Elegant Themes: An Overview and a Word of Caution

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:

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.

Quick Disclaimer

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

newdesign

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.

Elegant!

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:

Elegant Themes ugly

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:

wp-nav-menu

With this:

elegant-themes-2

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.

Summary

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.

In Conclusion…

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!

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11 Responses to Elegant Themes: An Overview and a Word of Caution

  1. Nick Roach says:

    It’s true that you will need to configure the themes as instructed in the theme readme before they will perform as intended.

    Your review seems to imply that our themes do not support the native WordPress menu system, which is entirely untrue. Our themes have been compatible with this feature since it was introduced, and we encourage our customers to use it.

    By the way, have you given Divi a try yet? 🙂 You seem to have ignore our flagship theme/main offering in this post.

    • fred says:

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for writing. I’ll try to respond point-by-point:

      1. All themes need to be configured, obviously, but I stand by the point that Elegant Themes themes are far more badly broken when loaded with default content, and far more difficult to customize away from a default layout, than the themes of any other reputable theme shop I’ve worked with.

      I also stand by the broader point that the Elegant Themes customizer is badly designed in numerous ways. To pick one of many examples, the featured slider on the “Feather” theme (here’s a screenshot) lets you choose between pulling slides from a set of pages, or from a single “featured” post category. To my knowledge, it doesn’t let you order either selection intelligently; you’d presumably have to hack post published dates. Moreover, you’re unable to customize either a slider’s image (it’ll be the post’s featured image, or else a large broken empty “image missing” box if the post doesn’t have one; see screenshot) or text (it’ll be an initial excerpt from the post text, cut off after a predefined character limit) or link (it’ll be the post or page from which the slider pulls). Relative to a featured slider that lets you load arbitrary content and link to arbitrary destinations, this is a really poor implementation, and the kind of frustration I’ve frequently encountered with Elegant Themes themes.

      2. Based on your comment, I was able to enable the default WordPress nav functionality in Elegant Themes themes. However, this option isn’t anywhere in your documentation that I’ve ever found (for example, here’s the Divi documentation, which only mentions the ePanel interface), and Elegant Themes is the only theme shop I can think of that presents two conflicting interfaces to manage navigation, with the custom interface overriding the standard WordPress interface by default.

      I think it’d be a great help if you made it more clear to users that the regular nav interface is available. Knowing that this is possible does remove what’s been a major source of frustration with Elegant Themes; I’ll revise the post accordingly.

      3. I haven’t tried Divi for the reasons cited above; not sure about it being your main offering, but I have certainly tried a good number of Elegant Themes themes and had the experiences I described.

      I appreciate the comments; feel free to follow up.

      Best,
      Fred

  2. Craig Wallin says:

    Thanks for an honest assessment of this theme vendor. So much of what’s on the web as “reviews” is thinly disguised advertising designed to steer you to whichever theme company pays the highest referral fees.
    Looking forward to the next post in this series, which hopefully will cover some of the other popular theme shops, such as Woo Themes and Studio Press.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Have used Elegant themes twice in the past and found that most customization requires TONS of extra CSS. But was still eager to test drive their Divi theme, and committed to it for a simple job with a small budget. Am finding myself writing lines and lines of CSS again.

    When searching their forums, they often reply with “Please add this to your theme’s custom CSS…” so they must expect design customizations to be done with CSS and not the theme options or WP Customizer. Very frustrating if you want to tweak design much at all.

  4. You have saved me alot of time ~ I will not be considering Elegant Themes until these problems have been corrected.

  5. Cindy says:

    I wish I had read this review last year.

    Contrary to your high rating for their support, I find it next to non-existent. Any php customization required will get you their prompt, but general reply: “Sorry, but this type of customization is above our capability.” And depending on the moderator, they’ll add: “However, if you wish to hire a designer, PM me and I’ll give you a quote.” All they seem to help with is CSS changes. I’ve had better support from developers of free themes so I was very dissapointed with the service from a paid perspective.

    And why I need their support is because the themes look great, but don’t function out of the box! Sometimes I wonder if their people even use Elegant Themes to build anything other than simple blogs. Example: Their gallery/portfolio page templates on eccommerce themes only displays/links to WordPress posts and doesn’t display/link any product images. Again, useful if you want your eccommerce site to have a pretty blog. Another example: Their eList directory theme requires major coding & installing a couple of plugins just to prevent users from accessing/publishing certain dashboard areas.

    Lastly, most of these themes are not social media friendly. I’ve always had to program/add extra widget areas and re-arrange the header & footer to make space for social icons.

  6. Pingback: Choosing a Well-Built WordPress Theme: A Step-By-Step Guide | WPShout.com

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  8. Mary says:

    I have had a bad experience – have tried 7 Elegant Theme themes, including DIVI. They are built like someone stacked all the bricks just right to look pretty, but when you slap that pile of bricks onto anyone’s blog database, it just crumbles. Really, this is hand-painted custom veneer – Elegant Themes should be doing custom design work, not selling themes that are supposedly plug-n-play. If you want to be dragged down by a product that makes you work day and night for it… then buy Eleg. Themes. I bought a lifetime membership and I will be requesting refund today. Last day wasted on this! Had a very happy site running on 2 prior free themes, with adverts, until this!

    • Don says:

      Well I was just about to buy until I read these posts. I am wondering if this has improved? I was wondering about some of these issues. I noticed photoshop images were part of the membership and had a suspicion the demos were not as easy to design as the display shows. The Divi theme dislay actually does not look as good as a few of the other responsive designs they have.

  9. I concur, but would add this: If the theme ACTUALLY looked and behaved like any of the demos in their out-of-the-box state, and from THAT point allowed for all those layers of customization, that would be fine. Then I could backtrack to identify and retrofit the CSS.

    However, the graphic slots are oddly sized (the logos are uniformly tiny and there’s no way to replace them with Title text) and oddly sized sliders or images that will be used both for banners and then cropped down for insets are all unnamed, unsized, and unlabeled. There are PSD files included, but rarely are there matching pngs – and the PSD files don’t do anything useful… like have the pixel sizes labeled on them. No, instead, you have to go into each separate file and look up the image size. How easy it would be if you could see the sizes as part of the images, without that extra step—allowing you to assess quickly whether you have something close that you could further configure in the Media Library.
    The lack of labeling on a template that requires SO MUCH customization is extremely frustrating. Rather than Lorem Ipsum, how nice it would be to see “This position is called ‘section2’ in the ePanel and the icon-slot above is called ‘icon2′. These files can be found in ;wp-content/images/demo’ and this text is a category assigned to section2”
    Or something.
    Without that attention to detail I will continue to be frustrated with my purchase and rather scornful of the “Have you tried Divi?” questions. Because yes I have. And all of what I said here still holds true. I don’t have the time or the patience to go through another set-up process again. I’ve gone back to free themes as penance.

    There’s nothing here that I’ve not sent to Elegant Themes before, myself. Privately. Seems a shame there have been no moves in any of the directions cited by everyone above because the themes really are quite lovely.

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