The good news for WordPress developers is that a tremendous range of professionally designed and developed themes exist that will let you get a site running quickly. Among them are “themes” that perhaps should be referred to as frameworks because they are much more than a simple theme. These frameworks allow the designer/developer to add or create child themes that use the framework as their base and simply add in the look required for a given site.
The most well known of these frameworks are probably Thesis, Genesis and Headway. All of them are powerful and each are used by a great number of professionally done sites. But they are not the same. I have experience with Genesis and Headway and would like to describe how they are the same and how they are different.
Both Genesis and Headway provide these features in common:
- Advance control for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Personal and Developer licenses
- Complete flexibility of design using HTML, PHP and CSS
- Well structured code (especially well organized CSS classes)
- Available child themes that are ready to go out of the box or that can be modified and customized as needed
- Available custom widgets
- Excellent support forums
- A community of professional developers available for hire
- Online documentation
And they are different in these ways:
- Extras in the developer license – Genesis gives you all their themes, those they have now and any that are developed; Headway provides special developer tutorial videos
- Updates – Genesis provides updates free for life, Headway requires a yearly subscription
- Design approach – Genesis is text based, Headway is visually based
Text vs. Visual
It is the last of the differences that is by far the greatest differentiator between these two powerful theme frameworks. Developing in Genesis is like programming – you grab your favorite text editor (mine is Coda) and make the modifications and adjustments you want. Headway shares a lot in common with the web platform Squarespace, but is based on WordPress. While you always have the option to break out the text editor and dive head first into the HTML, PHP and CSS code, the primary intention is that the bulk of your development efforts will be spent in the Visual Editor.
The Headway Visual Editor allows a designer to start from scratch and design a site using drag and drop techniques to place the building blocks of the site (the header, content, widget area, footer and such) and then simply click on the options to set the style of the elements used (fonts, colors, alignment, headings, link hovers, borders and so on). Or you can start with a child theme and modify that with the same approach.
The Visual Editor allows a lot of control, but not all of the control. Each block or element can only be modified in the Visual Editor using the tools Headway has created in that environment. If you want a header title to have a graphic background, for example, you can do that in the Visual Editor.
Headway Version 3.0
For the comparison in this article, I have discussed the just released version 3 of the Headway framework. The basic concept of Headway has not changed – it wants to be a visual design environment. Version 3 has just picked up where version 2 left off and provided more power in the Visual Editor. But version 3 is still a work in progress and does not yet include all the features of version 2. They are coming.
Notably, version 3 has no upgrade path for web sites from version 2. That, too is coming.
New with version 3 is the licensing and pricing model. Gone is the lifetime support; now its a yearly renewal. Lucky for me I got a developer’s license before the release of version 3 so I am grandfathered in for support for life.
Drag-and-Drop vs. Code
I’m not a big fan of the way Headway version 3 stores CSS in the WordPress database instead of in text files that can be easily edited in Coda. And I’ve been a somewhat vocal critic of the organization and user interface of the Visual Editor. The good news, at least for me, is that you can do all your layout work (which can be very tedious in pure text) in the Visual Editor and then do your design work (CSS) in a text editor – a tip I got from Headway Expert.
There’s more for me to learn since I’ve been using Genesis, and liking it, for a while now. But I started work on a new web site for my photography work and decided to use Headway together with Gallery+ and ProofBuddy. So far so good and it has let me really get down into the HTML and CSS behind the scenes. I’m doing most of the work using Espresso version 2 as a change of pace from Coda and a way to compare those two strong development tools.
So I may have a more in-depth blog post about Headway and Espresso when that project is complete.