The State of My 2012 WordPress Toolset – Themes

Note: I no longer use or recommend this theme as I am now using GeneratePress for all my personal as well as my agency's client projects. You can find out more about why I now recommend GeneratePress here.

The last few months have been my busiest since I started freelancing full time in August 2008 and I’ve also had to tackle some of my most complex WordPress projects. This means I had to re-evaluate parts of my WordPress toolset to be able to satisfy some of my increasingly demanding clients’ requirements and was forced to make some important changes to it.

I also learned a lot about WordPress as a development platform in the last two years and, after working with ColdFusion for a long time, I’m starting to get far more comfortable with PHP now. This enabled me to appreciate how powerful, elegant and flexible the WordPress platform really is and how much easier it makes things when you use the tools and APIs it provides correctly. This new understanding forced me to look at some of the tools I was using with new eyes and rethink some of the early decisions I made when I first started to work with WordPress. This includes rethinking Headway, the theme framework I’d been using as I was starting to have issues with it and the theme is the most important component of a WordPress site besides WordPress itself.

A New Theme Framework and Some History

When I first started using WordPress, I searched for a flexible theme that would enable me to integrate any design into a site quickly. I knew right away that pre designed themes would not cut it for my needs so I immediately started to look into theme frameworks. I finally chose Headway and I used it exclusively on all my client sites for nearly two years.

The other reason I decided to use a theme framework like Headway is that I thought that it would be time consuming to have to build a theme from scratch for every project. Eventhough I had a working knowledge of PHP, I wanted to get rolling quickly and avoid to have to code a theme by hand or write any PHP code at all if I could avoid it. Headway served me very well in that regard during these two years and I postponed learning the details of theme development to a later time.  At that point it was refreshing for me to be able to concentrate on design and the user experience and not programming the same basic functionality project after project. After all, that’s why I’d chosen to use a CMS like WordPress in the first place right?

But, as time went by, my knowledge of both WordPress and PHP grew and alongside that, the complexity of what my clients expected me to build with WordPress. I was also discovering the APIs and built-in functions that WordPress offers to theme and plugin developers in order to standardize and ease WordPress sites development.

In January of this year, I started to use iThemes Builder because I was hitting into Headway’s limitations on a big magazine type Web site project where I needed to use WordPress Custom Post Types.  I had found a fantastic plugin to create the Custom Post Types (Easy Content Types, no longer available) but I was unable to get them to display correctly using Headway even though I’d built that site layout twice, once in Headway 2.0 and 80% of it again in Headway 3.0 hoping to get CPTs to work there. But I was unable to make it work. I also had another project coming where I would need to rely even more heavily on CPTs. So when I finally realized that I was unable to get either Headway 2.0 or the new 3.0 version to display CPTs and meta-boxes fields in my content (let alone position them exactly where I needed) I decided to find another theme framework and tried iThemes Builder. It delivered beyond my expectations in spite of my having to learn to use it as I went along rebuilding that site’s layout for the third time with a brand new theme and an even closer deadline looming…

Here are a few of the reasons why I think Builder is a better theme framework for me at this time.

On WordPress Theme Development Standards and Best Practices

In the WordPress world, nowhere is the adherence to standards and best practices more important than in theme development in my opinion. There are several reasons for that but, for me it came down to flexibility and finding the right information within all the WordPress community ressources to get the results I needed to get. I’ve also been a strong Web standards advocate since long before it became popular to be so and, while working on that magazine site, I was quickly realizing that Headway was not built in the standard WordPress way. Most of the info I was finding on displaying Custom Post Types was based on modifying or adding to WordPress loop code in standard template files and that did not apply to Headway as it does not expose standard WordPress template files or WordPress loop code for modification. You need to use hooks and filters or a plugin like LoopBuddy to modify content output and although I do have LoopBuddy and can code some hooks, I was getting nowhere. This doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to do what I wanted with Headway but I was unable to make it work. I was starting to second guess my decision of using Headway at all on this project but I knew nothing else at the time.

Even Headway 3.0 although it now supports child themes does so in the same non-standard way as 2.0 did and the Headway 3.x parent theme does not have any of the standard WordPress templates files either and, if it does, they contain only a single call to the “headway();” function or class because it needs to support the Headway Visual Editor which is the primary selling point of Headway… and something that was becoming a major pain in the ass for me as I was struggling with the 3.0 version.

The thing is, I may not be Headway’s “ideal” user. I’ve been working on the Web for over 16 years now and I’m not afraid of code, quite the opposite. I can write CSS in my sleep, write decent PHP code and will use any method to get what I want done as efficiently and quickly as possible. The Visual Editor in Headway 3.0 was getting in my way at that point, not helping me and I craved for the ability to change the content at a much more granular level than the Headway Content Block or Headway’s then poorly documented filters and hooks allowed me to.

For many people, a visual framework like Headway is fine and probably all they’ll ever need but for me it became a real problem as I was hitting a dead end on the Custom Post Types display issue. As I wrote above, I probably would have gotten there eventually using hooks or the LoopBuddy plugin (or both) but I was learning how to use CPTs as I went along on a huge and very real project and on a tight  deadline. Nothing I tried was working and I just didn’t have the time to dig for the specific info I needed while I found plenty of info that would help me if only I had access to WordPress loop code directly….

iThemes Builder Comes and Saves the Day

During the two years+ I’ve been working with WordPress, iThemes Builder is a theme framework I’d heard more and more great things about although it did not figure in my initial choice (which was between Thesis and Headway). I had never tried Builder but its reputation as a developer friendly theme framework that is just as flexible as Headway was growing (it is much more flexible than Headway IMO but that’s for another post). I was starting to know what kind of info or terms I needed to Google for to find how to display CPTs and I was now very aware of the method of building themes with standard template files.  So, when I saw that Builder had them and exposed real loop code, I bought a basic Builder developer license and installed it along with the basic Default child theme on a local copy of the magazine site I was struggling with. The Default Builder child theme recreates the same kind of basic out of the box look that Headway had and that activating the parent Builder theme would give you. This felt very natural to me as I’d never used a pre designed child theme anyway.

Before I started recreating the site’s layout for a third time in Builder I quickly started testing the instructions for using custom post types that came with the Easy Content Types plugin I was using and other tutorials I’d found online. I deactivated the plugin and removed all traces of it in my local install’s database then I reactivated it to make sure it would do all the initialization tasks it was supposed to do but with a more standard built theme. The instructions mentioned that, in a standard theme/child theme set up, a new appropriately named template file would be created in the child theme’s directory for the single custom post display as well as another for the post type’s archive display. The single file was actually created by the plugin when I recreated my post type which had never happened with Headway and it contained the same code as the parent theme’s single.php file. On the other hand, the archive.php based file was not created. But this was progress at last!

I was now more confident and I created the archive-my_custom_post_type.php file myself by copying archive.php from the parent theme to the child theme and renaming it myself and it worked! I added the code that came in the plugin’s instructions to display meta boxes variables or fields within the loop and they displayed in the posts at last! In less than 2 hours I’d made more progress on that site than in the previous 2 weeks. After that I never looked back and Builder has become my go to theme framework since then.

