Today we’ll be continuing our discussion of WordPress themes. If you’re looking for the right theme for your site, be sure to take a look at the first three posts in this series:
- What WordPress Themes Are
- Choosing The Perfect WordPress Themes: Free vs. Premium Themes
- Finding a WordPress Theme That Fits Your Development Skills
In a few upcoming posts, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the highest-profile WordPress theme shops on the market today. Today’s post will look at one of the biggest and most magnetic theme shops in the world: Elegant Themes.
This post is a very honest look at my experience working with Elegant Themes as a professional WordPress developer. An Elegant Themes membership (which I still have) was the first time I ever paid for a WordPress theme, and I’ve set up probably a half-dozen WordPress sites using themes from Elegant Themes, including sites for clients who were ultimately satisfied with the results. Nevertheless, my experience with Elegant Themes hasn’t been totally, or even overwhelmingly, positive. Please understand my feedback strictly as an attempt to help WordPress site owners make good theme choices for them, especially given Elegant Themes’ vast marketing pull in the space.
About Elegant Themes
The Elegant Themes WordPress theme shop is one of the most popular theme shops around, with 87 themes in their ever-growing shop and over 253,000 customers.
The Upsides Of Elegant Themes
Excellent Value and Variety
Elegant Themes is great from a price standpoint: access to all (currently) 87 themes costs only $69, which is about the cost of a single theme at many other theme shops.
Variety is another advantage: a membership gets you access to just about everything, from magazine layout themes to blog themes to corporate themes to real estate and travel themes to the very popular drag-and-drop theme, Divi.
Good Purchase Terms and Support
Elegant Themes offers a 30-day money back guarantee for theme license purchases. I have also heard, anecdotally, that their support is very prompt and helpful.
Browsing the Elegant Themes repository is what browsing a repository should feel like.
Probably the best reason to love Elegant Themes is for the design. Most of the theme demos are indeed “elegant”: clean, spacious, balanced, and an overall pleasure to look at. This is particularly true for the newer ones.
Browsing the Elegant Themes site is what browsing a theme repository should feel like: clean, spacious, colorful, like a comfortable yet ultramodern luxury hotel with 80+ beautifully laid-out suites.
So those are the positives…
The Downsides Of Elegant Themes
The major downsides of Elegant Themes, for me, are the bad user interface and the lack of customizability. To talk over these issues, I’ll be excerpting from a frustrated email I recently wrote on the subject.
Fragile and Very Difficult to Customize
From my email: “I tried one of their themes again yesterday after a long hiatus, and it was exactly the same experience: ugly, dangling elements on the front-end, and the backend is impossible to administer.”
“Ugly, dangling elements” looks like this:
The red arrows all point to empty, broken areas that show up on a new installation—including the actual words “No categories,” sitting there on the page. To make these things go away, you have to set your site up to match the theme demo almost exactly.
There’s a lot else that is much less flexible than you’d imagine from looking at the theme demos, such as widespread use of section separators and image borders that are themselves images—meaning that you’re stuck with those elements, exactly as they appear, unless you want to edit them with Photoshop.
Elegant Themes are very difficult to customize. It’s like buying a house that looks beautiful, but if you try to move the couch the roof caves in.
In other words, Elegant Themes themes are very difficult to customize; the themes are set up to deliver a carbon copy of the theme demo, but if you stray from that template the theme is liable to simply break. It’s like buying a house that looks beautiful, but if you try to move the couch the roof caves in.
Now let’s figure out what I meant when I wrote (perhaps somewhat hyperbolically) that “the backend is impossible to administer”:
Badly-Designed, Hard-to-Use Admin Interface
From my email: “I’ll never understand their decision to ignore the very usable drag-and-drop WordPress default navigation menu system and substitute a thing where you check which pages you want to appear in your nav. You can’t set the order of nav elements—there’s an option to make it ‘alphabetical’ or ‘by date’ but it’s just an immense leap backward from functionality which is there in WordPress by default.”
In other words, Elegant Themes substitutes this:
One major thing to notice about the Elegant Themes nav interface is that there’s no drag-and-drop ordering. This means your nav menu goes in a predefined order—like “most recently published”—that is very unlikely to be the order you had in mind.
The “ePanel” nav interface has plenty of other shortcomings. Notice, for example, that the ePanel interface has no way to store multiple nav menu configurations, that the check mark actually means “Include” despite the caption saying “Exclude from the navigation bar,” and that there’s no clean way to add external links in the ePanel nav (such as to an externally hosted resource like a YouTube channel).
This wouldn’t bother me so much if WordPress hadn’t built a really clean, easy-to-use nav system; as it is, the ePanel navigation solution seems to take that clean and flexible functionality significantly backward—an experience that I’ve had frequently with the ePanel interface.
Note: as Elegant Themes has pointed out in the comments, it is possible to use the WordPress default nav rather than the ePanel interface with Elegant Themes themes. See the comments for specifics, as well as a more general discussion of the ePanel interface.
Based on my personal experience with Elegant Themes, I wouldn’t find it totally inaccurate to compare them to IKEA: stylishly designed and dizzyingly affordable, but very difficult to work with and in danger of being flimsily constructed—and, overall, better suited for small uses than as a lifetime investment.
As I said above, I make this assessment based on extensive experience with Elegant Themes. I’d be glad to hear what other people’s experience has been; but for my money, if you’re serious about your site, I’d suggest using Elegant Themes for design inspiration but going with another vendor.
For sheer beauty—coupled, I hope and expect but haven’t verified, with a sensible technical construction—I would really suggest checking out a small private vendor named Ellen Bauer. More generally, there are a lot of vendors out there, but I’ve wanted for a long time to put my thoughts out there about one of the most promising and marketing-magnetic.
Hope you enjoyed this, and that it helped you. Have you worked with Elegant Themes? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and stay tuned for more on making themes, and WordPress itself, work for you!