• The Nexus Themes WordPress Framework Review: Lessons Learned

    PUBLICATION DATE: 1 Sep 2013 | AUTHOR: Johan van Seijen | CATEGORY: WordPress,

  • Quick Summary: One of the benefits of having your own business is that it gives you the drive to try and understand your target audience. That is if you, like me, don't start the day taking a champagne bath just because you can afford it. Partially the impetus is a financial one. I want to be the steward of a financially thriving business. The other one nothing more than wanting to stand out with a unique product. We are constantly searching for ways to improve, hone and sharpen our business. Money will never be able to buy the genuine happiness a customer conveys to you with respect to your product.

  • A question for the community

    I personally believe that (financial) rewards go to those who provide the most value in the eyes of the people. Wanting to add more value we decided to reach out to the WP developers community and asked them to help us review our framework. This article is about their input and what development choices we're going to make in the future which should make our themes even better than they are now :).

    There once was a person who wanted a website...

    We once had a meeting at one of the largest banks in the Netherlands. Eager to partner with them. I know now that our proposition was far too young to support such a business initiative. But I did learn one very important lesson. The CEO of the European investment branch told me the only thing that counted were the numbers below the line. E.g. how much money can business owners make with our WordPress themes. Most of our clients definitely don't think like this financial heavyweight. They just want a website. And it has to be dirt cheap. Since you can have websites practically for free, the website business is a tough one. More than once I've discussed the proposition to just hand out our themes for free and up-sell custom services like design and SEO.

    Faster, better, cheaper websites

    Our product has evolved from the proposition that professional looking websites needed to be developed faster and much much cheaper than the $1.500 custom made theme we were charging at the moment. Yes, we actually didn't start out as theme providers, but just another web design agency. We found this "one at a time" notion of building sites extremely time-consuming and reminded us of the perceived shackles of having to jump at every whim of our clients. Just go to clients from hell website to get a taste of that. When we started a front end oriented approach to website maintenance we did that because we wanted to create freedom for ourselves as developers and for end users. Oddly enough, this notion of freedom and the restriction of it was one of the main points of critique by one of the WP developers.

    Although we've made themes for the "do-it-yourself'ers" of this world I think we'll do more full-service licensing concepts for niche markets in the future. With full-service I mean that you don't have to do anything else than pay and place content. Hosting, design, email, domain name registration, WordPress installation, theme activation; everything will be done for you. The WordPress theme market seems too crowded with providers struggling for a few crumbs the big boys leave on the table. The expectancy of clients, even for free WordPress themes, is too high to build a healthy business on. On the other hand, we definitely see people will lay good money on the table if you take away their problems and provide them with time to remain focussed on their core business. When taking in some of the comments of WP developers I've kept this in the back of my mind: providing time, efficiency, effectiveness, peace of mind and an all-round online solution to the over-crowded mind of busy business owners.

    Freedom of choice

    To me all of the comments pointed towards one single pillar which could be encapsulated in the notion of freedom. Whether it was about child themes, WordPress plugins or themes or any other technical notion; people in various roles should have the freedom they desire. While trying to enhance the user experience several comments made me take a good hard look at our product and make the conclusion that in certain areas we had actually curbed freedom. We've already implemented certain important aspects to lift the bars on some of these.

    Lifting theme lock-in

    Because of our exotic user interface we've inadvertently created a theme lock-in. This meant that people using our themes would never be able to use another theme without our front end interface (basically every other theme) without having to copy content manually. This is because we save content differently. That clearly sucks. Not only from a customer viewpoint, but also from our viewpoint. We've had several customer with existing WP sites wanting to move their content to our platform. This has been a painstakingingly manual copy-and-paste operation. Yes, we do want a lock-in, but only because you cannot imagine yourself ever using the standard WP single canvas editor with my personal height of anti-usability: WordPress shortcodes. And now we also provide default WordPress content compatibility. We will further enhance this WordPress compatibility by including the navigation menus. Having said that if someone would buy one of our themes and then decides only to use the classic WP interface would seem extremely odd to me. Because our whole maintenance proposition is fixed on the front end usage. It would be like buying a Ferrari and letting it gather dust in your garage. It would still look nice but that's it. I do believe we should make it far more obvious how our approach stands out from the crowd and what benefits it will have for your business.

    Another comment was that our very non-WordPress functionality should be made available in plugins. The notion of freedom residing here is that content is strictly separated from design. Moving freely from one theme to another should keep your content intact. However, the notion of "moving freely" seems like a highly ineffective way of dealing with your online business. Why move to another theme unless your a WordPress connoisseur who likes to tinker with themes and the occasional code? We're targeting small business owners. And I'd like to make the bold statement that 99% of business owners never again touch their website after its initial launch. Maybe they should, but that's another case and they just don't. Moving core functionality into plugins means we would somehow move away from our single theme turnkey solution. We would have to "bother" clients with information where to download each and every plugin they would like to have. To me that's a definite marketing no-no compared to the solution we're providing now. With the changes we've made concerning compatibility I feel confident that we are on the same level with other themes regarding this issue.

    Separating content from design

    A comment of one of the reviewers had been inline with what we've heard before. Which is our interface has become complex and possibly frightening, even for people unfamiliar with WordPress. While honouring our middlemen's requests we've unwittingly made things too complex for the average user. The more complex widgets have multiple dozens of options and that's just too much. As one of the reviewers mentioned very correctly "people get sold" in a certain way. We are actively hammering down on this perverse growth of options and separating it from the core functions we expect the average user wants to have. That means all design related options (title heading, button color etc.) are closed of UNLESS you yourself decide you want the vast expanse of all options. In the end this will mean a return to the classic WordPress theme where you choose a design you like, with a limited number of bells and whistles and start adding content. This whole philosophy is already implemented in the theme colorisation where a user has no more than 2 or 3 color options to toggle with. Changing these changes the whole theme instantly instead of tweaking each and every single website element individually. We will further improve this "design inheritance" through each and every widgets. This way we can centralize design even more and put a lock on it "protecting" users from the myriad of unneeded options. Using our themes will be much easier to learn and website maintenance with features like copy-paste and the unistyling (design inheritance) option will be a breeze for those wanting more including ourselves.

    Concluding

    This whole exercise has never been about proving our way of doing things were better than what other theme providers are doing. To me it has been about improving ourselves with the help of others and becoming a better service provider with our WordPress themes. This little review excursion has taught me the tangible benefits of asking people to help you out. I greatly appreciate constructive comments of Jean Galea, Slobodan Manic, Luc Prinsen and Dane Morgan. The future of our product will see better WordPress compatibility, greater ease of use, less options, more documentation and hopefully more happy customers. It of course doesn't end here. Whether you're a WordPress theme user or a developer any future comment will be greatly appreciated so don't hesitate to mail me at johan@nexusthemes.com.

  • About the Author

    Johan van Seijen

    Co-founder

    Johan van Seijen is co-founder of Nexus Themes and our lead designer. After gaining a Master's Degree in Information Science he decided to try his luck in the illustration industry, working for clients as Avantgarde, Cosmopolitan and Glamour. With the return to the software industry grew the desire to create something to be truly proud of and which could spearhead his ambition of having his own company. And this company is what followed. He lives with his wife and daughter in Amsterdam.