Review: Why the Thesis WordPress Theme Sucks

by Michael on December 13, 2009 · 35 comments

This site is powered by WordPress, and the front-end is built on the Thesis theme. If you’ve spent much time in the wonderful world of WordPress, then you’ve likely heard that Thesis is the best thing since sliced bread. Well…


I’m here to tell you to be careful what you believe.

Thesis is a powerful tool

Before we go any further, I want to say that Thesis is a very powerful tool. It’s highly customizable, provides users with a solid foundation in terms of search engine optimization (SEO), and so on. Unfortunately, it’s also a pain in the butt to use, especially when you’re just starting out.

Thesis is hard

Contrary to popular belief, Thesis isn’t very easy to use. Check out this quote from their homepage:

Not a coder? Not a problem. The Thesis option panels allow you to command your site with ease, while Thesis does all of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.”

Sounds great, right? Well… I can honestly say that this theme is harder to work with than other WordPress theme that I’ve ever used, at least at first. Sure, you can manage various aspects of the layout and design from within the WordPress dashboard, but that only gets you so far.

The primary problem is that Thesis holds your customizations in special customization files. You can then slip them into the theme using a variety of hooks and function calls.

The power of this approach is that you can upgrade the “core” theme files without losing your customizations. The downside is that Thesis has a very steep learning curve. It’s not enough to know the code required to achieve a certain look, you also have to figure out the calls (or “hooks”) to stick it in the right place.

To give you a more concrete feel for what I’m talking about, it’s not uncommon for me to spend an hour making a fairly simple modification that would normally take a few minutes if I was directly editing the theme files themselves.

But it’s upgradeable…

As noted above, Thesis is easily upgradeable. Since your customizations reside outside of the core theme files, you can easily upgrade to a newer version without losing any changes. While that sounds nice, I have to ask… Who cares?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really had the need to “upgrade” my WordPress themes. While I periodically re-design my sites, I’ve never done wholesale “upgrades” while retaining the same look. Maybe it’s just my preference for a simple interface, but upgradeability isn’t a major selling point to me.

The Thesis support forums rock

If you’ve gotten this far and I haven’t scared you off, then great… I’ve got very good news for you. When you buy Thesis, you gain access to the support forums, which are an incredibly valuable resource.

The forums are chock full of useful information, and the users are extremely helpful. In fact, if it weren’t for the forums, I would’ve abandoned Thesis long ago. Instead, I’ve actually managed to become reasonably proficient with it.

Does Thesis really suck?

I have to admit that the title of this article is a bit of an overstatement. Thesis is a powerful and potentially useful tool – as long as you know what you’re getting into. But if you jump in thinking that you’re buying a user-friendly, super easy to use theme, then you’ll likely be disappointed and regret the purchase.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a flexible and upgradeable WordPress framework, and you aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and spend a good bit of time learning how to make it work, then Thesis might be a good choice for you.


{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Ms. C December 13, 2009 at 7:42 pm

I can’t tell you how many times in the last year or so I’ve gotten e-mails from potential clients saying “I thought Thesis was going to be easy! I don’t understand ANYTHING!!”

The easy myth is good for my business anyway. ;) And it’s not too bad once you figure it out, but compared to plain old coding it takes a lot of time to learn how to do. Even people with basic html/css skills were overwhelmed by it all. I tell people it’s easy if: (a) you get someone else to design it for you, or (b) you want it to look like a site that’s built on Thesis.

Reply

Ben Cook December 13, 2009 at 8:03 pm

So you admit that your title is an over statement (obviously hoping to get attention w/the controversial & completely inaccurate title) but it appears you don’t quite understand the topic you’re writing about.

The big deal about being upgradeable is for when you upgrade WordPress, not the theme. WP requires upgrading on a regular basis and if you edit the core files to customize your theme, you have to make all those edits again when you upgrade which is a PAIN.

Also Im not quite sure what is tough about editing the options of Thesis but the advanced stuff certainly isn’t easy. However that’s a far cry from sucking. Here’s to hoping your attempt to get attention doesn’t steer too many people away from an amazing theme.