Why I now Use iThemes Builder Exclusively

It turns out that, on that magazine project, the ability to copy template files from the Builder parent theme and tweaking the code directly became invaluable if not essential (regardless of CPTs display issues) as I started to move stuff around and manipulate the WordPress main query directly to give the client exactly what he wanted without using plugins or hooks or filters. This felt right to me. I’ve “lived” in HomeSite’s and then Dreamweaver’s code editors for years so, in a way, this a far more efficient way of working than a Visual Editor for me now. As I said above, I can write CSS code in my sleep and I’m becoming quite procifient with PHP and WordPress coding practices. This coupled with Builder’s very well made Layout Editor and Views makes for a much more flexible theme framework than Headway ever was for me. I sometimes use the LoopBuddy plugin (another iThemes product) to manipulate a view’s query in a more powerful but similar way that Headway content Blocks/Leafs enabled me and also without coding.

But what was the real revelation for me as I used Builder more and more is that, when I Google for a solution to specific problem these days, the search results are most often directly applicable in Builder and make perfect sense to me. The wider WordPress community and all the resources it has created over the years are orders of magnitude larger than the Headway community as great as it is. That is another bonus of working within a platform’s standards and best practices as opposed to proprietary methods. You have access to a larger repository of resources than with smaller proprietary products and, in my case, it has made my life as a WordPress designer and developer a lot easier as I learn to work with iThemes Builder.


Despite appearances, this post is not a diss at Headway. I still think it is a very good and very flexible theme for many people. Not everyone wants or needs to get at the loop code but it’s just no longer the ideal theme framework for me and I would no longer recommend it to people with similar backgrounds to mine.

I’ll write a proper review of Headway 3.0 down the line when it reaches feature parity with Headway 2.0 and provides an upgrade path from the previous version (which it still doesn’t do almost 6 months after 3.0’s release). I have done a complete Web site project with it too in January and February so I do have experience working with it. I will then explain the reason why I will also no longer recommend it even to non-coders and less experienced Web designers. But that is for another time. For now, I welcome your comments or questions on this post and Builder, theme frameworks or standards and best practices.

38 thoughts on “The State of My 2012 WordPress Toolset – Themes”

  1. Hi,

    This is a modification of a comment I posted elsewhere.

    I have had a Headway Developer license starting with version 1.x. For about the same time period I have had an iThemes Builder license. Until Headway 3.x I generally found myself going with Headway, even though iThemes has better support. Since the release of Headway 3.x support has been a disaster. Headway 2.0.13 gets no bug fixes and 3.x is not ready for prime time.

    I have a client that hired a marketing consultant and decided on a site redesign that was primarily the site’s logo and colors with some layout changes. Their site was on Headway v2.0.13. Headway said and still says: “Important: Headway 3.1.1 currently does not support upgrades from Headway 2.0.13 or earlier or the Headway 3.0 beta.” As Headway v2.0.13 was no longer supported, I felt I shouldn’t make the changes on it. (I know that Headway has since reinstituted v2.0.13 support. It can not be depended on.)

    So, using backupbuddy, I copied over the client’s v2.0.13 site to a development site. I then deactivated and deleted Headway v2.0.13. I installed and activated Headway 3.x. I spent almost two weeks wrestling with Headway getting nowhere. The support forums were chaotic. Also, I used easy hooks on the v2.0.13 site.

    Given my deadline, I abandoned Headway 3.x. I deactivated and deleted it and installed iThemes Builder with the default child theme. I then rebuilt the site to the client’s new look. This included redoing the image galleries as I was using a Headway leaf for the image galleries. I had to be careful here as I could only charge the client for the changes they wanted not the theme conversion. The client is very happy with the result.

    The support forums at iThemes have been phenomenal. The guys in Oklahoma are great and the two guys overseas, Ronald in Holland & Sridhar in India, are absolutely wonderful. On Headway’s forums Headway employees often treat you like an incompetent for just about any question. (Clay Griffiths is the grand exception here. He is always courteous and tries to help. He is also way overextended.) On iThemes’ forums the iThemes employees are always courteous, prompt and helpful even if one asks the stupidest question in the world. They do more than address your problem. They point you at documentation, other forum threads and when applicable outside information.

    Builder isn’t perfect, but the support team helps you with the warts.

    As Headway has provided no guidance on an upgrade path I have since migrated all but one site off of Headway.

    I wish the people at Headway well, version 2.x was a great product. I will check in periodically and if things look better, I will give it a spin. But, they will have to regain my trust before I use it for a production site. I am now looking at Catalyst as a possible second framework in my arsenal. Catalyst seems to take support seriously.

    I also have to second your point about Headway straying out of the WordPress standard universe. I often use the ThemeHybrid forums for investigating WordPress questions or problems. I find them more helpful than the forums on I have discovered, that an answer that works fine with Builder remains a mystery when using Headway.


    • Hi JJ,

      Thanks for your comment! I agree with you with the support at iThemes. It was a huge reason I settled on Builder.

      These guys really understand customer service and, when other theme devs blame 3rd party plugins or the user (yes, that is too often the norm at Headway aside from Clay) and wash their hands clean of their customers’ troubles. The guys at iThemes on the other hand go out of their way to help their customers. Chris Jean even fixed several plugins that conflicted with Builder on his own dime just so iThemes customers could continue using them alongside Builder and not have broken sites.

      Ronald and Sridhar often look closely at client sites and offer specific CSS fixes. They don’t HAVE to. They just do it. They very rarely leave a customer hanging with no solution or paths to a solution to explore. Now that is going the extra mile. That is a reality to them, not just an empty slogan and that is exactly the kind of vendor attitude that creates strong customer loyalty. iThemes falter too at times, but they always own up to it.

      The standards thing and respect for the environment you work in is definitely becoming a big deal for me. It’s especially important for themes as we have to “bend” them to our needs a lot more than any plugin. These still have to respect basic best practices (like properly loading scripts in the WP admin) but it’s usually less of an issue aside from performance.

      I also wish the people at Headway well and may use it still for some projects as the design flexibility over say, Genesis, is still compelling. But more than ever, Builder with the Default child theme remains my go to theme.

      Thanks again for your great comment!

  2. Thanks for that very thorough explanation. I was about to purchase Headway just now, yet decided to read about people’s experience before I get invested in learning their processes.

    Your concern of the drop in support from one version to the next scares me. I love how seamless WP updates are and it is much of the reason that WP is so attractive to me. I don’t want to redo work. So your warnings are very appreciated.

    • Hi Ken,

      Thank you for your comment! Yes I have my concerns about Headway but don’t let them scare you off the product if it seems to be a good fit for your type of workflow. For many people, it’s still a great product. Also, don’t forget that Headway 3.0 was a complete rewrite. That may not happen again for some time or at all. I remember that upgrading from Headway 1.66 to Headway 2.0 was not a problem but I had less WordPress sites done at that time. I have several that will need to stay at Headway 2.0.13 for a while as I can’t justify the time required to upgrade to my clients and I can’t do it on my own dime either. Hell of a conundrum and something that really weighed heavily in my decision to look elsewhere to finally settle on Builder.

