As Genesis recommended developers, we get asked a lot of questions about the Genesis Framework and Genesis themes — and it seems like there is some confusion about what it is, how it works, what you can do with it, and more.
We work with Genesis every day and all of our custom WordPress sites are powered by Genesis. We’re proud StudioPress affiliates too. So to help clarify a few things, I’ve gathered together this list of our most frequently asked questions about the Genesis Framework.
If you have any Genesis Framework or Genesis theme questions that I don’t address in this post (other than how to write code — we charge for that), feel free to ask in the comments below!
Now let’s get on to the questions …
What is the Genesis Framework?
The Genesis Framework is an underlying framework of code (a code library) that empowers designers, developers, and users like to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress. In addition to the built-in functions provided by WordPress, the Genesis Framework adds extra hooks, actions, and filters for developers to use.
In terms of development, the Genesis Framework operates as a parent theme where all the core website functionality exists — a centralized location where all the functions reside.
A child theme is then layered on top of the parent theme, to add styling and manage the design.
This approach separates the functionality (in the framework/parent theme) and the design (in the child theme). It also allows updates to be pushed out without affecting or modifying the design.
What are the benefits of using the Genesis Framework?
By leveraging a WordPress theme framework like Genesis as a starter theme, developers can accelerate their development cycle. This way, instead of creating a WordPress theme from scratch and modifying every theme file over and over, a new child theme can be spun up with the creation of a new style.css file and any special functions needed in the functions.php file.
As a Genesis recommended developer, all of our WordPress themes are built using our own starter theme created with the Genesis Framework.
We use Genesis because it:
- Provides a secure, search-engine-optimized foundation and a battle-tested code base
- Supports Schema.org code, which allows you to output microdata in your site’s code
- Uses HTML5 markup, the new code standard
- Follows WordPress security best practices
- Uses lightweight code which equals fast performance
- Boasts a thriving, helpful, active micro-community inside the larger WordPress community (Twitter Hashtag #genesiswp)
- Leverages a standardized code base that is well supported, which allows any developer familiar with Genesis to step in at any time and work on a site without needing to learn how the theme is built. This means you’re not “locked-in” with any one service provider
Is a StudioPress theme and a Genesis Theme the same thing?
No. Unfortunately this is a common misconception because many people use the terms StudioPress theme and Genesis theme interchangeably — which is incorrect.
- The term Genesis theme refers to any WordPress child theme that is powered by the Genesis Framework
- The terms StudioPress theme refers to any WordPress theme that is sold by StudioPress
Think of it this way: Themes are like jeans. Just as jeans is the generic term for a style of pants, Genesis theme is the generic term for a type of theme. And, just as there are different brands of jeans, there are different brands of Genesis themes, and StudioPress as the creators of the Genesis Framework, is the main/biggest brand selling Genesis themes.
Are there different types of Genesis child themes?
First, there are commercial themes for sale to the general public, like those for sale by StudioPress. These themes are for sale to as many people as want to buy it — so there are hundreds if not thousands of people using the same theme online at any given time depending on a specific theme’s popularity. If you purchase a Genesis child theme from a commercial theme shop, you simply download it, install it, and it will work right out of the box.
Second, there are custom Genesis themes. These are themes that are custom designed and custom build for one person, business, or brand specifically. The theme is not for sale or available for anyone else to purchase. Usually themes themes are installed, setup, and configured in your hosting account for you, your provider adds and designs all of your content in the theme, and after taking the site live, they train you how to use it.
Third, there are different theme styles to choose from, including:
- Magazine themes
- Business themes
- Blogger themes
- Minimalist themes
- Content marketing themes
- Real Estate themes
- Food themes
- Fashion themes
- BuddyPress themes
- eCommerce themes
- Portfolio themes
- Photography themes
- Education themes
- Event themes
- Non-profit themes
- Directory Themes
What is the difference between a theme customization and a custom theme?
Custom and customization do not mean the same thing, but again, due to incorrect communication, there is a lot of confusion about this! When it comes to designing and building WordPress themes, there are two different approaches:
With this approach a pre-built or off-the-shelf theme is purchased or downloaded and then parts of the theme are customized.
