As regular readers know, I’m a huge fan of the Genesis framework; it’s all I use to build websites, whether for myself or for clients. I believe Genesis provides the best foundation for any WordPress site, as I’ve outlined in a previous post.
Last week I received an email from someone who purchased Genesis based on my recommendation and she was… angry. I have no way of knowing what her expectations were, but it’s safe to say Genesis did not meet those expectations. She let me know that she had requested a refund and seemed offended that I would recommend a framework she found difficult to use.
While I did try to speak with that individual directly (she didn’t respond), I thought it might be a good idea to clarify a few things about Genesis – why I recommend it, things you should know before you purchase, and some examples of how it may be different from what people expect.
The Genesis Framework: What You Should Know
1. You may find it difficult to customize a Genesis child theme if you don’t know CSS and PHP.
There are tons of Genesis child themes available for sale, most of which look great. But if a pre-made theme doesn’t float your boat, you’re likely planning to customize it.
I cannot say this plainly enough. With a few exceptions, Genesis does not provide you with a huge options panel where you can select fonts and colors. Here is the entire settings screen (click to view larger):
If you want to change the way your theme looks, you’re going to need to edit the style.css file. If you want to change some of the functionality (the elements that display and where they show up), you’ll need become familiar with PHP and Genesis hooks.
Now, about those exceptions I mentioned before…. Here are a few ways to customize Genesis without a lot of coding:
Beaver Builder – Beaver Builder is a premium page builder plugin that lets you create drag and drop layouts. It works extremely well with Genesis themes and is much loved by the community.
Genesis Design Palette Pro – This premium plugin gives you the ability to select different parts of your site and change padding, margins, colors, fonts, etc. It’s extremely easy to use and requires no coding whatsoever.
Genesis Extender – This is another premium plugin that allows you to add custom functions and styles to Genesis child themes. Extender was recently updated with some new features and an interface that is more intuitive, and it works with any Genesis child theme.
Dynamik Website Builder – Dynamik is nearly identical to Genesis Extender (they’re made by the same company) but it is a child theme instead of a plugin. This means you don’t have to purchase additional child themes – Dynamik lets you create your own, and you can even export the themes you create to use on other sites.
2. Many Genesis child themes use a custom homepage template.
All Genesis child themes allow you to display blog posts on your homepage just like a “normal” blog. That said, a lot of Genesis themes include a template called home.php or front-page.php – this template allows you to create a custom homepage layout based on widget areas.
Here’s why that matters. Let’s say that your Genesis theme gives you some widget areas called Home Top, Home Middle, and Home Bottom. In many cases, if you put widgets into those areas, that’s what will show on your homepage instead of blog posts. (Some child themes show the widget areas, then blog posts, but many leave articles off the homepage completely.)
If you encounter this when you just want to display posts, it’s easy to become frustrated and blame Genesis. In reality, though, there’s a very simple fix. Use FTP or your host’s file manager to navigate to your child theme’s folder, then rename the homepage template. If your theme uses home.php, name it home-old.php, or whatever you’d like. When you name the file something else, Genesis can’t find the template and will use the default blog template instead.
3. Every Genesis child theme comes with setup instructions and demo content.
When you go to your Downloads area to download the framework and your child theme(s), there is a big gray button next to each download that says “Theme Setup.” Clicking that button takes you to a screen that will explain, step by step, how to set up your theme to look like the demo.
I will admit, sometimes the instructions are kind of sucky, but for the most part, they’ll show you enough to get started.
4. Simplicity is the reason people love Genesis.
Ever use a theme that had sliders, forms, a portfolio, font icons, Google fonts, social sharing icons, a color picker, shortcodes, 15 extra buttons on the post editor, its own special widgets, and a pet llama? (Okay, maybe not a llama, but you know what I mean.)
The problem with those themes is that they include everything under the sun. While that might sound like a good idea, it’s generally not – how many of those “features” do you actually need? And what happens after your blog posts or pages are filled with shortcodes and custom theme stuff and you decide to change themes?
Remember in the late 90s when everyone bought VCR/DVD combos? Remember when the VCR half quit working, so you had to buy a new VCR yet couldn’t quite justify another DVD player because the old one was still okay? Ever push “play” for a DVD but a VHS tape started playing instead? That is EXACTLY the problem with themes that offer too many features. If one thing goes wrong, you end up with all kinds of junk piled up and you aren’t sure what most of it even does.
With Genesis, you can add anything you need fairly easily, but only if you want to. If you just need a basic site where you can share your thoughts with the world, you don’t have to use a gigantic, bloated theme to do it.
5. When you purchase Genesis, you get a developer license. Even if you aren’t a developer.
A developer license simply means you can use Genesis on as many sites as you’d like without getting in trouble. If you buy Genesis and one child theme, you can install them both on 400 sites if you feel like it. There are no license keys to enter and all your sites will receive framework updates when they become available.
This is awesome because you’re getting a LOT of bang for your buck. You’re spending $60 for the framework, maybe $20-45 for a child theme, and you can use them as many times as you want. Forever. That’s not some kind of shady practice – that’s the way Genesis is intended to be used.
6. You MUST use a child theme with Genesis. Also, it’s safe to edit the child theme files.
If you purchase the Genesis framework by itself, you’ll see the Sample child theme in your Downloads area. Why? Because you absolutely must use a child theme. If you don’t, any customizations you make will be lost when Genesis updates.
The reason for child themes is to keep your changes safe. When you alter files in the child theme’s folder, those files remain untouched during updates to WordPress, your plugins, or the Genesis framework, meaning you won’t lose any of your hard work. You are welcome to edit those files directly because they will never, ever change unless you change them yourself.
7. Help is available!
If you purchase Genesis and need help getting started, there is a ton of information available FOR FREE on the good old interwebs. If you search for things like “genesis how to remove page titles” or “genesis how to add widget areas” you will find tons of step-by-step tutorials. You can also post on the StudioPress support forums and a helpful moderator (like yours truly) or another community member will jump in to answer your questions.
If you want to dive into Genesis and learn more, there are communities on Facebook, Google+, Slack, and even Twitter where you can get to know other people, pick up some new tricks, get help, or just waste that last 30 minutes before you get off work. (Not that I would know!)
There you have it – some things to be aware of before you purchase the Genesis framework. If you’re already using it, what do you think of it? Did you have trouble getting started? If you’re contemplating Genesis, what’s keeping you from taking the leap?