Genesis framework is my favorite theme for developers and professional sites.
- Lightweight – not a single wasted line of code
- Developer-friendly – clean structure, tons of hooks & filters
- Experienced community – largest theme community of respected developers (not newbies)
- Mature theme market – clean, professionally-designed child themes (unlike typical generic stuff on Envato market)
- Many 3rd-party plugins – lots of compatible plugins built just for Genesis
Let’s break it down…
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Genesis is the MOST PROFESSIONAL WordPress framework
If you didn’t already know, I’m a diehard Genesis user. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE Genesis theme/framework. [Almost] all my critical sites are using it. For me, it’s the most comprehensive WordPress theme out there…tons of beautifully written-code with every hook and filter you could ever possibly want. Also backed by the most respected theme-community ever created…thousands of A-level coders using it to churn out beautiful super professional sites.
Genesis shadow over today’s themes
When comparing Genesis against today’s most popular themes, it’s easy to see why many users don’t get the hype. Compare a Genesis child theme against say…AVADA, X Theme, Be Theme, or some other super bloated all-in-one WordPress theme and the Genesis theme might seem dull in comparison. No flashy colors or dazzling animations. No built-in slideshows, pagebuilders, fancy masonry tiling, WooCommerce widgets. Genesis has nearly zero appeal to the average WordPress user.
But ask any legit developer and they respect it. The code is clean and comprehensive. A valid theme foundation upon which you can build to your fullest imagination. Other themes may appear to have many options but they’re mostly catered to newbie users with zero taste (yes, offensive, but I had to say it). And worst of all, if you want to customize them…you end up having to hard-code even more than a legit theme and wrestle through conflicts with their existing over-opinionated code. Simply put, themes made for professional developers are built (and marketed) very differently from themes made for newbie users.
The target Genesis user market – professional developers
The fact is…Genesis was born from a different time, for a different type of user. It was made for professional developers and/or designers who couldn’t code. And it’s funny because at the time, that was practically the entire WordPress user base. Pretty much everyone was a “professional developer” to some degree (while the “non-professionals” were on Wix, Squarespace, Shopify or who knows what). You had “web designers” and everybody else.
But now more than ever, we have average WordPress users who don’t know a darn thing about HTML trying to design their own website. It’s not a dumbing down of users. It’s just the effect of WordPress’ mainstream success. People for whatever reason don’t want to hire professional designers anymore. They want to do it themselves. And they don’t know what they want. So instead of choosing blank canvas themes and building up (like a professional would), they prefer bloated every-option-included themes and trimming down. They don’t know how to design, so they buy everything. Hahahah.
And I’m so thankful that Genesis doesn’t cater to those users. Endless trendy features/options would completely rot its clean simplicity to the ground. Am I saying that its #1 feature is having no features? NO, I AM NOT! In fact, it has tons of “features”.
Genesis features – clean, organized, lightweight, comprehensive YET un-opinionated
It’s hard to explain the value of a developer-centric theme to people who don’t code, but I will try. Let’s take the average super bloated theme. It’s marketed to the widest range of users possible and for every kind of site possible (blogs, business, ecommerce, media, etc). It has tons and tons of options. And guess what, you’re paying for all the code that you don’t use. And you’re paying for all that extra server processing load that the website costs you.
And then what happens when you buy this giant theme with endless option but STILL can’t find the option you need? Oh, it’s gonna cost you so much more to edit it. It may not even be possible. But hey, if all you want is a generic site just like every other site out there….you know, slideshow header on top, some navigation options, fancy-looking layouts that fit the demo content…they’re alright. And yes, I’m aware that they PROMISE you about being lightweight, modular, blah blah blah. Don’t listen to that crap.
Truly professional websites aren’t built that way. They start with a custom design from scratch. On a DESIGN APP, like Sketch. Layouts and visual elements pushed around without the confinements of a real-world PHP environment. Designs play in a world of limitless imagination. When the design is settled upon, they’re brought to life starting with a base theme (the “framework”) like Genesis.
Coders use the framework as a simple template so they don’t have to rewrite everything from scratch, they simply customize certain areas. Mainly, layouts of things and also where they go when clicked on. That sounds simple enough…but what makes a “good framework”?
