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Comparison of Genesis and Thesis – Part 2 – Comparing Intended Use & Child Themes

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We’re going to take a look at our 10 areas of comparison and see how both Thesis and Genesis stack up with each other.

First Level of Customization in Thesis

In this case we’ll start it off with Thesis and we’re going to talk about their intended use first. Thesis is really intended to be used alone. It’s not intended to be customized with a Child Theme, it was designed and developed to be customized in itself.

The first level of customization, of course, is the hundreds of theme options that are available to you with Thesis but it has a system for adding code snippets that are separate from the theme itself. That’s really how Thesis is intended to be used. If you’re familiar with Thesis, this is going to be very familiar to you.

Thesis and Genesis Comparison Sites

These are the two sites that I’m using for this comparison. One is, this is a Thesis site that I developed for the class that I just finished teaching here a month ago and, this is the demonstration site that I developed for Genesis for the class that I’m teaching right now.

I’m going to refer to these two sites repeatedly throughout this seminar. Each of these sites is essentially identical, that is they have all the same content, the same images, the same number of pages and the same organization. This is a customized version of the Agency Child Theme for Genesis and this is Thesis customized using my BYOB Thesis Plugins.

Thesis Intended Use For Customization

In Thesis, you have literally hundreds of settings inside of design options that you can use to configure the appearance of your site, both the layout, colors, fonts and organization. There’s all kinds of things that you can set using Thesis Design Options and the way Thesis is created is, it’s expecting you to use these options to create your site.

If you’ve done that, these options only take you so far and by the time you get finished with them, what you really want to do is make a few changes here and there. The Thesis intention is that you use this custom file editor to add snippets of code to your Custom CSS file or with your Custom Functions PHP file to augment the design that you end up with after using Thesis Design Options.

Genesis Intended Use For Customization

On the other hand, Genesis is intended to be used with a Child Theme. If you don’t know what a Child Theme is, it is essentially a theme that changes another theme. Thesis came up with its system of customizing themes before WordPress came up with this Child Theme system and the Child Theme is WordPress’ way of trying to solve the same problem that Thesis solves with the custom folder and custom CSS and Custom Functions PHP files.

WordPress System for Child Themes

WordPress came up with a system that allows you to create a Child Theme and it was originally imagined as a way to make minor modifications to an existing theme. If you were using a theme and you want to change a font style or a font color rather than simply hacking the themes files, what you would do is create a child theme that had those minimal changes.

What WordPress does is it goes to the child theme first, gets all the information that it needs from that and if there’s anything else that needs, it goes to the parent theme and gets all the rest of what it needs from the parent theme. The child theme takes precedence over the parent theme but the child theme doesn’t operate properly without the parent theme. That’s the child-parent themes relationship.

If you want a more thorough explanation of that, I recommend that you come back here to the series that I’m teaching and in Lesson 6 of Build a Professional Website Using Genesis and WordPress, I have a whole section on what a child theme is and how child themes relate to parent themes.

Genesis and Thesis Customizing Systems

Genesis is intended to be used with a child theme. There is no real possibility for customizing Genesis’ appearance without using the child theme, all customization is done using the child theme so the intended use is not really to use Genesis as it is.

Genesis is intended to be used as is with a child theme added to it. Thesis is intended to be used as is and if you don’t like the range of choices and its design options, it’s got a system for adding code snippets that allow you to make minor modifications to that.

Comparing Via Child Themes

Number two, comparing via child themes. Let’s start with Genesis in this case. Genesis has a very large set of well-designed mature child themes. It has nearly forty of them on the StudioPress site itself which are all supported inside their forum.

I’ve seen a site that lists another hundred or so that are available via a variety of personal and private websites so there’s a quite a large selection of child themes available. Those child themes are very mature and they’re very well-developed. The child themes follow the WordPress child theme system exactly.

If you already know how child themes work in WordPress, you know how child themes work in Genesis because it follows that system exactly. A large number of those child themes are well-supported in the forum and it has several responsive child themes.

If we come over to StudioPress for just a moment, it is the place where Genesis is created and where you can purchase it. StudioPress has this very large selection of child themes that you can simply add to the Genesis theme itself.