Reply

Andrew December 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm

I’ve definitely thought about purchasing Thesis for use as a theme, but with the number of people out there already using it, I just wonder whether it really would have been a good choice.

After reading this article, I think creating my own templates, and theme files from an existing theme would be easier, and cheaper, than customising Thesis.

Thanks for the headsup, but I won’t be purchasing Thesis.

Reply

Ben Cook December 13, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Andrew, why would the popularity of the theme matter when it’s as flexible as Thesis?

Also if you think creating your own themes will be easier I’d urge you to read a few other reviews as this one does the theme a huge disservice. Check out mine or sugarraes and you’ll get a much different story. I use thesis for all my sites and have even created free skins to cudtomize the look as well.

Reply

Michael December 13, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Ben: Actually, I know exactly what I’m talking about. The “upgrade-ability” has nothing to do with Wordpress itself — it’s referring to things like going from Thesis v. 1.5 to Thesis v. 1.6. When you do that, as long as you don’t overwrite your custom files, all of your changes will carry over since you haven’t touched the core Thesis files. You shouldn’t have to tinker with the Wordpress core files when making/modifying a theme, so upgrading Wordpress isn’t the issue.

The only time a Wordpress upgrade would enter into the equation would be if it broke your theme, in which case you’d need a theme upgrade to restore compatibility. Thing is, I’ve *never* had one of my “regular” themes break when I’ve gone from one version to another on Wordpress.

As for the title… “Completely inaccurate”? I think not. Like I said, it’s possibly an overstatement – but that’s only because I’ve now spent about six weeks coming to terms with exactly what Thesis is (and is not), and learning how to make it do things that should be easy. Even now, it’s still considerably harder to make tweaks than if I was working with a “regular” theme.

If you want inaccuracies, take a look around at what people are being led to expect when they buy Thesis. It’s sold using the “not a coder? not a problem” angle, and yet there is a huge cottage industry of Thesis developers and consultants out there that exists solely because the learning curve is so steep. All I’m trying to do is give people a reasonable expectation of what they’re getting themselves into when they plunk down their money.

Reply

Evan December 13, 2009 at 8:52 pm

I use Atahualpa theme – IT IS AMAZING I have never seen such an amazing theme before. You can edit everything – you do need to know some code but you aren’t forced to figure out where it will go

Reply

Mitch December 13, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Thesis is very powerful and like any thing that people invest time and money there are always new models. ie, car models every year.
Thesis has improved their product and will continue to improve. What the average person doesn’t realize is, Thesis can be as simple or complex. Your imagination is the only limit. I’ve had the pleasure to do a variety of projects and it’s only limited by your creative vision.
That’s my 2 cents.. if you need change..let me know..lol

Reply

Ben Cook December 13, 2009 at 9:22 pm

If you haven’t run into the issue then you’ve chosen good themes in the past. It is easy to upgrade to new versions of Thesis as well but IMO the big benefit is in not having to worry about WP updates breaking things.

Also, for the non coders there are a TON of options to customize your site quite easily. In fact I would guess the design of this site could be replicated in about 10 minutes if that.

Just because there are advanced features in case you really want to go wild with it doesn’t mean that it’s not something noncoders can use. There is a learning curve if you want to become an expert but it’s not by any means neccesary. Plus, there are more and more skins that are plug and play for newbies as well.

You say the theme sucks, then admit it’s an overstatement, and still have your affiliate link in the post. So either you’re promoting a sucky product to your readers, or your title is dishonest and just an attempt to get some attention, as I said earlier. So which is it?

Reply

Michael December 13, 2009 at 9:38 pm

Ben: I’d hardly say that I’m “promoting a sucky product to [my] readers.” Rather, I’m providing an honest appraisal of Thesis based on my own experience. If people read it and then still decide to click through and buy, why shouldn’t I get an affiliate commission?

Since you’ve brought it up, I suspect that the affiliate program has fueled much of the positive press that Thesis has gotten. What’s more likely to drive sales, an honest review talking about the warts alongside the strengths, or a sugar-coated rah rah review? Of course, this isn’t unique to Thesis – it’s the nature of pretty much all affiliate programs (and also why the FTC is now cracking down on blogs).

