Themes and Frameworks

Is a WordPress framework the same thing as a WordPress theme?

My last post, Why Use a WordPress Framework?, elicited an important question from one of my readers: Is a WordPress framework the same thing as a WordPress theme? If not, how would you distinguish between the two?

I posted a brief reply in the comments:

WordPress Frameworks are not themes; they facilitate the design and creation of themes. You can build a WordPress theme on a WordPress framework, which is kind of like the frame of a house (framework). Then you add the walls and the colors and all the design elements to the frame of the house (WordPress theme).

That is it in a nutshell, but I would like to expand on this so you will know when to use a WordPress theme and when to use a WordPress framework.  They serve different functions, and the one you choose depends on your needs and wants.

WordPress Theme or Custom Theme Built on a Framework?

Before I share specific reasons for using one or the other, I want to clear up one possible confusion.  As mentioned above, a WordPress framework is not a theme, but it facilitates the design and creation of themes.  So, whether you purchase a ready made commercial WordPress theme or you have a custom theme built using a framework, the end result is still the same — a WordPress theme.

But critical differences between the two theme setups need to be considered before you decide.

When To Use a Commercial WordPress Theme

I offer a package built specifically around using a commercial WordPress theme, [I don’t offer this package anymore] and I recommend this package when the following criteria are met:

  1. Client finds a theme they really love.  They love the overall look of the theme, the extended functionality the theme provides, and they can visualize their chosen colors, logo, and images working awesome with this theme.
  2. Client is happy with how the page (s) of the theme are structured  (i.e, the page layout).

Why are these two criteria so important? Because you can only edit the colors of a commercial WordPress theme.  You cannot, for example, move the main navigation (site menu) from above the header to below the header.  In other words, the page structure is not changeable.  You add your logo, choose your site colors, and add your site content and images.

WordPress themes do come with several built in options. Most themes make it super simply to add different sidebars to different pages, or to have no sidebar at all. They also come with different content options on the home page via the use of WordPress widgets.

So if you find a theme you love and are happy with its built in options, then go for it.  But do not choose a theme hoping to make structural changes to the page. Structural freedom comes with WordPress frameworks!

When to Use a WordPress Framework

You want to use a WordPress framework when one or more of the following criteria are met:

  1. You do not find a commercial WordPress theme that fits your needs.
  2. You want more control and flexibility in your site pages and site structure.
  3. You like one of the framework’s child themes and would like to use it as the base for your site design.
  4. You want to have a custom WordPress theme created for you.

Probably the most important point to remember is this — if you have a custom WordPress theme created, you want the designer to build it with a WordPress framework.  To understand why this is so important, please read my blog post, Why Use a WordPress Framework?

In short, a WordPress framework gives you complete freedom in your site design and page structure, whereas a commercial WordPress theme is limited to its built in options.

In Summary

Your decision depends on the various factors mentioned above. I encourage you to clearly define your needs and wants before making a decision. If you are a potential client of mine, we can sift through this together and make the best long term decision.  Based on your site needs and wants, I will suggest certain commercial themes or recommend a custom theme built on the Genesis framework.

Good luck in your research!  And please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.