First, a good framework is one that gives you lots of options but not opinions. Themes made for non-coder try to spell out every option for you (sizes, colors, fonts, measurements, etc). This adds mean much more code to wade through to do simple tasks. Next, a good framework should integrate well with the rest of the internet. SEO-friendly (for search engines), social-network friendly (shows accurate snippets when shared), accessibility (can be “read” by different reader-apps, vision-challenged folks), ready for multi-lingual translation, compatible with other popular plugins (WooCommerce, media, etc).
Simply put, Genesis holds the perfect balance in giving you all the customization options you need…but not requiring you to add in essential elements from scratch or having to delete delete existing code.
The value of the Genesis community
If you’ve been in the web-development world long enough, you’ll know that almost nothing ever lasts. Software and sites go in and out of trend faster than anything. And so to have a theme that will be with you even 5 years is remarkable. Most of the popular themes out there don’t even last beyond 2 years.
And here’s why that’s a problem.
It’s because when you need to update something or customize something, you might have another developer by then. The last thing you’ll want to hear as a business owner is that you need to re-code a completely new site. UGH!!! And this is why it’s so awesome that Genesis is popular amongst legit A-grade developers. You can find an abundant number of developers who are comfortable and familiar with Genesis. A good many will even prefer it (if they’re honest in building you a comprehensive well-coded site). That’s not only a massive convenience but also cost-savings, and think of all the anxiety you won’t have!
Frequently asked questions about Genesis:
- Does that mean Genesis is the fastest? – yes, it is. A fast or as lightweight as any other theme. Can be considered “faster” when you factor in that other themes may require extra plugins for basic functions (which would add code and load).
- Is it still popular? – yes, very healthy developer community. I can ask questions and get dozens of helpful answers from EXPERT-level people.
- Great SEO, accessibility? – yes, all that.
- Secure? Well-maintained? – yeaup!
- How do you feel about it being owned by WP Engine? – I hate that. But WP Engine (and the core Genesis team) have so far held to their word of keeping Genesis alive despite the absence of original Genesis founder Brian Clark.
- Is Genesis still the best WordPress theme? – I think Genesis is still the best for developers
Coming from the pre-framework era (Thesis, Headway)
The evolution of PARENT & CHILD themes
Genesis came from an era where [mostly] only developers and “code-explorers” could edit themes. Want to make your header an extra 100px taller? Gotta muck around in CSS and throw in a PHP snippet. Want to add a widget to the footer? Same thing. Want to change the colors? Same thing. Quite often, the changes didn’t work and/or you broke your site design/function in the process. Even if the theme DID have documentation…the documentation was just explanations teaching you how to hack the php/css, hahaha!
But the funny things was…if you were from that era, you never complained about how hard it was to do the task; you were simply overjoyed that it was even possible and that you didn’t have to run out and buy a new theme. In other words, you were grateful for the opportunity to get lost in the code. (Crazy, I know.)
Even if you DID manage to figure out which edits to do, it was a pain to find them again. And let’s not forget…this is BEFORE the mobile-responsive era!!! So you can only imagine how much more work it is now make unofficial hacks for all 3 desktop, tablet, and mobile viewpoints!
And what about when your theme updated? Hahahah, you would lose all these edits and have to do them all over again. Some people transferred the hacks manually to the updated files. Others just updated blindly and then cycled back to re-edit things. Whether you do it before or after the update, it’s still a painstaking process comparing php files line-by-line. God help you if the loop structure changed. This all happened WITHOUT staging sites, btw. Hahaha!
Oh but what about if your theme DIDN’T UPDATE and the developer just ran off and launched a new theme. You were stuck with an abandoned theme that couldn’t grow with the times. Constantly deciding whether you should spend time hacking your old theme further or hacking a new theme to make it look more like the old one. Ahhh, the stress!
The birth of theme frameworks
Luckily…the concept of frameworks was born. There needed to be separation between theme functions and theme styling. There needed to be a theme base that didn’t have to be rebuilt with each theme. There had to be a way that we could at least style our sites without losing our hacks/customizations every time the theme updated. And thus, the concept of PARENT and CHILD themes were born. Parent themes are basically “theme frameworks”….the underlying foundation of a theme. And ideally, each theme house or development agency would use the same foundation throughout.
But to take it even a step further is to make a parent theme that was easy to work with, and heck even open to 3rd party developers to make child themes for them. This was a total revelation. Instead of fragmented theme houses all over the place (some good at coding, others good at designing), frameworks gave designers a well-coded foundation on which to place their designs. (And also a more trusted marketplace to sell them.)
