Thesis 2.0: A First Look

Last week, Thesis 2.0 was released as a premium WordPress Theme Framework. It was the first major update, a total theme re-conception really, in more than four years.

The result is a drag and drop website and theme creator like no other; with the ability to create custom websites in just minutes with absolutely no custom coding.

Thesis 2.0 is comprised by four featured areas; Site Options, Skins, Boxes, and Packages. Each has a distinct function, powerful in its simplicity.

Site Options

As its name suggests, this area controls sitewide options like title tags, meta description and keywords, rss feeds, and head scripts. It also allows you to easily add a favicon image, Google and Bing webmaster site verification, and Google’s Rel Author id which adds your pretty little image next to your articles in web search results.

Thesis 2.0 WP Head Editor

Analytics Tracking

For those who track site analytics through Google you can simply enter your tracking ID – no more lengthy code snippets to cut and paste.

404 Pages

404 Pages can be created quickly from existing WordPress pages, which means they can be editing to display any content you wish, from posts and widgets to custom content like features boxes and sign up forms.

Search Engine Optimization

Like previous versions of Thesis, the 2.0 framework comes with built-in SEO functionality proven by many site owners to be effective, including some of Google’s own developers who run the Thesis framework.

A new addition to the Thesis SEO options includes the ability to add Schema, which is a popular website categorization method currently used by search engines. Any developer will tell you adding schema traits and markup to a website can take time. For most, the meta data is confusing and hard to add, but with Thesis schema can be added with just one click.

Adding Schema Meta is Easy as one click

Schema helps search engines better classify your data and makes it easier for viewers and searchers to find your site.


Skins are the heart and soul of Thesis 2.0, and to understand them better, it helps to know how other frameworks treat skins – generally in one of two ways:

  1. as a mere copy of an existing theme with css edits to change things like colors, structure and formatting.
  2. as a full-fledged child theme with it’s own unique format, structure, and styling.

Either way, traditional skins have been installed as individual themes through the WordPress theme editor, and often require the main framework to be installed and referenced somewhere on the site.

The problem with that setup is that main framework updates often require a developor’s touch to update custom code in the child, or at least, to update the reference to the newly updated main theme.

Thesis Reinvents the WordPress Skin

The structure of Thesis 2.0 is a departure from the traditional, and a complete reinvention of the “skin” concept.

Rather than having a skin be its own theme installed through WordPress, skins are installed through the Thesis 2.0 skin editor, and comprised of custom templates that control the look and feel of each page of your website.

Skins can be as simple as a one page site, and as complex as your imagine can conceive.

HTML Elements can be added and rearranged with a drag and drop interface

Everything is controlled by the drag and drop editor which makes HTML editing a thing of the past. Elements, called “boxes”, are created on the fly and customized with ease, to quickly change a site’s look and feel with just a few clicks.

Skins can be saved, copied, and exported for use in other Thesis 2.0 powered websites, where they can be installed with the click of a button.

Thesis 2.0 takes advantage of the WordPress template hierarchy by creating a system that makes it amazingly easy to add new page templates as quickly as you could add a new post or page in WordPress itself. The result is the ability to create unlimited page templates with absolutely no custom coding.

You can make your home page look different than your single post page, which looks different than your landing page, which can be different than your store pages, which can be different than…well, you get the point. It is that easy.


If skins are the heart and soul of thesis, boxes are the bones – the skeleton that makes up the HTML elements dragged and dropped around in the skin editor.

Every element of your site is contained within a “box,” each with its own options, and, potentially, it’s own ID and custom class. This gives you the ability to add custom css right down the individual HTML element.

Add HTML Boxes on the fly

Boxes are bits of html and php programming that add functionality to Thesis. A box can consist of a single .php file and can be saved and imported through the Thesis Box Importer. This gives you the ability to save your custom bits and move them from site to site with very little (if any) additional coding necessary – a great time saver for developers.

Thesis 2.0 includes 9 standard box types ranging from nav menus to post boxes. You have the ability to create an unlimited amount of custom boxes which extend the functionality and complexity of your site. Think of boxes like Thesis’s own plugin functionality.


Packages are where Thesis 2.0 stores your site’s CSS.

CSS Package Editor in Thesis 2.0

Packages can be one of 8 standard choices included with thesis, or you can add your own custom packages, which too can be packed up and moved from site to site through the Thesis Package editor screen.

Creating a package is as easy as a few clicks, and custom css can be added to your site with no coding. Depending on the type of package added (menu styling, comments, fonts, columns, etc) the package options will change.

