StudioPress Review: Clean, Sober, Secure

studiopress

WPMU Rating

3.85/5

The Good

  • Price includes a lifetime of support and updates.
  • Said to be very secure and SEO friendly.
  • Clean designs.

The Bad

  • Not much “wow” in the designs.
  • Very basic functionality. Not a “bad” really, but it’s merely basic.
  • Not many options to change the default look, even with color.

Theme Ratings

  • Cost: 4.5/5
  • Features: 3/5
  • Aesthetics: 3.5/5
  • Usability: 4/5
  • Customer Service: 4.5/5
  • Speed: 3.5/5
  • Overall: 3.85/5

The Bottom Line

StudioPress themes are said to be structurally sound, secure, and good for SEO. The designs are clean; however, there aren’t many that are going to jump out at you make you step back. But not everyone wants that, of course. There also seems to be a relatively large community that you can become a part of when you get a Genesis framework from StudioPress. There are community-built plugins and child themes built especially to run on the framework.

StudioPress

StudioPress was started by Brian Gardner and is now part Copyblogger Media.

Brian Gardner, Founder of StudioPress
Brian Gardner, Founder of StudioPress

According to an interview at Mixergy, before getting into theme designing, Brian was a project manager for an architectural company designing lab spaces for colleges, healthcare facilities, and the like. He eventually started a blog, and then eventually got onto WordPress. Not satisfied with the selection of free themes on the market, he started playing around with his own design.

One thing led to another, and he eventually started taking on clients. One client hired him for a design, which he dutifully completed. The theme, as it turns out, was a little more than the client wanted, and so he turned it down. That theme would eventually become the basis for a precursor to StudioPress, a site (and a theme) called Revolution Theme (RevolutionTheme.com – now redirects to StudioPress.com).

In his first month, he had $10,000 in sales. That quickly doubled. And then doubled again. And it kept on going.

He credits the success of the Revolution theme to the fact that it had featured areas on the homepage when other themes at that time didn’t. In other words, it looked less like a blog and more like a CMS/magazine design.

After changing the license of the Revolution theme to be completely GPL compliant, he started Revolution 2, and it’s that effort that eventually turned into StudioPress.

Cost

Single Themes

Single themes cost from $79.95 – $99.95. With the purchase of any theme, you get the Genesis framework that the theme runs on. In other words, each theme is really a child theme that runs on top of the Genesis framework.

While a theme at $99.95 is surely expensive, you also get lifetime support and updates. As many theme developers are going to a yearly subscription model, StudioPress’ themes are beginning to look like a better and better deal each day.

It also seems there is a deep discount for returning customers, and so that’s good.

return-customer-price

Pro Plus All-Theme Package

For $349.95, you get all the themes created by StudioPress, including support, updates, and even future themes.

pro-plus-package

StudioPress also hosts a marketplace for child themes from other designers. This package does not, however, include themes from the marketplace.

Genesis Framework

You can also buy the Genesis framework by itself for $59.95.

Features

StudioPress themes, or more correctly, the Genesis framework is said to be both structurally sound and secure. It is also said to be good for SEO. It comes with features such as automatic updates (optional) and easy Google authorship integration.

Many of the controls come in the form of widgets, sometimes very detailed ones. For example, take a look at this widget for featured posts.

featured-post-widget

While there are no major page-creation tools in the Genesis framework, such as the ability to drag and drop different elements to create a truly unique design, you can change the basic layout of each Post or Page by simply choosing one of the pre-configured layouts.

The different layouts available will depend on the theme you’re using.

On this theme, there are six available layouts.

layouts

This theme, however, only offers two.

layouts-2

Settings

Here’s a look at the settings page for the framework.

settings


Genesis Community Plugins

As mentioned before, when you buy into the Genesis framework world, you find that there are others there too. And some of them build plugins.

Many people using Genesis rely on plugins in the WordPress Directory that are specifically built for use with the Genesis framework. A search for “genesis” in the directory brings back 157 results. While all those may not be directly related to Genesis, a lot of them certainly are. Some are merely claiming to be Genesis compatible. Still, it’s good to know there’s a community out there building something specifically for the framework you’re working with.

Aesthetics

sober-design

Sober. This is the word that comes to mind when thinking of StudioPress designs. Sober is not a bad thing. Sober can actually be a good thing. It really depends on who you are and what you want.

Do you want a party? If so, then StudioPress may not be the best option for you. You may be thinking you’ve seen all these designs before. Same ol’, same ol’. Etc. etc.

But if you’re looking for a site that communicates stability, then StudioPress may be right up your alley. The small things are done right. No, they don’t grab you by the throat, but they’re not meant to.

StudioPress has 26 repsonsive themes. Those include a number of corporate/business type themes, magazine themes, themes for photography, a theme built specifically for custom post types, and more.

