Elegant Themes Review: Beautiful Themes At Hard to Beat Prices
Headquarters: San Francisco, United States
Nick Roach was a college student studying graphic design when he launched Elegant Themes in 2008 with just one theme, Blue Sky.
Now in his mid-20s, Roach manages a team of mostly support crew and a couple of developers. He only recently hired his first designer, Kenny Sing. Up until July, Roach was the company’s sole designer, having designed more than 80 themes.
According to Elegant Themes folklore, Roach began designing in 7th grade when he decided his band needed a website.
In a 2009 interview with DesignM.ag, Roach said “I slapped together something as best I could at the time – just copying and pasting code from various sites.”
“I can still remember that terrible design. Its black background, scrolling red text, tables with large beveled borders, some frames and animated gifs all hosted for free on Angelfire.com,” he said.
“Elegant Themes started as just a place for me to experiment with WordPress and expand my knowledge. A digital playground if you will, in which I now invite people to dabble.
“I am a full-time college student majoring in Graphic Design, however, I am also intrigued by the coding aspect of web development. ElegantThemes provides me a medium to grow as a developer alongside my education in design. I also simply enjoy doing it, which is, undoubtedly, my major underlying motivation.”
When Elegant Themes celebrated its fifth birthday in April, Roach posted on the company’s blog “it seems like just yesterday that I registered ElegantThemes.com in my college campus apartment.”
The site now has more than 200,000 members.
Recently, the company’s staff moved into a new office in San Francisco, with further plans to hire new developers and designers.
“This year I hope to greatly increase efficiency and improve the turnaround on theme releases and bug fixes with the help of our new talent,” Roach posted.
Elegant Themes offers three plans as part of an annual membership:
- Personal – $39 per year – Complete access to all themes, perpetual theme updates, premium technical support.
- Developer – $89 per year – Complete access to all themes, perpetual theme updates, premium technical support, complete access to all plugins, layered Photoshop files.
- Lifetime Access – $249 one time – Complete access to all themes, perpetual theme updates, premium technical support, complete access to all plugins, layered Photoshop files, no yearly fees.
Elegant Themes was the first theme company to use a club model, whereby users sign up for a membership for unlimited use of all available themes. It’s a very attractive offer. I mean, 86 themes for just $39 on a Personal plan? That’s a lot of bang for your buck when you consider how much you would pay a developer and designer to create just one theme.
The pricing plans are cheap as chips compared to other WordPress theme websites. WooThemes, for example, charges a start up fee of $199 and then $29 a month for its Standard Club Subscription, whereas Organic Themes charges $69 each for individual themes and $249 for a Developer Pack including all themes.
The first free theme, Serene, was released just last week. It’s a gorgeous and simplistic blogging theme with post format support, allowing you to easily display articles, videos, audio files, quotes, galleries and links. Members have been promised a different version of the theme with more bells and whistles.
For this review, I used a Developer account.
When you sign up for an account, you’re entitled to access to all themes, support and theme updates. It’s not a bad deal.
There are theme types available for all sorts of uses: apps, blogs, business, eCommerce, magazines, multimedia, personal, portfolios, responsive use and Tumblog.
If you register and you’re not satisfied with the themes, there’s a 30-day money back guarantee so you’ve got nothing to lose.
On the other hand, if you think Elegant Themes is the bees knees, the company offers a generous affiliate program. All affiliates receive 50 per cent of each sale.
Each theme comes with shortcodes, page templates and theme options to give you advanced control over the themes you install. Members are also entitled to perpetual updates for their themes. And all themes are compatible with the most popular internet browsers… even Internet Explorer.
Some themes come with extra features, such as custom widgets, advertisements areas, Google Maps integration, a slider and a visitor ratings system. Only the newer themes are fully responsive while none of the themes appear to have infinite scroll.
Elegant Themes isn’t just about themes, though. The company also sells a small collection of four plugins. The HandHeld Mobile Plugin makes it easy to create an alternate mobile layout for your site, while Elegant Page Builder provides gives drag-and-drop functionality to any theme. The Maintenance Mode Plugin allows you to quickly create a holder page for your website before its official launch and the Elegant Shortcodes Plugin gives you access to Elegant Themes’ extensive collection of shortcodes.
The shortcodes add all kinds of helpful features – content boxes, image slider, social media, password protection, pricing tables and testimonials.
The plugins provide added functionality for your site, but are not required to use the themes.
Many of the themes are ad ready. Elegant Themes provides custom widgets with each theme, including one that displays advertisements. Ad banners are also an option in the ePanel – the theme options for each theme. In the ePanel you can enable a banner as well as tweak your SEO, your layout options and the colorization of your site’s background, links, headings etc.
The first word that comes to mind when scrolling through Elegant Themes’ catalogues of themes is “pleasant”. The themes really are elegant in their simplicity and style.
The designs are uncluttered, allowing your content to be the focus of your site, and feature multiple color schemes and styles.
The newer designs are, obviously, much more appealing than the older designs.
In an interview with GraphicDesign.com in May this year, Roach said he had been interested in color “my whole life.” He also prefers using soft color palettes to make his products more attractive to customers.
“When I took my first color theory design, it changed the way I think,” he said.
“I focus on using color palates. Second, subtlety – you’ll see designs where certain elements are too strong. Breaking it down to be subtle is important.
“Finally, pixel perfect details – paying attention to a drop shadow that’s five pixels as opposed to four pixels – it’s a huge difference. Someone will use a two-pixel drop shadow on text and it looks goofy, whereas if they scaled it down to one pixel, it would look amazing.”
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The themes are displayed in order of new to old and scrolling through the themes is like going back in time. Nexus, the theme seller’s latest theme, offers a clean and flat design in keeping with the latest design trends. But if you go back to Roach’s very first theme, Blue Sky, it is blocky and dated. It just goes to show how Elegant Themes has followed modern design practices, offering its members the latest trends.