Fonts and colors are changed, the menus are edited, a custom logo or header is added, and maybe some elements are moved around. Here, instead of writing custom code, providers are editing, copying and pasting, and tweaking existing code. And instead of designing from scratch, they are plugging in con tent and graphic elements into pre-determined places.
In many cases, by the time a really good service provider is done customizing a theme, it’s hard for the average person to tell it started as an off the shelf theme. When we share the theme customizations we have done for clients with new prospects, often they are shocked that the final theme and the theme we started with are the same theme.
The key to a successful theme customization is clarity on exactly what theme you want to use and what changes you want made to the theme.
Think of it as creating a pieces of artwork from a line drawing downloaded from the internet. You didn’t have the draw the picture because that was done for you — your job was to then color it in, choosing the artistic style, medium, tools, and visual feel.
This approach begins with a blank page or a white screen.
The site is designed from scratch to meet the unique needs of the site and to support the core goals of the site. Because the site is being designed from scratch, there is no limitation on what can be designed, and because the theme is being developed with custom code, anything you can image can be coded (within your budget of course).
The biggest thing to understand about custom themes is that you’re not limited to an existing style sheet, existing design, or existing structure.
Let’s loop back to the artwork analogy:
If customizing an existing theme is like creating a piece of art from a purchased line drawing, a custom theme is like starting with a blank canvas, coming up with an idea, deciding what to draw, drawing it, and making all of the decisions from about how it will layout, flow, look, feels, and perform — freedom and creativity combine to create a masterpiece.
Something For Every Budget
Needless to say, artwork of all styles is available at a variety of price ranges.
Many people are happy to go to Z Gallery, Aaron Brothers, Cost Plus, or even IKEA, choose a piece of art, and take it home to display. Then there are those who prefer to go to a gallery and purchase a less commercial or common piece of art — and there are those who don’t want to settle for anything but exactly what they want and they commission a custom piece.
If I invest in an off-the-shelf Genesis theme or a custom Genesis theme, will I need to update my theme in the future?
Once heavy customizations are made to a child theme, you likely won’t ever want to upgrade until you’re ready for a site redesign. If for some reason you do install a new version of your child theme, after you have made extensive modifications or customizations, you will lose your modifications.
Likewise, if you invest in a custom theme design, I highly doubt you’ll be changing your theme anytime soon — plus, no developer I know will do additional free work on a theme just for fun to update the code, and push out a new release for a single, custom theme.
Periodically some commercial theme companies will publish updates to their child themes or completely overhaul a theme and release it with a slightly different name to show that it’s no linger an update for an old theme, but a completely new version of the theme.
StudioPress has been doing this over the last year or so. They have completely overhauled several of their top selling themes and re-released them as PRO themes. For example, their Lifestyle Theme got reworked and was re-released with the name Lifestyle Pro.
Luckily, while there will be periodic updates for the Genesis Framework, they are designed so they do not affect (or break) your child theme, and you will not be forced to upgrade your child theme.
Do I have to buy Genesis?
That depends. You can purchase a non-Genesis WordPress theme and use it — there are thousands of free and premium WordPress themes available online that do not use Genesis.
Now, if you’re convinced that Genesis is the right platform and community for you (yay!), there are three different buying scenarios you may encounter:
- If you purchase an off-the-shelf theme direct from StudioPress, you can purchase the child theme bundled with the Genesis Framework, and you don’t have to buy anything separate
- If you purchase a theme from a third party theme shop selling Genesis child themes, you will also need to purchase the Genesis Framework to use the theme
- If you invest in a custom child theme designed and developed from scratch by a professional (like us) just for your brand, the Genesis Framework will be included with your investment
Can I use any WordPress plugins I want if I have a Genesis WordPress site?
Yes! The Genesis Framework is pretty robust and has some great features and widgets built into it, but sometimes you need to extend the functionality of your site and the only way to do that is through a plugin. While there are many WordPress plugins for the Genesis Framework, you can also use any of the thousands of premium or free WordPress plugins available in the repository.
