The greatest strength WordPress as a blogging platform, other than it’s affordable price of “free”, is the ability to apply one of literally millions of themes to your blog or site and literally create an entirely new site with unique functionality. But with great power (and complexity) comes great responsibility.
All this power has been misused by some developers in the theme design community. Theme designers have lately gone in one of two directions: either ultra simple niche themes that are static to the point where they can only work in one specific application, or “gallery” themes that have been over designed with so many sweeping, large photos that you get the impression that everyone is a graphic designer and a world-class photographer with a portfolio to share.
When I started blogging again I found it remarkably difficult to find a usable, customizable blog theme that allowed me to easily create the look and layout that I wanted with a minimal amount of mucking around in HTML and PHP. I finally realized that a free theme wasn’t going to cut it and I should probably use the few pennies I make from blogging to actually put together a decent blog theme.
That’s where Elegant Themes (affiliate link, but you really out to see their sophisticated themes) comes into the picture. If you check out their site and their cool “preview” feature you’ll find tons of WordPress themes that can be customized and tweaked with relative ease. Yes, they have plenty of niche and gallery themes, but they also have some real honest-to-goodness blogging themes that focus on writing and content instead of 30 megapixel photos of someone climbing a mountain.
Right now they have three yearly “membership” levels and you access to all the themes you can download for a single price. If your membership expires you can still keep and use the themes you downloaded, so there isn’t really much to lose here. They have a lot of great themes, but their “flagship” theme is the Divi theme.
The Divi theme is advertised as the “smartest, most flexible” theme that Elegant Themes has ever created, and the live demo does look pretty impressive. Once you join Elegant Themes you can download the Divi theme (as well as the Divi Builder plugin) and get to work with just a few installation clicks.
And it is work. There are lots (and lots!) of options and it takes some time and patience to figure out everything. I’m still not sure if I have things set up exactly how I want them, but I’ve gotten a pretty good start. The great thing about blogging is you can go in, make a few changes, save them and they are instantly live on your site. You can evaluate for a few days and the go back and make a few more small changes. There’s no rush.
Here are my first impressions of the Divi theme after using it for a few weeks:
Lots of Theme Options & Customizations
Divi is incredibly customizable, but it really takes a lot of trial and error to figure out exactly how Divi works and how it can be customized. Divi isn’t like a regular theme with a few options and settings. Instead, it has hundreds (really) of settings and options scattered throughout a multitude of unique tabs and screens.
Some of these settings make perfect sense, but some of them are downright cryptic. Most of the settings include a little help bubble with a short description of the settings, but in many cases they are remarkably sparse in explanation.
These options and settings would be a little more manageable if they were arranged in a little more cohesive manner. I suspect some of option locations might be dictated by WordPress and not Elegant Themes, but still.
One example: Theme Customizer contains a bunch of settings for the header size, look, color and font. But if you want to customize the header graphic you have to go to Theme Options pages which has a totally different navigational system.
One of the greatest benefits of Divi is that you can not only customize the layout of your overall theme, but you can actually use the Divi Builder plugin to customize the layout of each post and page (if you wish). The Divi Builder gives you a drag-and-drop interface which allows you build your page with specific types of content blocks that give different functionality and have further customization settings.
Another feature I haven’t begun to explore to its full potential in Divi is the 30+ WordPress modules that give your site all sorts of functionality that would normally be impossible or at least handled through 30+ different plugins. Here are just some of the many modules you can build into your pages and posts:
Good Mobile Theme
Some WordPress themes don’t look good on mobile devices, but my experience with Divi has been pretty rock solid. All of the customization I make to the main theme flow into the mobile themes. I think I can customize them even further, but I simply haven’t seen the need. When your blog or site is “mobile ready” you’ll have more visitors reading your blog on their mobile devises and your site may show higher up in the Google search results. Having Divi take care of this for me is not something to be underestimated. I’ve seen simply mobile blog themes with half the features of Divi being sold for $100 or more.
Video Tutorials and Support
One of the benefits you get from a paid theme service like Elegant Themes is plenty of support and tutorials to help you when you get stuck. With most of the free themes I’ve tried I was essentially on my own when it came to figuring out why things didn’t work. With Elegant Themes you get a pretty robust tutorial system that explains the features found in most of their themes. You also get an online manual of sorts for each theme, installation instructions (they’re all about the same) and access to the support forums which are worth their weight in gold.
In most WordPress themes Pages are used to hold static content that either doesn’t change much or really isn’t as timely in nature or flow as posts. In Divi you can use a specific Page as a template for your overall blog by basing the “Front Page” of your blog on that page. This is not a unique feature of Divi, but with the Divi Builder you can very quickly make layout changes and see them spread out across your entire site.
There Are Still Some Customization Limits
There are still some strange limitations in what you can’t do with WordPress. Divi gives you remarkable control over fonts and sizes and colors, but it doesn’t allow you to change some of the most basic parts of
For example, I’m a fan of customizing my blog taglines (that little subhead under the mail blog title), but the tagline is not included in the Divi theme at all. I had edit the HTML of the theme to include it. The same is true with ad placements around your blog post. If you really want to customize placement then you’re going to have to muck around in the HTML of the pages to place your ad script exactly where you want it. Each Divi update wipes out those changes, so I have to remember where they are or track them in a separate file.
I also struggled with getting the thumbnails just right. I didn’t want huge feature photos on top of each blog post, especially when I’m listing out 10 posts on an index page. But Divi doesn’t seem to offer any easy way for me to customize those thumbnail sizes or placement, so I ended up creating a little bit of a work around using image placements and the tag.
Overall, I like the Divi theme and I think it alone is well worth the subscription fee to Elegant Themes. They have a lot of cool themes to choose from, but don’t expect it to take just a few click to get your blog theme working. It will take some time to get your blog looking just the way you like it, but it’s time well-spent for the elegant end result.