Warning: I’m an HTML/CSS/PHP hack, so if you’re a Web designer, this review holds no value for you. This is a review for people who think they can build their own Web site but who actually should hire a professional. Warning No. 2: There will be sudden outbursts throughout this review. I’m writing it on very little sleep and even less food. Kinda feels like I’m drunk and manic, which is funny because of Howard Ellison’s comment today that this Web site is “civilised, sober and tidy.”
This is a mini-review of Headway Themes, a premium WordPress theme. It sells for
$79 [correction, $87] for a personal license and $164 for a developer’s license.
The Company Story
In Headway’s own words:
Clay Griffiths and Grant Griffiths founded Headway Themes in July, 2009 with the launch of the original Headway Theme 1.0. What they saw was a need by many for an easy-to-use premium WordPress framework people could use to build their own sites with. The problem they saw was that one of the best content management systems, WordPress, lacked a true drag and drop visual editor. A system people could use to build their sites with little to no coding needed. (sic)
In the process of writing this review, I learned that Headway offers an affiliate program. (My reaction when I found out: YES!) Headway exceeded my affiliate requirements (it has to be a product I use and love), so I joined.
An aside: I hate reviews that make the affiliate disclosure at the very end. I don’t why I hate it. I just do.
Background: Why I Tried Headway
The parent company for The Solopreneur Life is Straight River Media, Inc., which is the company that I founded in 1993. This winter SRM needed a new Web site, a simple one, so I set out to determine whether I could build it myself. I did the same thing last spring when creating TheSolopreneurLife.com, and I concluded then that I needed help to achieve my goals for the site.
Last spring, prior to hiring a designer, I spent time with Headway Themes, a Web site design/build software for WordPress Web sites. I didn’t get very far with it. I could see that the Headway user interface was much friendlier than anything else I’d experimented with, but I didn’t possess enough knowledge to use it well.
But over the last year, I’ve learned a lot about what’s under the hood of a Web site, so when I opened Headway last month, it made sense to me. In fact, it was pretty easy.
So, I set out again to see if I could build a simple, custom Web site with Headway Themes.
Update, August 15, 2013: I have renovated the Straight River Media website and I’m no longer using the Headway theme. Why? I built a few sites with the the Canvas theme from Woothemes, and I fell in love with Canvas. So I used it for a redesign of the Straight River Media site.
Things I Like About Headway
The Visual Editor is what makes Headway special, and it’s why tech-challenged English majors like me are fond of it. Working with the Visual Editor is a lot like working with Photoshop or InDesign–you possess a control panel that allows you to control every element of the page, including layout, fonts, colors, header, footer, background. After building the site, you leave the Visual Editor and spend most of your time in the WordPress panel.
Allow me to share my true opinion of the Visual Editor: I LOVE IT! I LOVE IT! I LOVE IT! And I didn’t even use its ballyhooed drag-and-drop functionality. Using Headway reminds me of those heady, heady days when I left cut-and-paste and began using Quark.
And Headway passes The Solopreneur Life’s Easy Peasy Test.
The Headway wizard. The wizard generates a color palette based on the color or colors that you give it. It’s an incredible time-saver for someone like me who cares a lot about colors but needs a lot of time to develop a palette.
High degree of page customization. With Headway, it’s possible and relatively easy to vary the pages within your Web site. If you want the columns, fonts, colors to be different, you can do it with the ease that you would make one magazine page different than another within InDesign.
What I Don’t Like
A limited number of fonts. Headway came with a very limited number of fonts, which disappointed me. But I’m a font junkie, so of course I was disappointed. Fortunately, there are a lot of sources (paid and free) for Web-friendly fonts. I looked at paid and free sites, and the fonts I liked the best for my site resided at Google Fonts–a brilliant little stash of Web-friendly fonts and font tools. One tool allows you to select a font and test how it looks with different browsers. How amazing is that?
Adding fonts to the site. Adding the fonts and actually getting them to work was more difficult that it should be. (And from my research, I found I’m not the only person who has struggled with it.) Adding to the frustration was the fact that several of the online how-to methods didn’t work for me (and apparently many other people, either). Eventually, I found a YouTube video that successfully walked me through the process.
Leafs, skins, hooks, huh? Headway uses “leafs,” which are pieces of code that control page elements, like the RSS feed, social-media buttons. It also uses “skins,” which basically are templates. It took me a while to figure out what leafs and skins and hooks do, and I still haven’t figured out what hooks do; it might have something to do with php, which I don’t understand.
So, I think the word choice for these functions is beyond confusing. They should have picked one metaphor to start, and then riffed off of it for the other functions.
Where are they? I like knowing where people and companies are located. Just call me old-school. I tried very hard to find where the company is located. I couldn’t find it. People still care about physical location. Include it on your site. It could be the difference between gaining a sale or losing it to your competitor, which does share the info.
Not Enough Data
Support. I haven’t had big problems yet with Headway (knock on wood, right?), so I can’t tell you anything about Headway support, or the size and quality of the Headway support community.
Interesting Side Note
In reading at unofficial Headway blogs, I came across Headway Hub, which is published by Corey Freeman. I watched one of her how-to videos, and it was top-notch. Corey is only 18 years old and has been creating computer instructional materials since she was 12. Headway hired her when they learned she was Headway hacker.
Headway Themes is a great product for people like me who have a dangerous level of Web site knowledge.
If you have little or no knowledge about what’s under the hood of a Web site, yes, I think you could build Web site with Headway, but I think you’d be walking into a strong headwind. (I wanted to sneak the word “headwind” in this review, and I did it!)
If I was a Web developer, I think I’d love Headway. But I’m not a developer, so my opinion means zilch.