Web Design and Development

StudioPress Review, Part 2: Hard-to-Edit Outdated Themes

For many years, StudioPress — formerly Revolution Themes — was one of the most customizable high quality themes around. You could download it, alter some PHP, HTML and CSS real quick, and have it online that same day. Other premium WordPress themes were a distant second place, and free themes were a joke by comparison. Brian Gardner, the lead developer and founder of StudioPress, had made an excellent product.

But that didn’t last. Along came the “Genesis framework” and made it complicated.

Over the past two years, StudioPress has gone from an easy to use/customize theme, to one that is almost impossible to edit. Even the most experienced and savvy WordPress developer tends to be confused and frustrated by what it’s become. Something as simple as making changes to the footer text now requires a special “Genesis” plugin!

Here’s 4 reasons why StudioPress should be avoided.

Note: If you’re planning to skim the editorial, and are only looking for suggestions on which themes to use, then here it is: ThemeForest, Elegant Themes, Gabfire Themes, FlexiThemes, AppThemes and Graph Paper Press. Each of those has numerous easy-to-customize themes. ThemeForest alone has hundreds of excellent themes from several respected authors; it succeeds where StudioPress fails.

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WordPress Templates, Not Themes

The biggest problem with StudioPress is the “themes” are more like proprietary templates. Rigid, inflexible, near-impossible to edit templates.

WordPress was (is!) essentially a separation of design, functionality, and content. That’s the goal of most CMS, and WordPress is excelled at it. That’s why it got so popular. Somehow StudioPress has managed to re-merge design and functionality — precisely the reason most site owners got away from pure HTML. Rather than design a site by manipulating the CSS — and maybe a little bit of PHP and HTML, at most — you have to wade through piles of obscure “Genesis” coding.

What essentially happens is the “theme” can only be used as-is. You cannot really edit it, customize it, or alter it to suit your needs, unless you want to get into some pretty hefty code.

Have Any .menu-item? Go Fish!

Half the time, the coding is incomplete. Using a normal theme, one can simply alter the CSS, and give it a new look — that’s the reasons themes exist. But not StudioPress. Aside from being difficult, half of the assigned div IDs and styles are missing! Take the Focus theme, for example — there’s lots of CSS IDs and classes that aren’t even present in the CSS files. You have to write it yourself!

If you have to go to that trouble, and write it yourself, you have to ask yourself: Why am I using a theme? Isn’t that the point of a theme? To not have to write it yourself?

What’s I find insulting is how StudioPress has admitted its themes are needlessly complex, but at the same time not admitted it. It’s like listening to a politician! They’ve found a way to shift blame on its users, and even conned some users into thanking them! It’s insane.

By this, I refer to using Firebug, as suggested by StudioPress. Firebug is browser add-on that analyzes the source code of a site. It’s been on their blog since 2011, and it’s referred to as recent as last week (in 2013) by mods on its forums. Anytime you can’t find something, whether it’s there or not, the default answer is to use Firebug. In other words, find it yourself. Go fish!

That’s not what one would expect from a paid product that’s $80.

Regurgitated Designs

I used to get excited when there was a new email from Revolution or StudioPress, because it meant a new theme had been released. We have lots of projects here at The Digital FAQ, from country music artists to small LLCs, and those can be useful. It’s why I bought a developer license all those year ago, for around $500. Those themes are supposed to add to our own library of in-house themes.

But for the past couple of years, StudioPress has been nothing but lipstick on a pig.

It’s mostly three basic themes, repeated over and over again:

  • A blog: Apparition, Balanced, Eleven40, Fabric, Focus, Generate, Going Green, Luscious, Mocha, Pretty Picture, Pretty, Prose, Quattro and Streamline.
  • A magazine or news site theme: Amped, Backcountry, Blissful, Decor, Education, Expose, Lifestyle, Magazine, Metro, News and Serenity.
  • And a business theme: Agency, Associate, Corporate, Crystal, Enterprise, Executive, Freelance, Manhattan, Metric and Outreach.

Even then, they tend to be basic on the inside. Just articles, with a choice of where the sidebar goes (left, right, middle, none). In fact, the only thing that really differentiates blog vs. business vs. magazine is the homepage. They may give the themes unique names, but it’s essentially still the same code. Looking in the gallery is pretty underwhelming.

Compare that to a theme like Complexity 2, which is available from ThemeForest for only $45 — far less than the $80 demanded by StudioPress, and with tons more features. (And no, contrary to the name, it’s rather easy to customize.)

Of all the themes available, the only original and unique ones are Agent, Landscape, Mindstream and Stretch. And Scribble, if you only count the homepage. So three themes over and over again, and five unique ones. The rest are just regurgitations to make their library look larger than it really is.

Some of those are gimmicky themes, too — Blissful, Decor, Mocha, Modern Portfolio, Pretty Picture and Pretty. Ironic, given some of those names! The only word that comes to mind is fugly.

Money, Money, Money!

Since 2012, StudioPress/Copyblogger has gotten into the hosting world, starting up the brand Synthesis (websynthesis.com).

But Copyblogger is a blog site, and StudioPress is a site that designs themes — neither of which qualify it to be entering hosting. Like other terrible companies that infest the hosting world — think EIG, Godaddy, or 1&1 — StudioPress has apparently spent all of its time marketing to (bothering) its customers, over and over again for months. Rather than send communications about themes, plugins, new versions of WordPress, etc, they’ve only concentrated on this, a totally unrelated product. As far as I’m concerned, it’s spam.

All they’re doing is reselling servers from MediaTemple. And unlike Copyblogger/StudioPress/Synthesis, or what they want to call themselves, MediaTemple is actually a good VPS host. (Not too sure about that shared hosting “grid” though — lots of complaints online, so steer clear!)

In Part Three

Need to see it to believe it? In the next editorial we’ll post code samples of StudioPress Genesis, the old StudioPress, and Revolution, so you can see this for yourself. Again, to do any kind of customization work (if it’s even possible) tends to takes many hours, and that’ll be spread out over weeks for most folks. A good themes can literally be edited in a single day, if you’re an experienced WordPress user.

Have comments or feedback? — Be sure to share your thoughts at this forum post.

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