      Builder is not perfect either but at least, no updates have broken existing sites so far. Even with Headway 3.0, the minor update from 3.04 to 3.05 broke the one site I have on it as the markup changed for the footer and broke my CSS (an id was changed to a class without warning). For me, that was the last nail in a long string of events that made Headway unreliable for me. I’ve had layouts break several times for no reason in 2.0 resulting in my needing to load the Visual Editor and resave (easy but stressful and annoying) or worse, having to redo parts of sites. That hasn’t happened with 3.0 so far though.

      Chris Jean at iThemes seems far more prudent with Builder upgrades as far as potentially breaking existing sites goes. I have not gone through a major revision with Builder yet (like 3.x to 4.x) but I’m sure it will go much smoother than a complete rewrite that completely breaks from the past as Headway 3.0 did and Thesis 2.0 seems to be slated to do.

      I’m waiting for Headway 3.2 to go out along with their long promised marketplace to do a real review. I will do one for Builder as well. Stay tuned!

      • Thanks for that quick response. I will purchase Headway and just play with it on one of my personal sites, but I will avoid using it for client’s sites until reliability is proven.

        • My team couldn’t figure out Headway to make our visions into reality. We stopped using it and continue to hire developers to make our sites.

          I feel a bit cheated by Headway for their claims of being a simple drag and drop editor. It is only drag and drop if you aren’t attached to how the page looks in the end.

          Oh well, live and learn.

          • Drag and drop to a perfect layout on the Web is a pipe dream. It didn’t work with dedicated apps like FrontPage, PageMill, GoLive and their ilk and it doesn’t work with theme frameworks either.

            Back then, building an efficient Web site that loaded fast required a human to craft it by hand so it loaded properly in different browsers across slow analog modem connections (I started in 1996 and I remember the late 90s on the Web all too well…). Things have changed a lot but, these days, getting good SEO still requires lovingly crafting a site and humans with the proper expertise need to make the key decisions. No theme framework no matter how powerful can do it all for you. None… no matter what bullshit marketing they use.

            WordPress and theme frameworks have enabled me to work a lot faster, that much is real. But my 16+ years of experience is still key to my work day in and day out. … and I’m not even talking about design… If poeple with no design training or experience think they can build an efficient WordPress site that converts, they are completely delusional period. This is not a popular stance but, knowledge is power and there are no silver bullets here.

            But theme framework vendors will not market their product saying, “our drag and drop thingy will get you “most of the way there”, or “our drap and drop theme will enable you to build the site of your dreams (IF it’s very simple)”. No, they do it using marketing slogans like “no coding required” and other similar bullshit and when people can’t do it, the theme vendors blame their clients…

            To be fair though, if one framework can get you farther without coding than any other it is probably Headway. But to me, that is NOT a key criteria for choosing a solid, reliable theme framework.

            I usually don’t do that here, but if you need help with building a WordPress site you can contact me directly though the contact page here. I’m swamped from now through November but I could probably help you. My rates are reasonable.

            Thanks again for your comments!

  3. Stephane, thanks for your post. You have invested a lot of time and effort.

    I`m a beginner and totally not savvy with hand coding. But I can do decent PSDs. I also consider buying html designs and transfer them to WordPress. Could you advice – if it`s reasonably easy to “transfer” sophisticated website design to WordPress with Builder without having coding knowledge?

    For my preference Builder Child themes are way too simple design-wise for 2012. So I`m wandering if it`s because of some framework limitations or just the designer`s style of work.

    • You are very welcome Uldis

      I’m with you about some Builder child themes lacking a bit of sophistication but they are getting better. Myself, I usually do not use pre-designed child themes (from any theme vendor) and start from the blank Builder-Default child theme now in a similar way that I did with Headway or that I will do if I do some projects with Genesis (they have a basic “Sample child theme” similar to Builder’s Default).

      Now, is it easy to go from PSD (or Fireworks which I MUCH prefer over Photoshop)? That is an entirely other question. Quite frankly I do not understand why anyone would be reluctant to learn a little coding. Knowledge is power and HTML/CSS is really not that hard. When dealing with WordPress, a little PHP knowledge is also very handy.

      I am very old school in that regard. I’ve been doing this for over 16 years now and I never trusted any “no coding required” tool. The very statement is extremely dubious to me and I wish that theme framework vendors would ease on that BS marketing because, to answer your question, no it is not “easy” to go from PSD to WordPress without coding at all using any theme framework I’ve tried. I’ve always had to write at least some CSS to get what I wanted out of either Thesis, Headway or Builder and it would be the same with Genesis. Now with Headway and Builder and plugins you can get a lot done without coding but you may still need to at least know enough CSS and HTML to use Firebug or similar to find an element’s specific ID or class and target it using Builder’s Style Manager. Same with Headway and its Visual Editor. With CSS and a little PHP knowledge to help me tweak theme templates, there’s no design I haven’t been able to move from mockup to WordPress using Builder and I’ve subbed for some designers who were very anal about pixel perfection…

      Further on the “no-coding” schtick, I even think that, if you sell Web design and building services to paying clients, you HAVE to have an strong grasp of at least HTML and CSS coding and should have a basic knowledge of a scripting language. In the case of WordPress that would be PHP. If a designer cannot code, I believe they are doing a disservice to their clients as they’ll be ill prepared to fix any bugs or issues down the line. This applies to lone freelancers of course. I have nothing against a pure designer who can’t code working with someone who can on a project as long as a person with the proper skills is involved. This also does not apply to anyone doing this for themselves as a hobby. Some would say I’m a bit extreme but I’d say that anyone who thinks they can build a Web Design career without some coding knowledge are completely delusional. But maybe it’s just me ;) Again, this does not apply to someone working in some kind of team environment, no matter how informal…

      Thanks again for your comment! :)

  4. Thanks again for your fulfilling reply. I have to admit – I have two passions direct response marketing and design. My main job is being a General Manager for group of companies not related to IT and design at all.

    So, at my spare time I help some clients / friends from time to time. It`s just something I enjoy a lot and every client has always been very happy. I`m learning on the way, but unfortunately my focus is diversified so not much a coder yet indeed :)

    When I need some sophisticated coding done I outsource but most of small business projects can be accomplished without it.

    Again, thanks for tip.

  5. Thank you Stéphane for this awesome write up. I’ve scowered google to find a recent (late 2012) wordpress framework review that had depth and honesty to it and from what I’ve found, you stand alone. I was literally about to purchase headway and I thought while smoking a cig on the porch : “meh, one more google search couldn’t hurt” Bam! There you were.

    I know a little html and have “coded” a couple decent looking sites with dreamweaver. I want to learn PHP and CSS as they are the most applicable to wordpress framework. Without a great coding base, but a willingness to learn (over time) the foundations of PHP/CSS, while for now I copy-paste-code-learn; do you still find iThemes the best for me to begin training on? The visual editor in Headway is extremely appealing to me as well as their claims about outstanding integrated SEO. Would Headway be a better starter kit at first until I learned more code to more fully utilize iThemes in the future?

    Thanks again for the post. It definitely made my evening.



    • Hi and thank you for your comment!

      I’m happy this is being useful to people and I am with you regarding other theme reviews. For me they most often concentrate on completely the wrong criteria (or minor ones for me) and focus on one type of users. With time I’ve become allergic to the “no coding required” bs. So I really wanted to bring another kind of voice here. When I do have time I will write my own reviews of Builder, Headway and WooThemes Canvas which is a new product I’m using for some projects (Builder is still my go to theme framework).