The child theme that I’m using in the course is this Agency Child Theme. If we take a look at the theme demo, you can see there are some reasonably strong similarities between this demonstration site which is based on that child and this child theme yet if you don’t really know that’s what you’re looking for, you wouldn’t see the similarity.

There are lots of child themes that are in this and in fact, these child themes that you can see in StudioPress are all supported in the Genesis forums. Here you can see all of their child themes with Question and Answer sections on the forums.

In fact, there is a section of child themes that are called Community Child Themes and those are themes that were not actually written by StudioPress but are created by the community and even those themes are supported on the child themes forum. We’re on the StudioPress forums so there’s very good support for the child themes.

Use of Skins in Thesis

On the other hand, Thesis has fewer choices and mostly, those choices are skins, not child themes. I’m not really going to talk about the difference between a skin and a child theme but my guess is that the whole concept of skin 3 years from now is non existent in WordPress.

Upgrading Thesis and Keeping Customization with Skins

A couple of years ago, there were a couple of competing ideas about how to make changing a theme upgradable, that is how somebody can customize the theme so that it meets exactly what they want and still be able to upgrade the underlying theme without losing the changes that they made.

Thesis’s solution to that was the custom folder with Custom Functions PHP and Custom CSS and Thesis stores all of your customizations inside of that folder. That’s essentially what we mean by a skin. The concept of skin is developed further because Thesis up until 1.8.4 didn’t actually support child themes.

Since there were skin authors who wanted to be able to easily port their skin to Thesis and they want people to be able to buy it and easily install it, they created this thing that they called skins but I’m guessing that skins aren’t going to exist for very much longer and we’re either going to have the standard Thesis customization for a site or child themes.

Historically, there was no universal method of creating a skin. Each skin author was left to themselves to develop their own method of developing a skin and it ended up with every skin author doing it differently.

There was really no standardized system for doing it which is kind of problematic for a skin user because if you’re using one skin and then decide to switch to another skin, you had to learn the new skin system in order to make that switch.

Thesis 1.8.4 Provides Full Support for Child Theme System

That all changed with Thesis 1.8.4. Thesis 1.8.4 introduced full support for the WordPress child theme system. You can now create a child theme and install a child theme for Thesis in exactly the same way you would do it for WordPress but there’s actually not very many examples of that available currently and none of them are supported on the DIY theme forums.

Whatever support there is for those child themes happens at the theme author’s site and some of them are undeniably great at support and some of them are probably not great at support, it’s not as reliable.

Responsive Child Themes Support

Finally, there’s very little support for responsive child themes. I forgot to mention that Genesis has many responsive child themes and this is a good example of a responsive child theme. A responsive design is a design that responds to the size of the browser window that’s viewing it. You can see that as I move this, what we see changes and the page never cuts off, it just changes from 3 columns to 1 with content stacked.

If we go to a different page, to our About Us page, you can see that the sidebar drops down now down below and this whole page just gradually became smaller and smaller although the font all stays readable. This is what’s called a responsive theme.

If we compare that to BYOB website, that’s a great comparison because BYOB Website is not responsive. I do have lots of content but as soon as it gets smaller, it just cuts it off. What happens is mobile devices scale it. With the responsive theme, it doesn’t have to scale. What happens is the CSS changes and it changes to respond to the browser window which is a very good thing in this mobile context.

Genesis has a number of responsive child themes available to it. For Thesis, there’s really only one that I know of and that is the Reactiv theme from This is a site developed by a guy named Mark Hodder who I don’t know personally but who does a really excellent work. He has created this theme called Reactiv which is a mobile responsive theme that actually works in both Thesis and Genesis.

You can see what happens, it just shrinks itself and re-adjusts itself for the width of the device. This is really the one good example of a child theme in Thesis that is responsive.

New BYOB Website Thesis Responsive Child Theme Course

I’m starting to teach a class on May 17th on creating a Thesis responsive child theme. Let’s go to, this is the one I’m developing as the demonstration site for this course, this is based off of an open source design. The main point of showing you this is because this is a Thesis site that is responsive.

This is what I will be teaching in my course on how to create a mobile-responsive site or a mobile-responsive child theme for Thesis. This is my example that I’m working on at the moment. However to date, there’s little support for responsive child themes.

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