of your site design is custom CSS vs. made with Dynamik’s design controls?

  • http://www.facebook.com/valerio.penna Valerio Penna

    what about gantry???do you have any opinion on that one?

  • bdtrickz

    I have come to your site from google. I am a novice wordpress developer. But I found that Genesis framework is not free. What you say about it?

    • http://chrislema.com chrislema

      It’s a powerful framework. I like it. I’m not sure it’s for novices, but you may dig it.

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  • http://www.codycourmier.com Cody

    I found this article to be very helpful, thank you! I have one question though. I bought a theme from theme forest and would like to upload this to a client’s WordPress site. However, they have the Gantry framework installed. If I upload my theme and activate it, will it work? I realize I will have to start over from scratch, but that was the plan…I just want to know that I can successfully install this new theme and start from the ground up. I am not interested in any of their current content crossing over to fit into my new theme…

  • Igor Pisov

    Nice, comprehensive article. WordPress Frameworks are essential in WP development, support and sales processes. From our own experience, a good Framework speeds up your WordPress theme development, reduces your support issues and helps users personalize their themes easier. Another good Framework that tends to be in your list is located here: http://teslathemes.com/framework-tour/

  • bApTizE

    I’m torn between pagelines and headway, so far i’m enjoying pagelines but not sure yet which to pick in the end….

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  • http://www.techlila.com Rajesh Namase

    I prefer Genesis framework, having lots of features and search engine optimized.

  • http://www.yourfinancebook.com Abhi

    We use genesis in out clients site as its easy and seo friedly