Well, this is a first here on VoodooPress! Now we’ve given some pretty brief reviews of products before, but those were simply things I was using – and felt obliged to mention. I figure if I’m using something and it works, or doesn’t work, it’s my job to let all you WordPress peeps know about it! It’s best for the community when we all share what we learn! This time I was approached by WP Theme Generator and asked if I would check out their product. I thought, why not? It looked like a cool product, so I figured we should all check it out together! Just a note, this isn’t a paid review – I was given access to the product so I could thoroughly test, but was not paid. So these opinions are completely my own! Let’s dive in!
So, before we get into the nitty gritty, what do I think? Well, I definitely had fun! WP Theme Generator is a web interface product, you log on to the site, you make a theme, and then you can download it! All the pointing and clicking is pretty fun in my book. There are some points where this producst is still a bit rough around the edges, but it is brand new. I think the product will improve over time, and I think some people will really enjoy it. Also, you can get a pretty cool looking theme out of it! Now I’ll tell you about my experience!
When you head over to the WP Theme Generator webite, take a look at their home page. See how that looks? If you like it, this product may be for you. You can make thousands of variations in your theme with tonnes of graphical elements and colour options, and all sorts of sidebar combos, and layout choices, etc. But ultimately, your site will always have the ‘feel’ of that main page. That’s not a bad thing really, the layout is a pretty common blog layout – and it works. You just won’t be able to radically shift away from that baseline.
When you log in to the site, you begin to create your theme. You can alter layouts, and change just about everything. Each little graphical element you see on the page – social icons, post and widget wrappers, backgrounds, menus, search bar, even highlights and shadows. These all have myriad options for you. If the provided options aren’t enough you can also upload your own graphical elements for certain features. There is even a font selector to alter your headings and body text. I like that, as I like my heading to be serif, and body to be sans. I appreciate the choices!
Besides being able to change out all the colours, the layout, and the graphical elements, you can alter some of the functionality. You have slider options here – Featured slider, Nivo, Accordion, and Piece maker sliders. You can also add a variety of ‘sidebars’ or widget areas to the top and bottom, left and right. The cool thing about this is that you aren’t locking yourself in here. The changes you make to the fonts, colours, and graphical elements are, for the most part, permanent for this theme. But the sliders and sidebars are really just to help you envision your site at this point, they can be changed later on – once the theme is on your site, from the admin option panel.
Let’s talk about the admin side of things. If you are a paid user, you can download your creation as a WordPress theme, all packaged up into a zip file and ready to install. Once installed and activated, you can explore the features. I”m going to touch on what I noticed here, I guarantee these themes offer more than what I discovered.
A pleasent surprise once installed is that the admin panel doesn’t fight with WordPress. So often, themes try to wedge in their own admin panels – trying to get over-fancy, and not using the tools provided by WordPress. The backend on this theme uses the tools provided. It looks like a piece of WordPress, not some other bizarre program shoved in there trying to be fancy. Besides the theme’s own menu, it utilizes some of the built in theme customization options – headers and backgrounds. Thats always nice.
In the backend you are given the opportunity to customize a variety of options. You can upload a logo, alter the header text, create and remove sidebars, pick your social icons, and add in the links, change your slider, and pick the slider content, add in you analytics code, customize your footer text, etc. There are a good deal of options, but not too many. The theme does balance functionality and options. Some themes present hundreds of options in the admin panel, and that’s just silly! With a WP Theme Generator theme, you just get the essential things you need.
The theme presents a couple of other things you might like. You get a variety of custom taxonomies pre-installed, including Gallery Items, Portfolio Items, Product Items, Services, and Testimonials. These can be used to offer up various content and serve it in a custom manner using the provided templates, or through shortcodes. Speaking of shortcodes, you get plenty. You get shortcodes to frame images, style quotes, dividers, buttons, popovers, modal windows, tooltips, etc. Some people love these things, some don’t. I’m not a huge fan, but for very specific personal reasons. Having shortcodes and custom post types or taxonomies built into a theme locks you into the theme. You can’t switch themes without losing the functionality and breaking your content – hence, my repeated focus on a functionality plugin. Usage of some of the cool additional features may not be apparent at first, but their website has some pretty good documentation which will help you learn how to use your new theme! Definitely read the docs, there nothing worse than finding out you’ve had a feature available that you haven’t been using.
