Back in the old days of web design, templates, or pre-made websites were generally scorned. Custom solutions were always best and usually pretty easy to make. I can’t even tell you how many of the pre-made templates I used to make fun of for numerous reasons.
Something happened a few years back though. The themes you could find for WordPress stopped just being pretty and started incorporating some pretty slick functions. I’m not talking about bundled plugins (which are a pet peeve of mine) but about integrated systems capable of course creation, member management, directories and so much more. It was about this time that I started recommending some pre-made themes to my clients. It just made economic sense. How could I justify creating such systems from scratch, and billing for all those hours, when a pre-made solution was ready to customize to their needs? I couldn’t.
As I’ve learned more and done more though, I’ve seen some pretty significant issues with this approach. For one thing, once you choose a system that is married to a theme, then you and your website are also married to that theme. Whether the support is good or bad. Whether the developer keeps updating or abandons it. You are pretty much stuck with that theme forever.
Now, the danger of abandoned development is true for all themes and plugins. You can try to find the best solution with the best support and the most active development but there is no guarantee that somewhere down the line, it won’t get dropped.
I’ve learned that one of the better things you can do to mitigate this risk is to not put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t buy a theme that does everything you need. Don’t think that just because it comes bundled with tons of snazzy plugins and functions, that you’re set. You have to think relatively long term. In web development, that’s usually about five years. So, what method might work better in the long term?
Reliance on core WordPress functions coupled with diversified, stable plugin implementation.
Themes are great but they should really only be for looks. Functions should ideally lie outside of the theme. Then if one of your functions (plugins) is abandoned or breaks irrevocably, then you only have ONE function to replace. You save on development time, your site is more robust and your long term outlook is brighter. You can handle issues piecemeal rather than having to reinvent the wheel for each problem.
So now, and in the future, I will focus on making or implementing themes that focus solely on responsiveness, good design and cart compatibility. I may still suggest pre-made themes with the function they need to clients with budgetary issues, but I will have to include a warning about their dangers as well.
In the past few years, I have learned that if a theme offers a function, I more than likely can recreate it outside of a theme environment with good, stable plugins. Why yoke yourself to some theme indefinitely when your site can be much more flexible in the long run?