      IMO, you should really concentrate on learning CSS as that will be your most immediately useful skill to deal with customizing any WordPress theme or framework. So good going there!

      As for Headway, I’m actually further still from using it again than when I wrote that post. The latest update (3.2.5) breaks the one site I have on it (again… this is the third time now) and I’m sick of having to worry about fixing sites with every minor update. Headway 3.0 is now almost a year old and still no upgrade mechanism or import/export functionality. I’m done with Headway.

      Regarding SEO, I prefer to rely on a plugin as themes may change but we need a consistent SEO strategy. I settled on Yoast’s WordPress SEO instead of any theme’s SEO features.

      I’m not sure what would be a better starter kit for you now. I do not want to steer people away from products that may be a good fit for them. I simply try to provide insights in my own experience and provide context as everyone’s needs are different. If you do not want to code at all I think Headway would be a good soultion. If you want to learn as you go, go with Builder or Canvas. Both have proper template structures (Canvas’ is even more granular) and both can get you quite far without coding too (Builder has a free Style Editing plugin and Canvas has a lot of styling options in the backend too).

      If you have the means, try Headway, see how you feel about it. I had difficulty adapting to the 3.0 visual editor while I felt right at home in 2.0’s. If you do this for a living, investing in a few frameworks is a good thing (I also own Thesis and Genesis in addition to Headway, Canvas and Builder).

      Good luck!

  6. Stéphane, thanks so much for the quick reply and great advice. I appreciate it. I decided to go with headway for now until i grow to need ibuilder thesis etc. I purchased a few blocks from them as well as a dev liscence from ithemes for all their plugins + single liscence gravity forms. I’ll definitely be on the lookout and am looking forward to your future reviews.


  7. Stéphane, I like your honest assessment. I’m considering starting a small part-time solopreneurship in my free time designing small websties (5 pages or less) for local small businesses. In my area (medium-sized town in the Midwest) the local businesses tend to have either missing or absolutely awful websites. My full-time job is as an Air Force officer/instructor pilot, and the base here is small but has a college-educated, young (mostly mid-20s) core of officers that move through here for training every year and they’re frustrated by an inability to find local businesses online (landcsaper, HVAC specialist, pet store, etc).

    I’m considering using Headway for the development of these websites. I’ve played around with their demo site a bit, and have come up some genuinely good-looking fake websites. The reason I’d like to use Headway is its ease of use, and its flexibility for my potential clients (they aren’t very web savvy, those that I’ve talked to just draw me pictures). Also, and I know you don’t like to hear it, but I’m not the smartest on code. I used to play around with websites a lot about 10-12 years ago, but I’ve since moved on and so did the internet. I’m comfortable around HTML, but CSS and PHP are mostly a mystery to me. I’m comfortable with coding in general, but haven’t learned anything new in years. I’m a quick study, though.

    Two questions: 1) Similar to the guy asking above, is Headway a good place for me to at the very least START as I get my feet wet doing smaller projects? and more importantly, 2) Where is a good source for me to learn CSS, PHP, etc? My free time is valuable to me, but I’d love to spend it slowly learning and building what could be a very nice post-military full-time gig.

    • Hi Dennis,

      These questions are hard for me to respond to without mixing in my own preferences. But yes, Headway would probably be a good place for you to start. But you need to realize that, despite their claims, I’ve never been able to build a site with Headway without writing some custom CSS or leveraging a few hooks in functions.php.

      Like I said to Coloradas, if you are comfortable with code I’d start by learning as much CSS as you can. I can’t recommend a book or Web site to learn as I haven’t learned this stuff from scratch in a very long time. But basic CSS is not that hard and you’ll learn as you go, search for examples, analyze code from sites you like or are close to what you do.

      What I truly don’t agree with is selling one’s services to paying clients when one doesn’t have even a basic grasp of their craft. Sounds to me like you are well on your way. Don’t sell yourself short or do a disservice to clients that trust you.

      In spite of the claims of many who have software to sell you, “no code required” is total bs… errr I mean a myth ;), and Web design and development is NOT easy to do right. Just like any craft, it requires hard work and learning. But I’m sure that, if I can do it, you can do it too!

    • This is my 2 cents for both Dennis and Coloradas.

      Hi Dennis and Coloradas,

      First of all I agree with with Stéphane. Also, my experience with Headway is similar to his. See my comment, on 13 June, above and Stéphane’s reply. In addition, despite my filling out a form they provided, blocks that I purchased prior to 18 June were never entered into their system.

      I also have focused on iThemes Builder with good results.

      There is a wide world between 100% hand coded and 100% drag & drop. 100% hand coded will take a lot of time and attention to language specific detail. 100% drag & drop will constrain your choices to those allowed by the framework. Also, remember that even a drag and drop environment has a learning curve and ways of doing things. To quote Stéphane (see above) “Drag and drop to a perfect lay­out on the Web is a pipe dream.”

      I think that iThemes Builder occupies a sweet spot between these two 100%s.

      These are the languages that are used on a WordPress web site:
      > PHP
      > HTML
      > CSS
      > JavaScript
      For WordPress features that require good knowledge of PHP, there are usually several good WordPress plugins available. Some are free and some are paid. Paid are usually not that expensive and often provide better support. So I would say learn PHP at your leisure. Ditto for front end enhancements that require JavaScript. PHP focuses on back end functionality and JavaScript focuses on front end functionality. Plugin developers do a good job with these functional aspects of WordPress. A good knowledge of HTML and CSS, however, can pay you big dividends early on. Learn them in detail and quickly. HTML and CSS focus on the look and feel of the site. And this is where iThemes is way ahead of Headway. It is not drag and drop, but, I find that using the Builder layout editor and writing CSS using the Builder Style Manager (which provides a Custom CSS window in addition to various styling options) gives me much more control than Headway and lets me get things done faster (YES I did say “faster”). In addition, much more of the Builder learning curve provides skills that are generally applicable than the Headway learning curve does. For the same amount of time and effort you will have a much better understanding of how the web works and how to build effective web sites for your customers, if you start with Builder.

      Like Stéphane, I generally start with the Builder default child theme. This gives the flexibility to focus on the client’s needs and desires rather than trying to shoehorn them into a pre-conceived child theme. With the right plugins, and if one knows CSS and some HTML, one can usually look at a child theme demo and pretty quickly, using the layout and style editors, build the site. Remember that, out of the box, the child themes don’t look like the demos anyway.

      To sum up my recommendations are:

      1. Read what Stéphane says in this thread
      2. a, b & c here should be done in parallel
      2a. Learn WordPress in depth
      2b. Learn Builder in depth
      2c. Learn HTML & CSS in depth
      3. Build a simple web site with the knowledge gained in step 2
      4. Build a more complicated web site using the knowledge from step 2 and the experience gained in step 3
      5. Decide what you want to offer your initial clients and build a demo site
      6. Learn JavaScript in depth
      7. Learn PHP in depth
      8. Build a demo web site with the knowledge from steps 6 & 7 and your prior experience
      9. Update what you want to offer your clients

      Note that HTML & CSS are markup languages and PHP & JavaScript are procedural languages.