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When you login to Elegant Themes, the easy to navigate Members Area contains information about your account, access to the support forums, theme and plugin documentation as well as a full list of the company’s theme and plugin downloads.
The theme and plugin list allows you to download, preview or access readme files for each plugin or theme. Changelogs are also available.
You can update your billing details, modify your account, change your password, upgrade or cancel your membership by clicking on the Account tab.
I found it a hassle that themes aren’t listed in alphabetical order. It’s nice that they are listed by newest to oldest, but it would be great if there was a way to easily toggle different views or even search the themes because the list is continually growing. I used the search function on my browser to quickly find Explorable.
I also found that I was constantly logged out of the site and had to re-enter my details often enough to become irritating.
One thing I found it odd that the site doesn’t have an About page. It makes it hard to understand who the people are behind the company.
But what I love about the site, though, is that you know what you’re getting when you sign up. There are no offers thrown in your face (other than a single and simple HostGator affiliate link in the Members Area), you’re simply charged an annual fee and you’ve got instant access to download as many themes as you want. Too easy!
I installed and activated the Explorable theme and had it up and running in 5 minutes. It really was that easy to use. Other themes I played around with were just as easy to use.
Each theme, when installed and activated in your WordPress account, features a custom ePanel where you can choose options for your theme, from setting the header logo to activating social media links. The ePanel also includes options for navigation, colorization and SEO, and in some these ad customization.
The ePanel is easy to use, with tabs on the left-hand side providing different options. It does look a little dated in its design, but it does the job. As mentioned above, the ePanel allows you to manage the layout, colorization, ads, SEO and navigation of your site.
All themes come with documentation. Documentation is also provided in the “Docs” section of the Members Area – as well as in the ePanel – and includes a lengthy list of videos tutorials, written articles, troubleshooting tips and external resources. There is even information on how to use the ePanel and translate your theme into another language.
While this review focuses on themes, I’ve heard good things about the Elegant Page Builder plugin, so I decided to give it a go. The plugin add drag and drop functionality to any theme.
I installed the plugin and to test it out I activated the Flexible theme. The plugin can be used with different post types and pages.
I added a new post and played around with the page builder. Drag and drop is easy to use and is ideal for people new to WordPress who find the post editor too fiddly and prefer visual prompts. For more experienced users, you can probably give the plugin a miss.
Support is available only on the site’s forums. There are no email, live chat or phone support options.
The company has Twitter and Facebook accounts, though the Facebook page only features posts from the site’s blog rather than support interaction with members.
My first contact with the support team was when I had trouble uploading the Explorable theme. The issue was simple enough for me to fix myself, but I wanted to see if the Elegant Themes support team could give me a hand. First I searched the forums to see if anyone else had experienced the error. Strangely enough I couldn’t find any mention of it so I created a new forum ticket seeking help.
I was surprised to find that within 5 minutes a support member had responded to my question with a link to a solution. Super quick! Thanks to his help, I was able to quickly get the theme up and running smoothly.
When I contacted the support team again about issues with using the slider on the Flexible Theme, a support member responded to my ticket two hours later and the issue was quickly resolved.
I browsed through the different theme threads to see how long it was taking the support team to respond to other users. Some members received a response within 5 minutes like I did while others had to wait 12 hours, which seems rather arbitrary.
I tweeted Elegant Themes around the company’s support hours and received a reply that the support crew are distributed “all over the place”, meaning the forums are manned around the clock, 24/7.
Members who download themes intending to personalise them should know that the support crew does not provide support for customizations. There is a forum dedicated to customizations if users want to seek help from other members, but it comes with the warning that support is not guaranteed.
One thing I did find pretty cool is that Roach previews all of the company’s designs on the site’s blog, giving users the opportunity to give feedback and directly request features. Very friendly! It’s a smart move in that it gives members a say and makes them feel involved in the design process.
PageSpeed Insights measures the performance of a page for desktop and mobile devices and provides a rating from 0 to 100 points. A higher score is better, with a score of 85 or above indicating the page is performing well.
PageSpeed Insights measure how a page can improve its performance on:
- Time to above-the-fold load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page and to the moment the above-the-fold content is rendered by the browser.
- Time to full page load: Elapsed time from the moment a user requests a new page to the moment the page is fully rendered by the browser.
Explorable is a location-based theme that pins your posts to a map – a great theme for travel blogs and guides. The theme includes user star ratings and a responsive design.
Nexus is Elegant Themes’ latest theme and is a fully-responsive magazine-style design with custom widgets and content modules.
This theme scored extremely well as far as desktops go and also performed well in the mobile test. Google regards a score above 85 as excellent.
Any issues that slowed down its rendering time were related to caching and other server and script optimizations.
It’s important to keep in mind that when you install and activate a theme, it’s then up to you to optimize your WordPress site to give your theme the best chance to perform well, i.e. set up caching, minimise scripts and think about getting CDN.
Disclaimer: In putting together this review, we bought our Elegant Themes review account just like any other customer – via the sign-up link on the homepage. We didn’t let Elegant Themes in on the fact we were reviewing their services to avoid any special treatment.
Have you used Elegant Themes? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.
- Large collection of quality themes for a variety of uses, including blogs, businesses, eCommerce and apps.
- The three membership plans on offers are reasonably and affordably priced.
- The Members Area is easy to use with clear navigation.
- Page load tests revealed the theme's speed is hampered due to theme images that haven't been compressed enough to meet Google PageSpeed Insights guidelines.
- While downloading themes and accessing account information at elegantthemes.com I was constantly logged out and had to keep logging back in again.