CSS options are editable without needing custom code

To add even more granular css changes, you can use the additional CSS box included in every package.

Add additional css with the custom css editor in packages

This gives you complete control over your site’s css.

Another great feature of the Thesis 2.0 framework is the ability to add custom css variables. Rather than creating custom code and repeating it for dozens of elements in a custom CSS file, thesis allows you to create and reuse css variables throughout your packages.

Creating CSS variables for reuse in Boxes and Packages

This can be further refined using custom classes inside the HTML Box editor, and savvy developers can cut even more time off their designs by planning variables ahead of time.

For instance, rather than adding a css selector for every h2 element on the site that has a custom blue color and a font size of 16px, you can create a single variable with that css, and then assign the variable to the html elements which contain the changes you want to make. On larger, more intricate sites using variables can literally save hours of design time.

Thesis 2.0 First Look Summary

Thesis 2.0 provides something for everyone. Newbies will be able to drag and drop their way to a unique custom WordPress website, and experienced developers can use it to cut hours off client site design time – not to mention make template editing even easier than before.

The Thesis community is also a vibrant one, and with custom boxes, packages, and skins planned for release very soon, Thesis 2.0 will quickly become one of the more popular frameworks on the market.

28 Responses

  • Flash Drive

    Yeah, this theme looks like dog shit. There’s nothing WordPress-standard about these options. I’m sure lots of hard-core Thesis users will make the purchase, but I think that this would be an awful way to part with $200.

    Chris Pearson could have been a pillar of the WordPress community but instead, he rested on his laurels (and income statement). Thesis 1.0 = spaghetti code, closed sourced licensing and affiliate marketing. I doubt Thesis 2.0 will be much different.

    • New Recruit

      Corey, I was a little confused by your question/comment, but I’ll attempt to answer the question I think you are asking:

      custom themes (skins) in thesis 2.0 can be packed and exported inside thesis, and also by using an FTP program to upload the theme (skin) into an appropriate folder within the thesis 2.0 framework – similar to how you might upload any other custom theme. So yes, it can be done outside the thesis theme framework.

      But on wordpress sites that dont use the thesis 2.0 framework those thesis 2.0 skins wont work. So you can’t just create a thesis 2.0 skin, export it, then try to use that skin with some other theme or framework, like woo, elegant, or as a standalone theme.

      Did that answer your question?

  • New Recruit

    I’m not sure people who have used Builder, Ultimatum or Headway will call the skinning here all that “reinvented.” I also found that this was one of the least user-friendly drag & drop themes of the several I just reviewed (
    Some issues:
    – Clicking on shift to drag was unintuitive.
    – To create a new skin, you had to know to click on the existing skin’s name.
    – No pre-fab boxes come with the theme, unlike Ultimatum.
    – And maybe most importantly, they released without virtually any documentation.

    I’m sure die-hards will love it, but I’m not sure it beats my top three drag & drop themes.

    • New Recruit

      Thanks for the objective note Chris. I like your post, though I can’t speak for carrington, that’s the only one I haven’t tried on that list.

      Overall the theme is not intuitive for newbies – agree with you there. I could imagine a newbie without framework experience having a hard time figuring out what to do with boxes, but no less of a hard time digging into Headway or any other theme mentioned in your article. You and I have the luxury of figuring out themes like this in five minutes or less without documentation. In my opinion, that’s where Thesis 2.0 is lacking right now – non-existent documentation.

      From what I understand they’re working on that – the only reason I mention that is because the thesis support community is second to none. When I first started using these themes I reached out to support on several occasions. With The thesis community you usually get an answer in just a few minutes. Headway – I was lucky if i got a response in a week – and that was after blowing them up on twitter. Same for elegant themes, and a few others – and when they did send a response – it was to push me off to a stock FAQ.

      The thing I do love about this new version of thesis is the custom box function. I can write a box, similar to a short plugin, and move that box into any installation of thesis on any client site with just a few clicks.

      Thanks for the note.

  • Not a fan of Thesis.
    Seems like one of the least user-friendly and bloated theme frameworks I’ve worked with.
    Majority of all the Thesis sites look the same which isn’t a bad thing but I feel a framework should easily set you apart from other sites around the web.

    • New Recruit

      Thesis 2.0 comes with a blank skin, which is devoid of all formatting, and stripped down to the most basic html. It looks like a bootstrap theme and is a great starting place for developers using the framework. I think the similarity you see on alot of newb thesis sites is a function of users not tweaking their designs.