      By starting with Builder rather than Headway you will build a better set of skills that will let you evolve as the web evolves. Also, from my perspective Builder gives you much more flexibility than Headway and is easier to use.

      By the by, Builder has just introduced a new version 4. Early adopters take note. That being said, I find that they respond very quickly to problems. And will very often make specific CSS and/or JavaScript recommendations based on looking at your site. They are service with a smile :) .


      • Very good comment JJ and agreed on all points.

        The reason I’m reluctant to veer people entirely off Headway is that I actually like the guys. Also, I do not want my own bias against the product (which is based on my specific personal experience) to play too big a role.

        But again today, I experienced the outstanding customer service that iThemes provide. It’s not the first time. They’re probably the software vendor in the WordPress commercial ecosystem with the very best customer service. Service with a smile indeed. They always go above and beyond.

        To Dennis and Coloradas, JJ is right. Spending time learning Builder will probably be much more directly applicable to any other theme and framework because Builder is built respecting WordPress standards just as I explain in this post. With Builder, you get a lot more flexibility and, in my experience, a far more stable and solid product backed by a company and lead developer who will not let you down.

        Builder 4.0 responsive was released late last Thursday. Today, a mere 5 days later, they released 4.0.4 with fixes for complex issues displaying Flash and other embedded content. Builder 4.0 handles responsive in a very predictable manner. It basically just works but more flexibility will be coming soon. You really can’t go wrong with Builder.

        To mirror something I mention in the post and in all fairness, on the one site I’m currently building with Builder 4.0, the 4.0.3 version broke Flash display. Size were suddenly all wrong. But the difference with the 3 times in the Headway 3.x branch that broke the one site I have on it is that, first, I was able to revert to a non-responsive site by removing the one line of code I added to functions.php to enable it. So if this had been a live site and not on a dev server, I could have kept Builder 4.0.3 but reverted back to an unbroken display in seconds. With Headway 3.0.5, 3.2 and 3.3, I was basically left hanging and had to find what CSS was broken and fix it. I wasted hours of non-billable time.

        Secondly, Chris Jean from iThemes released a new version of Builder (4.0.4) that fixed the Flash sizing issue a mere 3 days after 4.0.3 was out.

        I have never seen Headway react this quickly and fix an issue THEY introduced themselves… that is when they actually acknowledge they screwed up in the first place which is rare and they do screw up just as often if not more so than everyone else (nobody is perfect here and all software has some bugs).

        So yeah, following JJ’s lead, if you want my very biased (if based on personal experience) opinion, don’t waste your time with Headway unless you really do not want to learn how to code.

        Again, knowledge is power!

      • Thank you for your reply! I’ve spent the last couple evenings coming to the same conclusions.

        The one nice benefit I have now is a great paying job that I can’t quit (thank you, US Air Force) for a few more years to give me time to learn all the code without the risk of not getting paid. I’ve already dug into HTML and CSS a little to refresh myself on what I used to know and I’m certain with a little determination I can move through the basics towards more intermediate and advanced skill sets like PHP and Javascript relatively quickly.

        I love what you said about evolving as the web evolves, but in reality I’m shooting to get my feet off the ground in four years, not tomorrow. I’ll need to be where the web is in four years, not where it is now, and that will mean I need to grow with the web.

        I have my feet a little wet already with WordPress having ran a simple self-hosted blog for quite some time, but as I move towards stepping up my game and actually going with iThemes Builder I see they offer two price points. Neither is out of my “dabble in learning” price range thanks to my current job, but I don’t see any reason to get anything above their basic Foundation pack. The child themes don’t seem too complex; nothing I couldn’t eventually learn to do myself. Are the included plugins really worth that much? To someone who’s in the process of learning?

        Thanks again.

        • Hi Dennis,

          I think you are taking the right decisions and approaching this the right way. I too learned this craft while working a full time job in another industry (industrial screen printing for mid sized to large companies) and only started taking paying clients when I felt I was ready.

          As for package choices at iThemes, they actually have 3 different divisions: themes, plugins and training. I started with a plugin developer package myself when I was still using Headway as my only theme. For me, the key components here are BackupBuddy and LoopBuddy. The other plugins are good but not as good as these two IMO.

          Regarding theme packages they have 3 levels. I started with the basic Foundation Pack too a year ago. There was a temporary glitch in their member area a few months back and they upgraded me to the Developer Pack for free to “make things right” (yes, that’s how iThemes support rolls!) so that is what I have now. I just upgraded that for another year at 50% off so for the same price as a Foundation Pack. Beyond plugins, what that gives you access to is the theme “Blocks”. They’re usually components for specific content management (sermons, events, etc) that us the WordPress Cusom Post tYpes functionality and are styled appropriately for display in the given child theme. The “All Access Pass” thing is not worth it for me as I’ll never use their “classic” themes.

          Asides from blocks, there are two more reasons you might choose the Dev Pack. One is it comes with LoopBuddy included (read up on it to see what it does… I use it often). The other reason the Builder Dev Pack is worth it for me is the eCommerce themes. Market and Depot are nice enough but there’s a new one coming that will be responsive AND will support WooCommerce which is my eCommerce plugin of choice. It’s stated as a pretty minimal theme than can be styled to anyway you like much like the Foundation or Default child themes:

          In your case Dennis, I absolutely think you could start with the Foundation Pack, learn Builder and techniques needed to customize it (and WordPress) and upgrade later if you need to. I described the other offerings so you understand what they include. Foundation does not come with LoopBuddy but you probably won’t need that for now.

          Good luck on your journey!

  8. Nice assessment Stephane.

    I personally love Headway.

    Back in 2008 i switched to WordPress from Drupal and Textpattern.

    At first I customized premium WooThemes to fit what I or my clients wanted.

    Then I started coding themes from scratch.

    Then I switched to Genesis.

    Then I switched to Thesis.

    And then Headway 3. While it was buggy in the 3.0.x releases, I now consider it very stable in version 3.3. I can’t remember the last time I messed with standard WordPress theme files, loops and functions.php. Have not needed it;)

    Would like to give Catalyst and Builder a spin though.

    Have a nice day;)

    • Hi Oliver! Thanks for your comment!

      I have not completely given up on Headway yet and I really like the people behind it. But it has been too unreliable for me in the months prior to my switch as well as in the last year. The latest example is my own business site that ran Headway 2.0.13 and where the English version (it’s a multisite install) lost all the layout for no reason. Re-saving in the Visual Editor usually fixed it but not that time. I had to switch to another theme (I used WooThemes Canvas as on this site here) to quickly redo most of the layout. Canvas enabled me to work quickly but I am not finished yet and decided to call that a “live redesign”. But that was not my choice as I really had other things to do than fix my own Web site because Headway broke… again.

      As for Headway, some layout breakage has happened too in earlier 3.x versions. But I must say that this particular issue has not happened again in the 3.2.x and 3.3 versions. But another big issue for me is that minor updates required me to restyle parts of the site. The latest example is the update from 3.2.5 to 3.3 which forced me to take time to restyle elements where either the base Headway CSS or markup had changed. Those were not trivial styles changes I had to do either.