Reply

Ben Cook December 13, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Why would you want to make it easy for your readers to buy a “sucky” theme?

Bottom line, by going for the sensational title even though you admitted it was an overstatement, you gave up your credibility.

What you’ve told your readers is a) don’t trust the headlines you read here and b) you’re willing to promote products that you don’t really believe in.

Creating a catchy, attention getting title is always good, but not when its at the cost of your credibility.

And while we’re on the topic of credibility, man up and put your name on your site, especially when you’re going to do hack jobs of reviews like this.

Also, since you brought up the FTC, you might want to disclose that those are affiliate links and try explaining to your readers why you want them to buy a theme you just got done telling them “sucked”.

Reply

Michael December 13, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Ben: There’s already a disclaimer at the end of the post, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of reviews that I’ve read. Note that I’m not including you in that statement, as you are very clear about the relationship.

Reply

Ben Cook December 13, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Ah I must have missed that line. Doesn’t address my point though. I’m obviously not going to change your mind however I hope I’ve at least provided enough counterpoints to your review that people won’t turn away from Thesis. I’m out.

Reply

Matt December 13, 2009 at 11:36 pm

How about a real example of a time that you had “to spend an hour making a fairly [simple, I assume] modification that would only take a few minutes if [you were] directly editing the theme files themselves.”

Reply

Leland December 14, 2009 at 2:13 am

I just don’t get why you would discredit what you are selling. Sort of contrary to Marketing 101 isn’t it?

Reply

Leland December 14, 2009 at 2:16 am

Oh, just noticed your previous post “How to Unclog a Toilet”. That explains alot. Sorry…I just couldn’t help myself.

Reply

Robert McGuire December 14, 2009 at 3:25 am

I started using Thesis this past spring, and at first I couldn’t figure out why this theme was so highly acclaimed by people. It was my opinion that Thesis required the user to work a little harder to make changes that would have been simpler in almost any other theme.

Since then my opinion of Thesis has improved and I’ve become much more proficient with the theme. I call it a theme, but it’s actually a framework which requires the user to dress it up to their specifications afterwards. I think Thesis makes a lot of things easier to tweak, but I think some things are still easier to do in “normal” themes.

Reply

Matt December 14, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Are you going to answer my question above? I’m going to ask it again:

Can you please give me a real example of a time that you had “to spend an hour making a fairly [simple] modification that would only take a few minutes if directly editing the theme files themselves.”

Reply

Michael December 14, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Matt: A recent thorn in my side was the placement of the RSS/e-mail/Twitter links up there in the top right. As simple as it looks, I actually spent a good bit of time on this.

I ended up dropping the code into the thesis_hook_before_header and then positioning it from there. The styling was actually kind of a bitch (perhaps due to my lack of skillz), and once I got everything looking like I wanted, the links didn’t work. Why? Well, it turns out that they were buried under the “menu.” I eventually figured this out and changed the stack order to put it on top (after first teaching myself how to do it).

I’m sure this is standard stuff for CSS jockeys, but Thesis is being marketed as a great solution for “non-coders.” While I’m far from a pro when it comes to this stuff, I’m also not completely inept. On the plus side, I learned something about CSS and I probably ended up with a more “elegant” solution than I would’ve otherwise put together. On the minus side…

In pretty much every other them that I’ve worked with, I could’ve easily hacked those things into the template exactly where and how I wanted them in about 5 minutes. Would it have been less elegant on the back end? Almost certainly. But it would’ve been fast and functional, which is what I typically look for when it comes to these things.

So there you go. Feel free to fire away and tell me that I’m an idiot for not being able to achieve this stuff in the blink of an eye, but… Like I said above, Thesis is being marketed to non-coders. Just because something is easy for you doesn’t mean it will be easy for everyone in the target audience. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the very first comment on this post – a blog consultant who regularly gets e-mails from clients who can’t figure out how Thesis works.

I’ve obviously touched a nerve here, but I’m simply trying to point out to people that Thesis isn’t all rainbows and lollipops like so many of the rah rah, affiliate-driven reviews will lead you to believe. While I’m learning to deal with the quirks, the phrase “man, this sucks” often rolls through my head when tweaking things. That sentiment is less frequent now than it used to be, but I obviously still haven’t mastered Thesis.