I mentioned previously that this is a new product, and will no doubt evolve over time. I’m going to look at a few oversights I found that would block this theme from being a daily driver for me. I threw my generated theme up on my test site where I try everything out (NOTE: the theme is active there now, and I’ll leave it up for a bit. If you wish to see the theme, and it’s not up, just ask me and I’ll turn it on for you). and ran into some issues.
One of the features noticeable lacking, is post format support. On all of my sites I rely heavily on the various post formats. They are not included in the theme currently. You can’t assign posts to a format, and there is no styling included for individual formats. A few other things I noticed using the WordPress theme unit test are as follows. On a post which has been split into multiple pages, the links are absent which allow me to navigate through the posts subpages. Centered images did not center. Sometimes on a post with many categories, the categories overlapped the content. On a menu many top level items, the contents will break out of the menu and display plain text below the graphical menu. And I also ran into problems with my social icons getting mixed up, they were pointing at the wrong services. As far as styling text within posts, all of the alignments, tables, lists, headings, etc. were all styled well, I didn’t find anything that got missed.
Also, when you download your theme, it is named WP Theme Generator. Not too much of a problem, but I would prefer it to be custom named whatever I would like. While I’m looking at the code, let’s talk about that. In general, the code wasn’t hard to read through. It would be complicated if you wanted to customize it directly, many divs are used to be able to position the graphical elements. Also, in the header a meta description was hard coded in discussing WP Theme Generator. This would not be hard to fix for anyone who knows code, but for the average user trying to use an SEO plugin, this would be frustrating. Also in the header is a hardcoded link to a Google hosted jQuery. The off-site resource isn’t a bad thing, I do it on my sites. However, this brings up a couple of issues. We’ve discussed earlier not hardcoding jQuery into the header, but rather, we enqueue it using the provided tools WordPress has like this. Also, relying on a particular jQuery which is not bundled with WP can be dangerous. ON the last upgrade of WP, many peolpe’s admin panels broke due to conflicting jQuery. WP wanted one, but a theme/plugin used a different one.
Now, here’s a cool feature. When you create a theme on WP Theme Generator, it is basically a layer built on top of their framework. And of course, you can save your theme on their site. This means that as they upgrade their framework to provide improvements, or to implement future WordPress features, your theme can be downloaded again from where it is saved, and it will bring in the new features that have been put into the framework.
One final thing to mention, the theme is pretty resource heavy. The zip file for my theme was 8MB. To put that into perspective, the zip for all of WordPress (with 2 themes included) is less than half of that! The themes rely heavily on graphics, which is really going to hit your load times pretty hard. Caching can definitely help you with this. If you really loved the theme you created, you could manually combine scripts, css files, and sprite the graphics if you’d like. That would be a fair amount of work though.
So, my bottom line? I think WP Theme Generator is a lot of fun to play with. I made a few themes, and had a good time doing it. The results come out pretty – there are so many graphical elements to play with it’s crazy! All of the graphical elements are high quality, nothing looks fuzzy or pixelated. You can do a lot of neat things, and you are given a variety of options. You also get a variety of custom posting options, shortcodes, sidebar options, layout options, etc. You can definitely go crazy with setting up some good looking custom themes. And the theme is built on a framework that can be easily upgraded.
The flip side of this is that the themes are huge, and resource heavy. Using some of the features will lock you in to the theme, you can’t change away from a WP Theme Generator theme without losing or breaking content. Some of the coding presents some issues that I’m not happy with, and the template structure can be confusing. The lack of post format support was a big shortcoming for me personally.
I feel WP Theme Generator has an interesting product, definitely one to play with. You can head over there now and play around with what is offered. GIve it a go and see what you come up with! Of course, the things that were shortcomings to me may not be such a big deal to you. Themes are a highly personal thing, and I’m pretty particular about mine. While you can play with the theme generator for free, you’ll have to pony up some loot if you want your actual theme for your site. Right now it’ll cost you $29 nucks to make and doanload as many themes as you want for 6 months. I’d say, if you like what you see, that price is pretty reasonable.