      All of that has hurt my confidence in the product and, regardless of its other qualities or shortcomings, that made it a no go for me. And seriously, Headway 3.0 has been out for almost a year now… and still no upgrade path?! Furthermore, Headway 2.0 has not been updated in over a year and still contains an insecure version of TimThumb (which can be fixed with a plugin… if you know about it and find the plugin). I warned Clay about that months ago and nothing has been done. To me, that’s downright callous and irresponsible. It is certainly not supporting one’s products well, especially since there is no upgrade path yet for all those sites I and many of Headway’s customers still have running on Headway 2.0.13. On a couple sites, I had to take on migrating them to Builder on my own dime. Not exactly good for productivity or profit. Neither Builder, WooThemes or Genesis has caused me any of these issues in the last year and Builder has had a major update (responsive in 4.0) and Canvas and the Woo framework have received major updates as well. All without breaking sites and causing me loss of billable time.

      All that considered, you can understand that I’m no longer exactly a fan of Headway…

  9. Stephane, first I just want to thank you for your open and honest discussion here. It’s difficult when so many things have affiliate programs. It makes you want to take it easy on products you’ve left behind while pimping new products you don’t really know well yet. I feel like I got an honestly objective opinion here.

    Now about Headway. My, my, my…I have been SO torn on this, and it all started because Headway had a sale! LOL But seriously, I just finished setting up my first WordPress client and doing a lot of customization for a second and I’m getting ready to jump into the biz feet first. And Headway put all their blocks and themes on sale, as well as licensing upgrades. So I created a price list and, in the end, I started to feel like they were nickel-and-diming me to death! Awhile back I paid $25 for a slider. Seriously? There are 150 free sliders out there. Now I have to pay for contact forms, tabs, etc. It started to feel wrong. Plus an additional $53 to upgrade to developer license.

    On top of that, there’s child themes. 3.0 has been out a year, and they still have only five child themes, including 3rd party. WTF?

    Regarding the 2 to 3 transition, that didn’t really bother me since I wasn’t here for it. But now I’m wondering what will happen a year or more down the road. Will they leave me stranded?

    And then you mentioned how they haven’t pushed out an update to Headway 2 to update the Timthumb version. That just pisses me off! I had my whole server account corrupted *twice* due to that damned Timthumb vulnerability because I was using a free theme which was a modified WooTheme. Since it was free, the developer was slow to update it and probably didn’t have any way of contacting me. Headway has no such excuses. That is completely unacceptable to me!

    So I started looking at iThemes Builder. $128 will get me the developer license, 60 child themes, and LoopBuddy + 2 other plugins. I think I like that setup better. I do notice, however, that they have lots of plugins, which appear similar to Headway’s blocks. Do you use their plugins or just use 3rd party plugins?

    • Hi Glenn, thank you for your comment!

      Yes I use iThemes plugins occasionally but, I find that some of them lack a little sophistication or flexibility but they are reliable. Featured Posts is pretty good but there’s better stuff out there and WooSlider for example is certainly equivalent… and free. There’s nothing out there like BackupBuddy and LoopBuddy though so they are key parts of my toolset.

      I personally don’t mind paying for good plugins if they save me time because they work well but I know what you mean about nickel-and-diming. To be fair, Headway is not the priciest premium theme company out there but they are now on an annual license which I don’t have to pay anymore as I was grandfathered into their previous licensing. For new users it sucks though but I can understand the business model.

      Again, annual fees are fine if the product evolves nicely and is well supported. In Headway’s case I leave that for others to debate. I’ll try any new releases. iThemes also have an annual subscription license but Builder has been so solid for me I just renewd it to 2014 using a recent special.

      WooThemes went with annual licensing too recently but still give users an option for lifetime updates if you pay a little more for a theme. I usually do and was also grandfathered into some of their themes including Canvas. WooThemes also has awesome specialized “app” themes like SupportPress and Wikeasi and Canvas is a sort of frameworks I’m using more and more so it’s all worth it for me. I make a living at this so anything that saves me time is good for me and, like iThemes, WooThemes themes are built using WordPress standards and best practices and Canvas is very easy to style.

      Going back to your question, I use mostly third party “display” plugins with Builder including Woo stuff and plugins like Types & Views. Had I known about Views a year ago, I might have been able to do what I wanted with CPTs as I explained in the post here but, the one site that caused me to switch is a site I just cannot afford to break because of whatever caused Headway to loose its layout a couple times on the one site I use it for. So I sleep better knowing it’s powered by Builder. I always start from the base default child theme. IMn not very impressed with the design of most Builder child themes but that is a matter of tase and many are quite workable and adequate.

      I don’t think you can go wrong with Builder and there’s no layout I haven’t been able to build with it yet. I may require a little more CSS and maybe tweaking a template here and there but, “it just works”. If you don’t plan on doing any “crazy” layouts then WooThemes Canvas would serve you well also and it’s WooCommerce ready and has a great hooks system.

      Genesis is another alternative you might consider. Fair pricing there too and no annual subs. In my opinion, both StudioPress (Genesis) and WooThemes have better designed child themes than iThemes with the edge going to WooThemes for my taste. But after a year of using it, I still think Builder is the best theme framework out there eventhough I’M having a lot of fun working with Canvas and other Woo stuff. Without knowing how you want to work wethere you’ll do mostly custom designs like me of need to rely on a good supply of pre-made child themes then I can’t be much more specific in my advice.

      Cheers and good luck!

  10. Hi, Stephane!

    I was wondering did you got any tests and comparisons between the code that Headway and iThemes Builser are generating? Which one is cleaner and better handled?
    Did you have any chances to also compare also how fast the same website loads once built on iThemesBuilder and another time on Headway? I think these a very relevant options while choosing a theme framework to keep all our work going. We would love to hear if you have any details about it.

    We are extensively working on Headway 3 and since the first release it got huge kicks, including easier use of custom post types as well. Not to say that it has an integration with Woo Commerce since the end of January. Do you know if IThemes Builder can provide eCommerce integration as well?

    We cane accross iThemeBuilder couple of times but we are not using it and we don’t know many practical details about it. It will be nice if you can give some input on the questions we have.

    Thanks in advance!
    Milena from Idesignstudio

    • Hi Milena,

      Thanks for commenting!

      The code both produce is clean and valid although they are built quite differently. Edge to Headway for slightly lighter code. Builder uses more containers and more classes to give designers and devs all the flexibility needed to tweak the layout. As that is done more visually with Headway, its code can be lighter. But quite frankly, that is not a critical issue for me although I’d like Builder to simplify a little and all frameworks to move to HTML 5.0.

      What has been an issue for me in the past is changes in the markup in Headway, some even breaking important CSS hooks we relied on. The markup for Builder has been very consistent in comparison. They removed some extra classes in 4.0 (Builder responsive) but my sites continued to work. With Headway 3.0, I had to modify the CSS to adapt to changes in the IDs and classes with almost every release, even minor ones (3.3.1 to 3.3.2 for example). That’s not to mention changes in the CSS that broke layout but that’s another issue. Hopefully this got better with later releases of Headway 3.x but I haven’t used it in months and the one client site that was running it is no longer online.

      As for performance, this article by Chris Lema tackles that :

      Chris puts Headway and Builder neck and neck above the rest with Genesis and Canvas close behind. By less scientific methods I’d say he’s right on. Both Headway and Builder are fast, faster still with caching. Pingdom tools favors Builder in Chris’ test and it has the lightest page size by a wide margin (with default child theme, images-heavy layouts would be different of course).