In anticipation of the question: Why do you stick with it? – The short answer is that I’ve arrived at a design that I’m reasonably happy with, so there’s no sense in throwing it all away. If I knew at the start what I know now, however, I would’ve gone another direction and wound up at largely the same place with less aggravation.

Of course, this is just my opinion based on my own personal experiences. YMMV, etc., etc., etc.

Reply

Matt Jabs December 15, 2009 at 1:05 am

I recently purchased Thesis for use on all of my sites. I love it… without a doubt I think it is a fantastic theme, the best I’ve worked with even.

But… I am an IT Manager. I have experience with PHP, CSS, HTML, FTP, WP, and blogging in general – so that gives me a serious leg up on the average Joe.

That’s not to say that the average Joe couldn’t use Thesis and enjoy it… they could very easily – they would just be limited in the design changes they could make “easily” – which I believe is the point of this post… which I happen to agree with.

If I was to pitch Thesis to someone looking to buy a theme, I would definitely tell them how much I adore it, but then also tell them that they should be ready to learn some web programming if they really want to “make it their own.”

Honestly… I don’t see the argument here – you’re all right. Thesis is awesome, can deliver immense power, can be hard to code for the non-coder, and is over hyped due to a rich affiliate program.

All I know is, I love it and REALLY appreciate the upgradability… especially after coming from a WooTheme. Ugh – upgrading those was a total PITA, and it seemed like something on the theme broke with each WP release, so I had to manually upgrade multiple files each and every time. Not so with Thesis… and boy is that a breath of fresh aiir for this IT guy Thesis fan boy! :-)

Godspeed.

Reply

Kevin January 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm

While this is a little late in the scheme of things, I would have to say that you are one of the few in the sea of many who has been honest enough to tell it like it is.

I was/am considering the Thesis Theme but it is incredibly hard to get an honest review when everyone is trying to cash in on the affiliate links to the extent it is obvious there is a Cult of the Thesis.

Thanks for the honest review, your review along with a few others leads me to believe I would be over my head if I got the Thesis Theme and wanted major customisation. Cheers.

Reply

Financial Samurai February 7, 2010 at 10:43 am

People actually pay to use the Thesis theme? Is this a one time shot, or upgrade type model where you gotta continue pay more like what Microsoft employs?

Thesis seems pretty handy dandy to use, but the problem is that if another blog uses thesis, then there are so many blogs that look a like which then takes away from the originality no?

Reply

Melanie February 10, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Guys,

Thanks for this discussion. I have been contemplating buying the Thesis theme for a while now but haven’t pulled the trigger – $80 for a theme when there are so many nice free or cheaper ones out there?

While I am by no means a newbie, I’m also not a coder. So I’ve been getting tired of making tweaks all the time to my theme instead of doing what I should be doing – writing and researching. Nevertheless, this post makes some good points. I don’t want to have to spend even MORE time figuring out which file to manipulate if I need some additional customization.

I think what is going to keep me from making the leap into the cult of Thesis is the fact that I can spot a Thesis themed site from a mile away now. And frankly that is starting to bore me. ( Though I do appreciate Chris Pearson’s work and even used his old theme Cutline for a while.)

So, all that said, what do you guys think about themes from Studio Press or other theme companies? What about any Theme Forest themes with custom front-end options?

I think Thesis is the just the beginning of awesomely designed, work-from-the-dashboard themes. I’m looking forward to what comes next!

That said

Reply

Kian Ann @tankianann February 18, 2010 at 12:44 am

@Melanie

As a techy and someone who has done customizations on the Thesis theme for my clients – I feel thesis is good if you are fine with the standard layouts provided in the theme.

If you have further customizations – it better off getting someone to code it from scratch. The “dashboard customizations” don’t go far enough for non-techy people.

Reply

Ben Cook February 18, 2010 at 12:59 am

@Kian Ann I’m sorry but you’re better off getting someone to code a theme from scratch?

Are you kidding me?!?

You can get a custom skin for Thesis for a LOT cheaper than an entire theme and then you get to keep the great back end of Thesis.