Some ingenious minds decided to create even more user-friendly frameworks. They realized that WordPress was being used by more and more non-coders. And they tried catering to them by building a “you can design this theme anyway you want”. It was great, and they succeeded in attracting massive fanbases overnight.
But much of their success wasn’t always due to their actual usability.
- Thesis promised “easy DIY design” but was actually successful because of it’s SEO success (at the time, Thesis was often toted as the theme for best SEO. Speed wasn’t as critical an issue then).
- Headway promised to be the truly easiest DIY but never quite released the version that was supposed to blow away everyone’s minds. It sold well because people believed it to be the next evolution to Thesis.
- Genesis was in Thesis’ shadow for many years and wasn’t widely adopted until people saw the big bloggers moving to Genesis.
The reality was, Thesis still wasn’t user-friendly enough. The interface was hard to use. Things were laid out in way where yes, you didn’t have to code to make changes but you still have to have coding ability and know the terminology to make changes. Changing the placements of simple things required many visits to the their documentation and many nested boxes inside other boxes. It was a whole other language within itself and very unlike WordPress.
Headways was only a more somewhat-more-friendly version of Thesis but still far from a true WYSIWYG builder like what you see with pagebuilders today. Genesis *wisely* didn’t even bother with the whole DIY feature maze. They went straight to marketing their 3rd-party child theme designers. Looking back, you could totally argue that they these DIY frameworks were the very first “pagebuilders”.
So what makes Genesis so great?
Genesis simply allowed developers (and “code explorers”) an easier way of editing code! First off, they used the whole parent-child theme structure so that custom edits wouldn’t be overwritten when you edited the main theme. Next, they separated the theme into multiple smaller files and named them in proper logical programmatic ways (header section was put into header.php, footer section put in footer.php). They also had many hooks and filters so that you could easily edit almost everything in your theme. Want to remove the header hero section or edit the copyright code? A simple snippet in your functions.php could do it. No need to hack 3 separate php files. Sure, other themes did this through but perhaps not as extensively and as logically.
Genesis became the developer’s favorite theme overnight.
Its structural logic and terminology made sense. And developers everywhere adopted it easily. Sure, none of that makes it any easier for newbie users BUTTTT does it make it more popular amongst designers. And that means more 3rd-party themes to choose from. And a bigger user community to contribute to the framework. Despite it’s fall out of limelight within the casual market today, Genesis still has a healthy number of compatible plugins and yes, still new child themes coming out.
So what’s the problem with Genesis now?
Websites are [expected to] be even more user-friendly now. It’s not enough to have editable themes. They need to be EASILY editable, and WITHOUT mucking in code. And for a short time, it seemed Genesis could do that. Edit some text and widgets here and there. Maybe change the layout, colors, font. But that’s about it. And it’s not enough. Today’s websites are so full of gadgets and widgets that Genesis feels like it’s not user-friendly at all. Every little change you want to make requires coding to some degree. It’s fantastic for developers who prefer lean sites built straight from scratch. But a nightmare for those without any coding ability. What’s even tougher is that you can’t even test things! No simple settings to play and preview with. OUCH!
The market was still wide open for user-friendly AND easily-customizable themes and that’s where GeneratePress enters the story.
Thanks for this write up Johnny, it is very useful. Do you have any thoughts on the new Genesis Pro offering? It looks like Genesis is transforming into a page builder which you have previously advised us to avoid. Your thoughts on this would be very useful. Thank you.
Genesis isn’t being a pagebuilder. It’s adding a new blockbuilder plugin which can be used to build pages but is far different from the traditional bloated pagebuilders.
I did see some top rated Devs using genesis framework now I can see why based on your review!
How do you think genesis does in the Gutenberg era where themes are becoming more about the design(styles) and full site editing is coming(header, footer, etc). Child themes are becoming less useful with Gutenberg it seems where patterns and full site editing can be used?
Also do you know what the workflow is like with genesis, build tools like gulp or web pack?(this is important consideration too)
Genesis doesn’t become more unnecessary with FSE. If anything that’s more of a detriment to other themes that built those options into the customizer. Genesis main workflow strengths like in its built-in hooks/filters/etc don’t become useless because of FSE.