      Performance is a much more important criteria to me so I’m happy Builder performs well.

      I’ve quickly tested the recent versions of Headway in my sandbox site and it is indeed improving. Builder works well with WooCommerce out of the box and is much easier to tweak using the provided WooCommerce template files. The documentation provided by Woo here would apply directly to Builder but not to Headway as it does not use the standard WordPress templating system. That still bugs me.

      I’ve used Builder for over 15 months now. Personally, I would have a very hard time going back to Headway. All the issues I encountered with it made me loose my trust in the product. Each update had to be tested and was a crapshoot if it would break my layout or not. That is unacceptable to me. In comparison, Builder’s development is much more level headed. The introduction of responsive in Builder 4.0 was done in such a way that existing sites could have the parent Builder upgraded and nothing broke. Responsive had to be enabled specifically (and works very well when it is). I like that philosophy. It instills confidence. Same with Canvas which is my second go to theme now which I use on many projects with simpler needs. Full support for WooCommerce out of the box and a fantastic templating system.

      Keep using Headway if it suits your needs and works well for you. If you started using it at 3 you do not have the additional issue of dealing with 2.0.x “legacy” sites. Took the guys over a year to provide a minor update to 2.0.14 tha, among other “small” things, replaced a vulnerable version of TimThumb. Yes you read right, they let Headway 2.0.13 users hang in the breeze with a component with a known and quite severe security vulnerability for over a year. I even warned Clay about it in early 2012. They still let us hang. Again, unacceptable to me.

      All those 2.0.14 sites will have to be updated eventually but there’s still no upgrade path, partial or otherwise. Again, if you have nothing on 2.0.x, this not an issue for you. Goes to the “character” of the dev though as that upgrade path was oft promised and they broke their promises often. What will happen with Headway 4.0? Hopefully they learned their lesson.

      Hope this helps! Keep in mind that my experience is mine. There are plenty of satisfied Headway customers out there to balance it. I know what issues are critical to me and they are not the same as everyone else’s.


  11. I’ve been building sites using primarily Headway since 2.0 version after building only basic HTML sites before that. While I love Headway my primary issue is in trying to nail down more finite issues for my clients, like load times, using and maximizing the use of sprites, etc. I’ve had several of my client sites go down and fielded way too many SOS calls and messages.

    But I continue to use it for many clients at this point because so many of them want to be able to transition to updating their site themselves as much as possible and I think Headway gives them that flexibility.

    That said I’ve been desperate to figure out the best alternative to learn and begin using as I’ve starting digging into PHP. I want a theme that will allow me to have more control over coding a site utilizing the standard WordPress framework. It sounds like Builder is a great option for me to consider.

    For now I’m still working with Headway and the latest slew of updates (3.5, 3.6 and 3.7) have created a fairly stable version.

    That said, I still want a secondary framework so that I can offer my clients an alternative that I am comfortable with.

    Great review! Thanks for your honesty!

    • Hi Katrina,

      I’ve had many reliability issues with Headway (2 and 3) but they might be compounded by hosting issues too in your case. Where are your sites hosted?

      As for clients updating sites themselves, none of mine want to touch the design of a site once done. They know it’s not their expertise and let my company do it. Giving access to a theme for design purposes has never come up for me and if a client insisted on it, I would get out of any maintenance contract I have with them and wash my hands of any responsibility. I’m not a mechanic and I don’t touch my car’s engine even if it “might” save money. My clients that are not designers usually understand that their brand is too important for them to risk hurting it and prefer to let experts handle it. They prefer to concentrate on their own business and serving their own clients well.

      If you want a secondary framework that gives you more flexibility and control over code and works better in the WordPress ecosystem and best practices, Builder would definitely be a great choice. WooThemes Canvas too. They are different kinds of framework but I would use either over Headway any day.

      Thanks for your kind words. I’m opinionated and speak from experience but that is my perspective. I’m sure many people have used Headway for years without issue but I had too many myself during the almost 2 years I’ve used it to recommend it to anyone at this point.

  12. Hi again Stéphane’

    I just wanted to say thanks again for your insight and to everyone else who has contributed to this topic or have replied to me directly. Recently I’ve been getting into my first bit of actual coding within Headway, using image sprites for my buttons with javascript actions. Looking toward the future, I was wondering if you, Katrina, or anyone else could please speak more about what issues exist in terms of trying to customize CSS , image sprites, etc with Headway? What are my limitations when it comes to CSS,JavaScript,php? I’m thinking of switching to I builder but am happy for now coding with live CSS and custom code blocks in Headway.
    Thanks so much!

  13. Hi Stéphan,

    Fantastic article that I wish I’d found before I bought Headway! Like others on here I was suckered into buying Headway through a big sale they were having at the end of the year (2012).

    However, since then I wish I’d chosen something else to develop in. I’ve been doing WordPress sites for a couple of years but wanted to speed up development time with them, and hoped a framework would help. I was dazzled by Headway’s visual editor demo but in practice it is stunningly limited. I find myself looking for plugins and hacks more than ever now trying to get WordPress to do what I want.

    Support is woeful. I’ve had to make several requests for help from their forums (once just to get it registered as that didn’t work in the version I had). I think they are massively under pressure and look like they’ve bitten off more than they can chew to be honest.

    I’ll take a look at iBuilder but am reluctant to spend more money on frameworks that tie you into continual upgrades. Probably best to go back to old school developing and code from a basic child theme.

    Anyway, just thought I would add my two cents worth and thanks again for the informative post. I’ve subscribed.

    Fellow Fireworks Fan


    PS. Interesting that no-one from Headway has thought to comment….

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks for your comment! I don’t have much to add to your comment. All I can say is that all frameworks are not created equal. The Builder upgrade path so far has been the most painless of any framework I’ve used on real Web site projects. You can always start from creating child themes for TwentyTwelve which is the most CMS-friendly default WordPress theme yet. But I’m sticking with Builder and Canvas because of the flexibility they bring and, in Builder’s case, I love the workflow.

      You can check out my newer “State of My Toolset” post written a few weeks ago: It’s written with a year of perspective on this post here and all I can add now is that the last year has been a lot better for me in terms of dealing with themes. No major issues, stable upgrades, no headaches. I love that.

      As for Headway not commenting, I’m not surprised. I would have been very surprised if they did as it’s probably not in their best interest to get into a debate with me and the commenters here. This and other posts and comments where I discuss my issues with Headway come from someone who’s worked with it for a long time. My issues were real whether they came 100% from Headway of from a related set of issues (plugin conflicts, hosting issues, etc). All I can say is that Builder and Canvas never broke a site for me the way Headway often did. I’m also not a hobbyist and have been working on the Web for almost 17 years. I did a lot of troubleshooting and I do not use bad hosting (at least not since I left MediaTemple… ;)

      The other thing is that I try to keep a balance. My experience will not be everyone else’s experience with Headway. I never said Headway was a bad theme in itself, just that I realized it was not for me. Nothing less, nothing more. I like Grant and Clay, they are good people who mean well. That does not mean the product they created is right for everyone and that certainly does not mean they didn’t make mistakes or broke promises. They did. That is on them and they cannot argue this. I was smack in the middle of it struggling to get a project done with Headway. The immediate aftermath of the Headway 3.0 release was a real mess for many Headway customers.