Reply

Andrew Boyd Music March 6, 2010 at 2:56 pm

If your like me and still looking around at themes …

I’d say check out the Suffusion design as well as Thesis.

Reply

Spalpneappy April 14, 2010 at 5:15 am

good quality subject , hunt this from blogsearch after that good luck for you.just add up the rss feed to my reader,keep update!

Reply

Jean-Baptiste Jung June 22, 2010 at 5:23 am

Those who thinks Thesis is great should give Thematic a try. It’s free and way more powerful/easy to use than Thesis.

The main reason to Thesis “popularity” is its affiliate program in my opinion. It’s not a bad theme at all, but it’s not worth the hype.

Reply

Sire November 26, 2010 at 8:40 pm

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Thesis sucks, but it’s definitely not the easiest theme to use. I bought it in the hope that it was plug and play just as they said but it isn’t. I still use it on one of my blogs but I found one that leaves it for dead, especially with it’s latest update, and I use it on all my other blogs.

Reply

Mila Uram December 1, 2010 at 6:52 am

Your site is wonderful and the post is good and i see that we can have more of this kind of posts in the coming days, hope you can also viste my site.

Reply

Yasmin Ellzey December 20, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Hi there! Do you know if they make any plugins to assist with SEO? I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good success. If you know of any please share. Many thanks!

Reply

Andrew June 11, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I’ve tried a few Wordpress theme frameworks – not Thesis though. I dropped them for exactly the same reasons you mention in your post. With a regular theme, I can edit things directly. With a framework, I have to look up some fancy custom hook to edit the smallest things! It’s extremely frustrating. I guess it can be great when you get used to it…

I know Thesis advertises its speed, but how can it be faster than a regular theme, when it has tens of extra files that are included using php, lots of custom hooks and fuctions, and so on?

Reply

Sam@fusiondiary.com July 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Interesting how Thesis evokes extreme views from both its fans and others who have tried using it. The Problem is that Thesis fans go overboard while providing Thesis reviews which can be misleading to new users.

Reply

SifuPhil January 8, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Thanks for the honest appraisal of Thesis, Michael – it’s a breath of fresh air.

I’ve been playing with websites since before the Web was born – of course they weren’t called “websites” back then. FORTRAN, COBOL, BASIC – I grew up in the punch-card and Commodore 64 cassette-tape-drive eras. So, I’m not a total technophobe.

That being said, I totally see how Thesis is often misrepresented by its fans. Sure, it’s a whiz once you learn the new “language”, but that language takes time. It isn’t as user-friendly as one is led to believe, at least not when the user wants something other than the same-old boxy, grid-like layout for their site.

Yes, there are skins available. For the most part, they all look the same. Free or premium, doesn’t matter. You can spy a Thesis-framed site a mile away – what does THAT say about uniqueness?

Sure, it has advantages. Good SEO out of the box, admin panels are awesome – but sometimes TOO many choices is just as confusing as too few. I truly cannot see how a rank beginner would profit from Thesis, other than to have bragging rights.

In years past, I hacked my HTML and CSS to pieces – with decent results. As you mention, it didn’t take long. These hooks and calls are a different beast – again, not for beginners.

Thanks again for the honest opinion – it’s appreciated.

Reply

shadow fight 2 hack August 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

For example, while spikes and lava could spoil the progress.
Once you decide to download shadow fight 2 cheats
games from the Grand Theft Auto series. First it allows the users that
provide thousands of different mobile games within couple of years and
now it has become more easy for the mobile games that attest to mobile
version. In conclusion, the game. You will be interesting or maybe more
symbols displayed on the on-screen button and then. With the increasing popularity of such iPhone applications onto the mobile games on the Dos and Don?

Reply

pou cheats August 24, 2014 at 11:54 am

You may also pou hack enable gamer to compete, you are playing games.
The pace of time and prevailing trend. Within this game soon. This thrilling
software can even change the gaming websites. Challenge also comes
in whenever you want to play Solitaire and its two expansions
Dark Avatar and Twilight of the day can not run apps.
This year’s launch, allowing users to enjoy.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: