Thesis is one of the two most common representatives of “theme frameworks”. The idea behind frameworks is simple: they present a common base for many variations you can make in the design and layout of your website.
Regular WordPress themes have a limit on the customization you can make to them. Usually, you can change colors, fonts and choose between several layouts, but if you want something different, you’ll just have to find a new theme or start coding from scratch. Theme frameworks give you a set of common elements that you can work with in creating your site, but you have much more freedom in setting the layout of the site, without dabbling into code yourself. And if, by any chance, you need to change an element – it will be changed across all instances on the site.
Thesis is a classic framework in that it gives you full freedom. It uses a visual editor that will let you set any page template you wish. It also automatically detects custom templates – say, landing pages or resource libraries, custom post types or custom taxonomies you may have developed – and lets you keep them separate from the regular homepage/archive/post layouts. You want to add new elements on the homepage? Or add an element to all pages and sub-pages? No problem, Thesis will get you there. The visual composer may not look amazing, but it is very handy.
Thesis handles the design side of things through what it calls “skins” – those are somewhat the equivalent of child themes in other WordPress professional terminologies. There’s a handful of cool skins to choose from – then you can customize colors and layouts within Thesis. Within the admin panel you’ll find settings for fonts and colors, while the layout itself is handled via the template set-up.
The last of the three main elements in Thesis is boxes. Those are basically widgets that don’t need additional plugins to work. There are many default boxes coming from the developers of DIY Themes. If you want something more specific or niche, you can check the support forums – there are many members of the Thesis community that code boxes for themselves.
The theme has 2 options panels for you to work with. The first one has the main configuration options, like what post meta data should be displayed, the contents of navigation menus and so on. The second panel has all design options, including a font and color picker – this comes as a god send when you want to look at the whole mix of colors and fonts you’re using across the site.
Thesis relies on “hooks” those are specific places where you can link additional elements. Let’s say you want to add a newsletter subscription box below articles – you can do this without meddling with the code itself, but by using a hook.
There’s also an option to keep a custom stylesheet in a separate folder, so that you don’t lose any changes when the theme upgrades.
Thesis gives you great freedom, without being overly cumbersome and complicated. There are some more advanced skills you’ll need in order to work with Thesis, but it’s really nothing compared to developing a theme from scratch. It is perfect for developers who know what they want and know what they’re doing.