Managed Themes Have A Place

This post is dedicated to Helen Hou-Sandi, who donated to help me get to WCSF. Helen and I like to Pass the Hat, to the amusement of my former firewall team. She also encouraged me to apply for the WP job I got last week. Thanks, Helen!

I’ve been using a managed theme on my main site (ipstenu.org) for the last few months, and I’ve decided I really like it. I’ve also started to sort out the kind of people who should be using it, and it’s not everyone.

Let’s start by breaking down themes into their logical types:

  • A Theme – These are things like TwentyEleven, that you simply use as-is.
  • A Child Theme – These are for tweaks you can’t make via plugins or css.
  • A Parent Theme – This is a theme you know you’re going to extend.
  • A Theme Framework – Similar to a parent theme, this is a theme you build off of. It may, or may not, be a parent, however. See ThemeHybrid’s themes, or the Bootstrap theme.
  • A Managed Theme – A theme that acts like a framework and a child at the same time.

PuzzlesThe differences between these types is slim and sounds like I’m arguing semantics. The weird magic of it all is that themes are themes, and there’s not a whole lot of difference between everything. So maybe I’m looking at themes wrong. The point of themes is that you should be able to make your site look how you want to, no matter your skill level. The problem is that with a low skill level, you don’t know how to do the things you want to. This is where managed themes come in.

A managed theme holds your hands, and takes the burden of knowing ‘code’ off of the user. While I’m not a fan of lowering the bar too much, there’s a point when we need to make the software easy enough in all aspects and not just some. WordPress isn’t perfect, and while it’s amazing a lot of things, there’s really too much going on in others. This is why there’s room for something like Tumblr, where it’s very easy to post (if hard to make your site look ‘right’). I see WordPress needing some improvement on posting, making it much easier for people to just write, and somehow separating that from the ‘managing a website’ part.

But at the same time, managing the website, making it look right, is crazy hard. There are a lot of options and a lot of possibilities. Anyone who’s tried to make a site for someone else knows how much like banging your head on a wall it can be. So when you’re new, and you can’t afford to hire the big guys to make a site, but you want flexibility without having to learn code, where do you go?

Managed Themes.

Look, I love a sexy Theme Framework. I’m a huge fan of ThemeHybrid. But part of why I love it is that I can get into the nitty gritty code, tweak functions, and go to the races. I spend a lot of time tweaking backends and testing layouts and messing with functions. But not everyone likes to do that, nor should they. I’m not a super snazzy theme designer, they’re not super awesome writers, it’s differences that make the world go around.

For the last few months, I’ve been using Genesis Theme and I have to say, if I was going to make a site to turn over to someone who I knew was somewhat savvy but not super technical, I’d pick that. It’s not ‘easy’, but this is something that a middle-of-the-road person could pick up, make their way through, and grow and advance as needed. It’s a perfect way to make your site not look ‘standard’ while still not meaning you have to be all action/hook/function skilled. After all, it takes a while to grow into that.

Managed themes aren’t for ‘me’ most of the time. I know that’s weird to say when you note that I’m using one. I’m really a framework sort of girl. I love the nuts and bolts. But when I don’t want to spend a whole day (like I just did) tweaking a child theme into submission, and just pick up and go and not look like an out of the box site, a Managed Theme is the way to go. I don’t have to worry about telling someone ‘Just edit the functions.php…’ when they want to change something. There’s a nice GUI for them.

I’ve played with a couple, but I have to say the only one that impressed me enough to give them a second chance was StudioPress’ Genesis Theme. Part of why I gave them a shot was because one of my best friends works there. But after half an hour of using it, I thought “This is easy.”

Who are Managed Themes for? They’re not for the newbies, and they’re not for the masters of all they survey. But if you, like me, don’t really like designing themes, and you’re not always wanting to pick apart code, grab a managed theme. I may still lean towards the Parent Theme Templates for myself, but right now, looking at a site my father wants, I’m looking at those managed themes.

They’re pretty darn cool.

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