Colors

While a number of themes advertise coming in different colors, in many cases a color switch affects only accent colors – things such as links or a small flourish of color here and there. Occasionally the background color will change, but that is something you can likely do on your own anyway.

The default color for headers and header menus seems to black in most cases. And that’s fine. But as mentioned, when changing the color of the theme, that sturdy black presence isn’t what changes (at least on the demos I sampled). There are a few exceptions to that, but they do indeed seem to be exceptions.

For example, here is the “Magazine” theme in blue.

magazine-blue

And here it is in orange.

magazine-orange

Some Theme Examples

Here’s a look at a few of the themes from the collection.

Quattro Theme: Info | Demo

quattro

Sixteen Nine: Info | Demo

sixteen-nine

Expose: Info | Demo

expose

Mindstream: Info | Demo

mindstream

Apparition Theme: Info | Demo

apparition

Genesis Community Themes

As with plugins, you’ll find that there are a number of Genesis community members that make themes. Some of these themes come with a cost. StudioPress even hosts a marketplace where some of them are sold.

There are also, however, free Genesis child themes out in the wild. These vary from old StudioPress themes that are no longer being updated to fresh themes created by independents. I found a good collection of some of these themes at DarrylBueckert.ca.

Usability

StudioPress is relatively easy to use. As mentioned, there isn’t much in the settings that should rise above the level of basic these days. And while some of the widgets can be fairly detailed, the options there are also pretty basic – show a title or not, choose a gravatar size, etc.

Customer Service

Support is through email and forums. There is also a fairly detailed tutorial system.

Support Forum at StudioPress
Support Forum at StudioPress

While there is a forum, as mentioned, the link for it is somewhat buried away in a submenu at the top of the page. When you click on “Get Help,” you’re taken to an FAQ. Many of the answers in the FAQ direct you to a tutorial for that question.

Under the FAQ, however, you’re given a contact form for support emails (not a link to the forums). And so it would appear that StudioPress would like you to send an email over going to the forums. At least that’s the impression I received.

And so that’s exactly what I did. I submitted a number of tickets. When submitting a ticket, you’re told to expect up to 24 hours during the week and 48 hours on the weekend or holidays.

I submitted a ticket on a Friday at 1:15 p.m. (U.S. time). This was also a weekend where Monday was to be a holiday. I received and answer back at 2:09 p.m. – so less than a hour later. It’s good to see they weren’t skipping out early on a Friday.

Deciding to put them to the test, I submitted another ticket on that Sunday at 7 p.m. As Monday was a holiday, I expected I might have to wait until Tuesday to get an answer. My answer arrived the next day, however, at 9:45 a.m.

Looking through the support forum, it would appear that StudioPress relies heavily on its community to help each other out. While you do see moderators answering questions, the majority of the questions seem to have no moderator interjection. And that may be fine. If someone else can answer the question, then it’s not needed.

There seemed to be some questions, however, that were only answered after a number of days. While this didn’t seem to be the rule, it did happen. What does seem to be the rule, however, is that the community seems to step to the plate time and time again.

Speed

As with the other theme reviews, we used Google’s Page Speed Insights tool to check the themes for speed. These test may not be the be-all and end-all, and some may quibble with them, but at the very least we’re comparing apples to apples.

Google says that a score of more than 85 on its tool is very good. Most themes I’ve tested have never reached that mark, but a few have.

I tested two StudioPress themes on the tool – the Agency theme and the Expose theme. Both were tested from their demo sites.

Here’s the result for the Agency theme.

agency-speed

Here’s the result for the Expose theme.

expose-speed

Conclusion

StudioPress has clean, solid designs that run on top of a clean, solid framework. Relatively conservative in their design approach and basic in functionality, they aren’t for everyone. But if you see a style in one of their themes that appeals to you, you can feel confident that you’re getting a stable system underneath it.

StudioPress also has two other things going for it – an active community and a pricing scheme that (at least for now) allows for lifetime updates and lifetime support. A year ago, that was nothing. These days, it’s quite a deal.

Comments (19)

  1. I’m a huge fan of StudioPress and use them exclusively now after disappointment with others. The power of StudioPress is really in the Genesis framework, which is easily worth twice what it costs.

    I agree that the older StudioPress themes leave something to be desired, but they’ve also been around for quite a while. The newer designs are more exciting, creative, and in HTML5. I definitely recommend updating this review on performance and design in a few months when more HTML5 designs are out.

    To comment on the fact that the StudioPress themes offer only basic functionality is actually a very strong feature. It’s important to separate design from functionality.

    StudioPress has focused on moving extra functionality out of themes and into plugins, which is a smart long-term move. If you think about it, there’s really no reason not to do this since there are plugins available with any functionality imaginable. When certain functionality becomes outdated or not right for the site anymore, just disable the plugin. Simple.

    Users who choose themes that don’t do this will encounter major issues down the road when they decided to change themes. StudioPress users don’t have this problem.

    Thanks for the review Joe, very insightful!

  2. I’ve become a de-facto Genesis developer. As mentioned before, the real power of the Studio Press themes lies entirely in the Genesis Framework.

    Every time I have to take over an existing WP project that’s not built with Genesis, I cringe because I know it’s going to take longer and be more difficult to do.

    The insanely large amounts of hooks make it super simple to modify templates, or even build functionality.

    • Well, they haven’t changed it yet (one of the few, it seems, that haven’t). And maybe they won’t have to. Being part of Copyblogger Media, they now have a suite of products to offer people, and they advertise those other products a fair amount. I wouldn’t call StudioPress a loss leader, but it can certainly act as a leader.

      And if they ever do change their pricing scheme, I’ll come back here and knock them down. That alone should be enough to keep them where they are. :)

      • Haha, Joe you beat me to it. With WordPress becoming so popular maybe we’ll start to see more price changes due to support costs for all kinds of WordPress companies. Heck, even Yoast is offering premium support for his WordPress SEO plugin now, which I thought was a pretty smart move.

    • I agree with the ‘lifetime’ plan concerns, it’d make me think twice about any other theme provider.

      I rationalized StudioPress because it’s just a part of such a large business ecosystem and brand: Copyblogger, Scribe, Premise, WebSynthesis, Authority, AgentPress, etc.

      I’m not sure how profitable StudioPress is when the cost of support is factored in, but even as a loss leader the rest of the ecosystem can sustain it. Though for the past year I’ve been wondering if StudioPress too would switch to a paid subscription model for new customers to maximize profits or lessen support costs.

      Anyway, this point about sustainability is critical, particularly when considering themes and the certainty of future support. Support is one of those things that is easy to manage at first, but becomes increasingly expensive as more members join, getting out of hand quickly. If sustainability isn’t considered early on an organization can risk upsetting its user base (i.e. WooThemes) or collapse under the weight to the point where service starts to suffer. As a side comment, it seems the WPMU DEV pricing change from a few months ago went really well, especially compared to WooThemes.

      It makes me wonder what new areas WPMU DEV is considering expanding into with such a large brand, since it could do similar things. Feel free to share James, I won’t tell anyone…just you and me here…

      • As I mentioned in the post, a lot of their support is either taken care of through tutorials or by the community. The community does A LOT of the support in the end. Of course that doesn’t mean they don’t have support costs, but it certainly cuts those costs.

  3. The path I took to discover and eventually choose Studiopress (Genesis) took me from top ranked providers ranging from WOO, Elegant Themes and even WPMU.

    IMO the overall design, functionality, security and optimization just makes the most sense.

    The framework is secure and intuitive – especially with the recent updates in Genesis 2.0 running HTML5.

    As the saying goes “To each is his own” and having tested the aforementioned choices my clients and I are extremely happy.

  4. Interesting results on the page speed, my Genesis sites have never tested under 90/desktop on Google Page Speed and other than WP Engine hosting I don’t do much if any code optimizing,

    In fact, I just tested a dog rescue site that gets completely bogged down from Petfinders API and it still had a score of 91. Let me know if you want the link. Good article and review. Thank you.

    Jeff

  5. StudioPress/Genesis is terrific. More quality variations in theme coloring would certainly be nice, but I just love the themes I’ve used to date.

    I’ve never had to use ticketed support to this day so I can’t say what their true support is like. The forums are good enough for those who know how to search, and there are some great people on there too.

    Top notch company. The framework and child themes are about as bug free as you’ll ever find IMHO.

  6. StudioPress already done a good job and progressing effort.
    They should be valued more since they are the early pioneers of wordpress.
    I hoped that I would able to integrate WPMU Dev plugin with StudioPress themes.

  7. I build sites almost exclusively using the Genesis framework. Yes, the child themes are a little vanilla, but overall it’s the underlying framework that’s important (at least to me) and i know i have a solid foundation with the Genesis framework.

    The thing that kept me loyal to Studiopress (apart from the quality of the framework) was the incredible support. The old forum had staff answering questions and i was a little worried when they changed to the new system, especially after the problems when Woo shut down their forum, but the new forum is still a great place to get answers.

    It’s the community that really makes Studiopress head & shoulders above the rest. Everyone just seems to want to help each other! There are also some fantastic blogs out there with all sorts of code snippets being shared, so you always know you’ll be able to get an answer somewhere.

    • I agree…the quality under the hood is the key value here. I don’t want to deliver a Ferrari with a Pinto engine.

      And the way I look at it, if these themes came completely polished and detailed out-of-the-box , then what would our clients need us for? :)

  8. I do believe in Studiopress business agenda. Why would you want to pay a month or year fee? Site that charge month or yearly for their themes and plugins are not cool in my book. And I don’t recommend those sites to any of my clients. I will always support Studiopress and their 157 plugins.
    -256studio

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