Review: Why the Thesis WordPress Theme Sucks

by Michael on December 13, 2009 · 38 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.

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