      I haven’t analyzed the theme line by line for the other frameworks out there, so I can’t comment on being bloated in comparison to, say, headway or pagelines. In my opinion, it’s certainly leaner than a page by page template theme that you might come across in a place like themeforest – although there are some standouts there too.

      Rick Anderson at BYOB website, a very competent developer, uses Thesis and Genesis among other frameworks ran a logical test – comparing a few of the frameworks from a speed standpoint. He held the design elements constant, and recreated the theme on a few platforms and then tested speed and responsiveness. I don’t have a link to that anymore but you might check it out. The results were interesting.

      Thanks for the note Dustin.

  • Thesis 2.0 has been controversial and divisive in the little over a week it’s been around, if nothing else. And there hasn’t been much else.

    The introduction of it was among the worst of any product I’ve ever seen. It was released in beta essentially, as a finished, fully-baked product. That has infuriated and frustrated a lot of people, many who have been long-time Thesis fans.

    Thankfully the few people that had the opportunity to mess with 2.0 before it’s release have been tirelessly trying to help everyone else that has stuck around. So slowly, there is user-generated support becoming available.

    The terrible business of it all aside, Thesis 2.0 may be very popular once (again, all the users) develop skins, boxes and packages for all to use and it’s eventually ramped up. People new to building on frameworks are going to be disappointed since the promise is that “no code needs to be written.” While that may technically be true, if you don’t know the basics of HTML, CSS and the box model, you’re going to be lost. Or at the whim of others’ skins, and if that’s the case, why not just use one of the 10 million free themes available?

    I’ve used Thesis for a long time, along with other paid themes, so I’m sticking it out while DIYThemes gets their act together. Although no one knows when that may be. 2.0 is in an embryonic stage, so while it’s presently annoying, it should be a very solid platform once the dust settles. I think the target market for it became much narrower, however.

    • New Recruit

      I too thought it might have been released early, and we’ll probably not get an answer as to why that happened. I know there were alot of questions from the current base of developers who had professional licenses – like whether they’d get the product as promised and at what price?

      But the user support base you mention, I think, is the silver lining for this theme, which, in my opinion, is stronger and more helpful than the user base for most of the other themes.

      Another thing that is jamming up the newb’s is the lack of documentation, this theme is much more involved than installing a stock theme that has some nifty theme options. I also noticed a bug last night with the query objects working on a MAMP development server, which I understand they’re working on now, and promising a 2.01 version to be out soon that covers alot of the concerns of the development base. We’ll see how that goes.

      Thanks for the note.

      • I was one of the people that held a developer’s license, but nothing was mentioned until a few days beforehand that 2.0 was on its way. Needless to say, after several years of prep and hype by Chris, I was stoked. And then subsequently confused as to why he went ahead and released it. I still don’t know what the sudden urgency was. He almost didn’t even make the midnight deadline, and had problems getting the new version of the DIY site up, which he was trying to do simultaneously.

        The users are definitely saving his cheese on this one. And you’re right; the user base and potential support are FAR better than with other themes. I also have a dev option with Elegant Themes, and it’s a ghost town there, as far as support. Just some boilerplate FAQs and dusty forums (which load annoyingly slow.)

        The lack of documentation is absurd, and even when its released I think it very well may be too technical and lengthy for most newbs to embrace. People always say that all Thesis 1.XX themes look alike, but that’s largely due to so many users not understanding how to work hooks and filters and add their own PHP and CSS to the files to really customize them. So really the only mods you saw were ones that could simply be made in the dashboard, with colors, fonts, text size and so on.

        I’ve seen a few bugs as well, and they’re being documented over in the DIY forum to be squashed in the 2.1 release which, as you pointed out, is being promised soon. I hope this time the scene is under-promise and over-deliver, and not the other way around as with 2.0. Thesis fans (of which I’m one) are quick to point out that no one is forcing us to use 2.0; that 1.85 is still available for DL and of course has plenty of documentation and support. Problem is, there’s no way to migrate 1.85 setups over to 2.0. So I have 2 sites sitting in wait now until 2.1 comes out, to see what awaits us.

        Good times!

        • New Recruit

          I have a developers license as well and was surprised when I saw a video an Appsumo but didn’t hear anything else about it first. Made me wonder if someone got an advance copy and threatened to release it or something like that. And I agree with your sentiment – always better to underpromise and overdeliver. I know alot of developers who design locally – considering this doesn’t work correctly on mamp or wamp, that’s a big negative right now. All the tests I’ve run are on live servers, and I’ve got two client sites going on it now. We’ll see what happens with the next release.

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