The Best WordPress Theme for Picky Bloggers

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Confession: I’m Picky

Let’s start where things always start – with me. Because I’m my own worst enemy. I change my mind all the time when it comes to this site. It’s why it’s the worst rendition of a blog ever – because it’s not focused on one topic – it’s focused on three (WordPress, Great Presenting & the Neuroscience behind it, and New Product Development). Talk about all over the place. But hey, that’s me and I don’t feel like managing 3 sites instead of one. But back to the main point, I’m picky. I change my mind about the style, the look, the theme, the layout, and the front page of this site. In fact, I change my mind about everything except the tone I write with (because it’s me), the fact that it’s on WordPress, and that this is where I post info so I can limit how much I repeat myself.

Confession #2: I’m more Engineer than Designer

Yet even though no design is ever “finished” and I’m constantly changing the look of my site, the truth is that I’m not a designer. I say this after producing countless items of design. And the engineers I manage will laugh at my protestation. Yet, for as much as I’m comfortable with all the design tools, I’m at home with a control panel that looks more like a spreadsheet than a drag and drop theme framework (which I’ll be reviewing next week). I say that because you may hate my choice for the best WordPress theme for picky bloggers. That’s ok, it’s a personal opinion and you don’t need to form protest lines. I’m ok with a different opinion. It’s not like I said Romney or Obama loves this theme. This is just one guy’s opinion. (Though I can’t believe they wouldn’t love this theme!)

Five Great Framework Options

There’s no question that you’ve heard of some of the big frameworks. If you’re a blogger, there’s a good chance you know about one of my favorite ones: The Genesis Framework by StudioPress. It’s fantastic. If you’re a fan of drag and drop layouts, maybe you’re digging Headway, Pagelines or the one I like most, Builder – three frameworks that really make drag and drop a simple exercise. Of course if you spend time on chrislema.com a lot, you’ve seen me play with and leverage just about all the themes from WooThemes at different points because I love those guys! And recently, I was sporting Canvas on this site. Each of those is a great choice and you can’t go wrong with them.

They’re all great and you can’t go wrong with any of them. That said, if you’re picky, looking to manage a blog (not a corporate site, not an e-commerce site, not a photography portfolio), and aren’t a designer, then I have the theme for you! Also, if you’re not a blogger but you set up sites for others using WordPress, you’ll want to keep this one in your arsenal because it will come in handy when you want options but also want your client to be able to adjust and tweak things later without calling you (and trust me, that’s a big deal).

My Pick: Catalyst

Without a lot of preamble (we’re 500 words into this post already man!) let me give it to you in two words: Catalyst Theme. Let me lay out for you the five quick reasons I like it best:

  1. It does responsive sites better than Canvas (which had something funky going on with images). Almost 25% of my traffic comes from mobile devices, and almost 60% of Facebook referrals come from mobile devices.
  2. It has tons of options, more than Canvas and/or Pagelines. But it’s not drag and drop. I jump in, set values and get out. I love fine-grain control over every aspect of everything. Without writing a 900 line CSS file.
  3. It has an integrated CSS builder so even though I know what I want, I don’t have to go hunting for the exact term. Again, quick form and it produces my custom CSS which I can then drop into the right form.
  4. It comes with Dynamik, a child theme, which means I’m not directly messing with the parent theme. It’s a technical reason, but I like it.
  5. Lastly, it has a super cool export/import feature that lets me work in staging, export my config, and then import it into production so I don’t have to play fast and loose in production (otherwise known as Cowboy Coding).

It has fancy options for home page design, supports different layouts (though that’s a bit less intuitive than the drag & drop frameworks), and loads pretty fast. Especially when hosted on WP Engine, or any other managed WordPress hosting provider.

Here are some screen shots.

Notice the form-based approach. Yes, there are a lot of tabs, but the first time user can skip over most of them. Later, as they get more comfortable, they can go looking for the exact place they want to make changes. These, of course, are only the “core” options. Wait until you see the Child Theme options.

I should mention that it comes with a 175-page manual, which most theme frameworks don’t. Talk about documentation. And it has video tutorials for those of us who want to jump in quickly. But again, notice all the options (tabs) and in each tab, tons of little details to control. What’s even more cool? There’s a nice little inheritance so that if you adjust the link (and link hover) colors on the first tab, it will set those across all of the tabs until you go tweak some of them. Very nice.

I mentioned to someone the other day that I was able to produce a blog design using Catalyst in under 30 minutes. Now, mind you, this wasn’t a fancy blog. But it was clearly not a default empty plain one either. And the best part was using the custom CSS builder that’s integrated into the theme framework so that I could quickly compose CSS, drop it in, test it and tweak it.

Price

Now, had I written this post a week ago, I would have told you that $75 was worth every penny. But today you’ll see that Catalyst costs you $127. So here’s my take – it’s still worth every penny. If you’re like me, you’ll want to adjust the spacing between the columns, or the line spacing, or the border around your images, or the height of your header, or the font. Every one of those changes, for a non-technical blogger, means a phone call and a bit of money. If you’re a developer creating blogs for folks, teaching them how to use these options is possible (for the right client). And if you’re just trying to produce quick blogs, this is a must. Either way, the price is nothing compared to the cost of developers adjusting your blog.

Your Take?

Ok, so like always this is an opinionated post. What’s your take? Have you tried Catalyst yet? Do you have a different favorite?

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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