Some theme designers, like StudioPress [aff], use a two-tier strategy for theme development. Tier one is a theme framework. It’s where they put most of the functionality. Tier two is the child theme. That’s where the embellishments go.
From the designer’s point of view, there are lots of advantages to building themes in this way. The most essential coding all happens in one place (the framework). When they need to update something — because of updates to WordPress, for example — they make those changes, once, in the framework.
They don’t touch the child theme.
When a company has 10, 20, 30 or more themes, being able to handle all the updates once is a sensible use of resources.
Once they’ve created a solid, well coded, secure framework, they can spend their creative energies on dressing it up with new and different child themes, giving you more different looks to choose from.
Writing this, I just flashed back to some of my most fun times as a young girl. My sister and I used to spend hours with our friends playing with paper dolls. (Our favorites were the Lennon sisters!)
Each doll was made of sturdy cardboard, imprinted with a basic skimpy outfit. Clothing, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories were printed on paper, and affixed with tabs that we folded over to hold them in place — after laboriously cutting them out.
Think of each doll as a theme framework, if you will, and all the outfits as the child themes. (Some developers call them skins instead of child themes!)
Now, back to themes…
Reasons for Site Owners to Use a Theme Framework
#1. Greater Confidence
You can use a framework with a high level of confidence that it’s programmed to run smoothly, be secure, and comply with latest standards and best practices.
#2. Easier to Customize
When you customize a standalone theme, you risk losing your changes when the developer releases an update. But when you’re using a theme framework with a child theme, that pitfall disappears. You can personalize and customize the child theme to your heart’s content, without worrying about your changes being overwritten by an update.
#3. Easier to Change Themes
Here’s another good reason to use a framework with a child theme — if you want to make a change in the look and feel of your site, it’s quite easy to switch out one child theme for another while keeping the same framework. Many, if not most, of your customizations will be handled in the same way, in the same location. So if you know how to change the background color in one child theme, you’ll know how to change it in all that company’s child themes.
#4. Save Time
This ties in with #3 above. Once you know how a framework works, you can build additional sites without an additional learning curve. You don’t have to be a WordPress pro for this to make a difference — I know several copywriters, for example, who include WordPress site setup in their offerings. One I’ve worked closely with is now working on his fourth such site. The last three all use the Genesis framework from StudioPress.
If you’re thinking about hiring me to build a site for you, my experience with the Genesis Framework means I can put together a site in less time, and for less money, than if I’m working with a theme I’m not familiar with.