      The oft promise upgrade path from 2 to 3 is still not here. Leaving a vulnerable version of TimThumb in Headway 2.0.13 for months is especially inexcusable for me. I still have several sites on 2.0.14 that I’ll eventually have to upgrade on my dime. This all adds up and it’s not anecdotal, hearsay or speculation. It’s my experience with Headway and I did a lot of things to try to solve the problems I had on my own.

      I agree with you, support is Headway’s Achilles heel, always has been and seems to still be. They could really take notes from iThemes, WooThemes, StudioPress and Catalyst/CobaltApps who all have stellar support systems and people in place. For a hobbyist it’s not that big a deal. For a WordPress professional, it’s absolutely key to be able to rely on solid support from a premium theme vendor…

  14. I’m not a web professional at all—it was hard for me to learn WordPress! I decided to use Headway for my professional websites because it billed itself as “drag and drop.” I really loved Headway 2.0, but Headway 3.0 feels like it’s a totally different product. I can’t spend hours and hours learning a product (Headway 2.0) and then have the company create a whole new product I have to learn all over again. If I stick with Headway, how many times would I have to do that? Are you kidding me? I’m a life coach, not a web designer!!

    I agree that the Headway people seem nice. But as I tell my clients, it’s the impact people have on you that counts—not their intentions.

    Thanks to Headway I now have a lot of costs to write off—my investment in Headway software, the time I spent learning it, the time it’s going to take to research and learn new software, and the time it’s going to take to transfer my Headway sites to new ones.

    I really appreciate your post because it’s reality-affirming. Without honest voices like yours on the web, sharing their Headway experience honestly, I would feel a little crazy, because it is crazy for a company to create an entirely new product with a steep new learning curve — with no migration path from the old product!!— instead of simply updating a highly effective product. I was willing to put up with some glitches in Headway 2.0 because it was incredibly user friendly (for me) and gave me the options I wanted. Now, I’ve been stranded in software that doesn’t work any more. I’m certainly finished with Headway once I find the time to move all my websites. I hope my story helps affirm other people who’ve had disappointing experiences.

    I wrote Clay a very honest email about my distress a year ago, but he replied, “I’m very sorry for your disappointment with Headway 3! It’s definitely a big change from Headway 2, but there are major advantages to using Headway 3 over Headway 2.”

    I don’t see it that way. For me, there are now no advantages to using Headway and I’m migrating as soon as I can. I personally do not recommend it at all.

    • Thank you for your comment Melissa. I can definitely relate to your story and I’m a professional web developer! I have struggled to find the perfect solution for myself so I can only imagine how hard it can be for someone just wanting to get their business online and work on that business, not struggle with WordPress themes complexities. I don’t know if you found another theme you like but I’d recommend looking at StudioPress and Genesis. You could use a pre-designed Genesis child theme and get a new look and more efficient Web site quickly. Genesis is solid and far more stable than Headway.

      Good luck with your site!

  15. Personally, I’ve used headway since version 2, which I had a hard time wrapping my head around. Almost gave up, then they released 3, and though there were some rough edges at the beginning, at v.3.7 it has evolved into a polished, highly effective system for creating websites of all kinds, from simple blogs to highly complex ecommerce sites.
    Admittedly I am a professional designer, but I have created as many as 50 sites using HWT3.x and have nothing but glowing praise.
    Yes, there is a learning curve; there is for anything of value in this arena – Photoshop, Fireworks, even Google Chrome (I JUST discovered emulation – imagine my excitement). And yes, it is indeed drag and drop, but only for the simplest of sites. However with the application of a little bit of study (and maybe some cash), one can enhance a Headway site very easily, either with built-in tools (15 different block types and dashboard-based CSS) or with the multitude of 3rd party tools now offered.
    And to my relief, the tech support has gotten significantly less snotty and more helpful, sometimes even going out of their way to explain WHY something failed, not just how to fix it. Their documentation has improved dramatically and their support forums too. A significant support community has developed outside of the company itself that has proved its mettle to me repeatedly.
    All of that said, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s an especially bitter cup if what you expect is the ability to create a masterpiece with little or no investment of mental energy. Like anything else, what you get out is directly proportional to what you put in.

    • Hello Karelle,

      Thanks for your comment! Your last paragraph is right on. Mastering a craft requires effort and web design and development is no different.

      As for the improvements with Headway and the support customers get there, I’m very happy to hear things are going better. They really needed to get it together and snotty is exactly the right word to describe how it was for a long time.

      Headway 3.7+ seems to work great for you and that’s good to hear. For me, that ship has sailed. I completely lost confidence in the product and the workflow doesn’t appeal to me anymore. Genesis is much more in alignment with WordPress standards and best practices and that has made my job a lot easier. Everything is more predictable. I works with outside tools better out of the box and resources are easier to find. StudioPress’ support is also phenomenal.

      My business has grown quite a bit in the almost 3 years since I wrote this post and I now have a partner and a few sub-contractors working for us. My toolset needs to be rock solid and stable as I have almost 50 WordPress sites in maintenance, almost all of them client sites. Headway did not give me the stability I need and, as a Headway customer, I voted with my feet. With Genesis I’ve found that stability and the peace of mind that comes with it.

      I have 3 last sites still on Headway 2.0.15 to migrate. Support of that 2.0.x branch ended on January 1st and no upgrade help ever came for customers who want to stay with Headway and move to 3.x. It is not my case but it’s still a broken promise on Headway’s part. I still had to migrate about 10 sites away from 2.0 on my own dime which is a rather bitter pill to swallow. I recommended that product to my clients and those sites are not changing design. But I cannot in good conscience leave them running an unsupported product.

      The philosophy at StudioPress is very different and they would never leave clients hanging like this. It’s a terrible business practice and I’m sure Headway has lost a lot of long time customers because of it. Hopefully they have learned from it…

      • The best example of Headway’s attitude is captured in their “sneak peek” at v4.0 video. It was pure salesmanship and lots of “coming soon” statements, but no roadmap, no join us for the alpha / beta. Nothing but silence and some horrible marketing emails from the host (who was not announced as doing it for business at the onset of the video — not cool). The teaser video was over 5 months ago, and if you check their user forum, whenever a dedicated, loyal customer / user asks what 4.0’s status is, a Headway person says, “When it’s ready” or similar. Nice customer relations. I’m moving on to Beaver Builder

        • Hi Matt,

          I’m really not following Headway at all anymore. Simply not interested.

          You’re gonna love Beaver Builder. Mixed with Genesis and the Dynamik Web Site Builder child theme you get great layout flexibility but also a very stable base to build on that won’t break 2 years down the road.

          iThemes Builder the theme I was praising in this 2012 article has the advantage of being stable. But it’s a stale product. iThemes have moved their focus to plugins and I stopped using iThemes Builder in 2013.

          Genesis is now the framework I’ve used the longest and, unlike Headway and iThemes Builder, my ethusiasm for it is still growing and not gradually waning like for the others. My only regret is not to have started using it sooner.

          Thanks for your comment and have fun with Beaver Builder! :)


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