Just remember to backup your site before installing a new plugin, and check for any conflicts after installation. There isn’t such a thing as using too many plugins, but there is such a thing as one plugin too many if it is the wrong plugin. Here’s a great post Brian wrote with tips on how to tell if a plugin is a good choice for your site.
I bought a WordPress Genesis child theme from StudioPress and got a developer’s license, but I’m not a developer. What do I do with this?
Don’t worry! This doesn’t mean you are going to have to write code. It doesn’t mean you have to complete a complicated technical task to get your Genesis site to work. There isn’t even an API key or license key you have to deal with.
A “developer license” is just the terminology used to communicate that with your purchase comes the ability to use it on as many sites as you want to without getting in big trouble. You bought it, so now you can use it as you choose on any of your sites. If you’re a designer or developer, you can now even use it on your clients’ sites — and the great thing is that every site it is used on will get updates for the Genesis Framework as they are released.
This works the same way whether you buy one single theme, or the Pro Plus All-Theme Package.
If I can reuse a commercial theme repeatedly, can I reuse a custom theme I bought too?
Maybe. It depends on the terms of what you actually bought and how the service provider you hired does business. I can’t speak for other service providers, but I can share how we do things at Bourn Creative.
When a client purchases a custom WordPress theme powered by the Genesis Framework, we work with the from start (“I think I need a website”) to finish (“we’re live and I know how to use my site”). When we deliver the final theme and install it in their hosting account, a copy of the Genesis Framework and any plugins used also is installed.
At this point the theme is now the sole property of our client and they can do with it what they want — mostly. They can change it, edit it, delete it, and reuse it for other websites they own.
We have had several clients that have loved the themes we designed for them so much, that they end up using it on multiple sites in their brand family — and usually hire us to change some of the theme elements (like the logo, colors, opt-in box, and content). This way each site visually looks like it belongs to the same brand family, but that each also powerfully stands on it own.
What if I can’t find a Genesis WordPress theme I like?
I challenge you to really look at the themes again — especially the PRO themes from StudioPress. The PRO themes are HTML5, responsive, and include Schema.org support, as a result they are the ONLY pre-existing themes we will customize.
Don’t focus on just what you see, but instead look for a theme that has the structure and foundation that you want.
Look at how the navigation is designed and how it works, how the content is organized on the page, how the sidebar works, where it is placed, and how wide it is. Look at the footer structure, where the logo is placed, and how it works with the theme design.
Please understand that the theme demo only shows one configuration of the theme. Often the one thing you don’t like about a theme can easily be changed — or maybe that feature is already built into the theme and just not shown in the demo.
Here’s what we recommend you do:
- Make a list of the top 2-3 themes that you think may work for you. Note the questions you have about each one and what customizations you may want
- Reach out to a Genesis recommended developer like us, and share your top theme choices and questions
- We’ll respond with answers to your questions and if your project is a good fit, we’ll invite you to have a complimentary consultation to discuss working together to customize a theme for you, design your content, and take your new site live.
I think I need a custom Genesis child theme?
If you’ve looked at the themes available and none of them really get you excited, it may be time to think about investing in the design of a custom theme, where a designer will partner with you to create a site from scratch that meets all of your needs and represents your brand at the level you need it to.
At Bourn Creative the majority of all WordPress themes we design and build are custom themes, built from our own Genesis starter theme.
Why? Our clients simply like free reign and so does our creativity!
There aren’t many things that are more energizing than really digging into a client’s business strategy, mapping out a plan for their website to deliver results that support their business goals, and then designing and building a site with everything ti needs to be successful and nothing it doesn’t.
If you think a custom theme is the right path for you, we invite you to share your project details with us and explore what a supportive partnership with Bourn Creative looks like.
Now What About You?
Did this post answer your questions or maybe teach you something new?
Do you have any other questions I didn’t address in this post — questions about the Genesis Framework for WordPress in general, how it works, what you can do with it, etc.?
If so, please share your thoughts or ask your question in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to answer it for you.
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