The Case Against WordPress Frameworks – Why I love the WordPress Codex

I’ve been using WordPress for quite a few years now, and once again after doing some research, I’ve decided once again to stay away from WordPress frameworks and templates that are based on custom coded frameworks.  And let me say that it’s not for lack of programming experience — I’m more than happy to work with HTML/CSS/PHP — so coding isn’t a problem.

I appreciate the conceptual simplicity of frameworks but after using many custom-framework themes, I’ve just found there to be a missing level of control.  Take Elegant Themes, for example.   The designs are beautiful and many of the built-in features are really easy to use.  Using an Elegant Themes theme, for example, you can easily add post thumbnails — a feature that you’d need to get a plugin for if you were to do it yourself.  The problem I ran into with Elegant Themes is that at it’s core, I had an extremely hard time implementing basic things from the WordPress codex.

For example, customizing a page with something simple from the codex like query_post() turned into hours of frustration.  Elegant Themes had (at the time — which was last year) no documentation explaining their functions, and their message board had (again — at that time) many unanswered posts — and some from me!  Now I’m not trying to call out Elegant Themes here — their designs are great and their price is very low — which for many people is a winning combination.   For me, however, it didn’t work out because I couldn’t get that finely-tuned level of control that I needed (and besides, if I really thought they did a poor job, would I link to them?).

I’m in the process of creating a custom WordPress theme and I started to look for frameworks to save development time and not reinvent the wheel. Thesis has gotten a lot of attention lately, and I decided to check it out.   There were many rave reviews, but there were also a few from programmers who seemed to be having a heck of a time getting done exactly what they needed to (I did a google search for thesis problems).  Now in fairness, I haven’t tried Thesis.  I wanted to evaluate it but there’s no way to easily contact the developers without making a purchase of the theme.  They do offer a 30-day money back guarantee, but call me old-fashioned, or just plain skeptical, but I like to try out a product before I lay out my money — especially when I can’t seem to find a way to ask a pre-sales question.

The problem people were complaining about with Thesis is that the framework itself was complex and getting under the hood had a good-size learning curve.  Again in fairness to the folks at Thesis,  Rome wasn’t built in a day and learning a new framework does take time.  The biggest frustration, however, that I had and want to avoid at all costs in the future, is being knee-deep in a client site, trying to complete a tweak that may not even be possible to do, but would have taken me minutes if I could just implement what’s in the codex.

So my biggest gripe with WordPress frameworks are the fact that the WordPress codex seems to take a back seat to all of the custom functionality that’s included in these themes.  Add that to spotty documentation and you’ve got a recipe for frustration.  If there’s a WordPress framework out there that provides a benefit — but leaves my ability to implement the codex functions intact, then I’d really like to know about it.  But for now, in order for me to retain the exquisite control I’m used to with plain vanilla HTML, CSS, and PHP, it’s bare bones custom themes and plugins for me.

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