BizWay is a new WordPress theme released to the dot org theme repository in the last week. There were fifteen themes all pushed live to the directory on the same day, and I think BizWay deserves to be pulled out from the crowd a bit.
BizWay is a free release from a commercial theme shop called InkThemes. Many of the themes on the dot org directory that I like recently have been from commercial theme shops releasing free themes. I had not heard of InkThemes until I ran across this free theme release.
You can check it out along with me if you download BizWay from WordPress.org.
When evaluating the look of WordPress themes, it’s important to realize the context and experience the reviewer has. All of my experience with building sites has been for small businesses or organizations, so this one caught my eye. This theme is an easy choice for any business or organization to use.
Some may call the site layout overdone, with so many themes out there that have the big featured slider area and three featured areas, but this is what many businesses are looking for. Most businesses I’ve dealt with want the home page to be static content, more like a brochure, and have news release and “blog” content on another part of the site that’s not the home page. This theme has the homepage layout many businesses are looking for. Oh, and I kind of prefer it too!
Upon activation the theme looks exactly like the theme demo, which is a plus for me. It’s frustrating to install a theme and then spend the next hour figuring out how to mimic what the demo looked like. As a visual person, now I can see what dummy content needs to be swapped out with my content.
BizWay uses a third party option panel, but it only has enough options as it needs to. It’s easy to insert your own logo and favicon, and clearly states the suggest pixel dimensions. In some themes I’ve used, the image sizes weren’t documented anywhere and I had to use Chrome’s element inspector to mimic the demo’s size. There are also options to easily insert your own images, text and links for the slider area and three column featured area. For me the “right” number of options for a theme is just enough that they all need to be filled out, and this theme meets my requirement. The theme options link is also where it should be, hidden under Appearance on the dashboard and not its own top level menu.
[pullquote text="This theme is an easy choice for any business or organization to use." type="roadblock"]
The archive pages are attractively laid out, with support for featured images, a colored “Read More” button, and automatic truncation if the post doesn’t contain the “more” tag. The visual editor has also been styled so that line width is similar to the front end view, something that’s often overlooked by theme authors.
The only feature I feel BizWay is lacking is that there isn’t a way to easily change the color scheme throughout the site. There is a pervasive blue color for header colors, links, arrows, etc, and most site owners will want to swap out that blue color for something else that matches what they are about. It wouldn’t be hard add an option to the options screen to make that change to the CSS file. Yeah, I know that if someone really wants to change colors they can go into the style sheet themselves, but everything else on the theme is an easy task for a novice WordPress user. Why should something as changing a menu background color be more difficult.
When I run Pingdom Tools on my test site, the page loads 464k and 38 HTTP requests. That’s not terrible in the grand scheme of things, but I think 38 requests is a lot for such a simple home page. Some things like the bullets under the home page slider are made with an image, and those images aren’t combined into one large sprite for the whole site. This is fine for a few thousand page views a month, but if a site running this theme were to get a lot of traffic, server resources would become a concern. Also, Pingdom Tools reports four broken link to images from the style sheet.
[pullquote type="jump" text="That's not terrible in the grand scheme of things, but I think 38 requests is a lot for such a simple home page."]
BizWay doesn’t make good use of the new theme customizer recently released with WordPress version 3.4, at least in this version of the theme. Only the default three core options are available: site title, navigation, and static front page. Granted WordPress 3.4 was released one day prior to this theme’s release, and the theme review process can take a week or more, but many other themes on the dot org directory already use the customizer for changing out header images, colors, etc…
Otto released How to leverage the Theme Customizer in your own themes a full six weeks prior to the release of WordPress version 3.4 so the customizer feature of WordPress core isn’t a surprise. In time I hope that developers begin to ditch third-party options frameworks in favor this WordPress core feature.
Better use of the theme customizer would also provide a more unified experience to changing the site. This isn’t really a critique of this theme, just all themes in general. Some options are in the theme options link, the footer must be changed in the widgets area, and core site options like site title and menus are in yet another location. I think the core theme customizer would be the best place to condense all options, making it more intuitive for the average user.
One slightly strange thing is that on the dashboard under Appearance, the theme inserted a “InkThemes Themes” link under the “Theme Options” link. This is basically a link to some of the author’s other themes, with both their commercial option and free or “lite” versions on the dot org directory. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Since this theme made it past the theme review team it must be kosher with community standards, but I’ve never seen it before from any other theme author.
Another thing to consider is that the images and code for this page are now hosted on my site. I’m paying to store this content and the bandwidth to serve it up! Granted it’s only a few hundred kb, and I probably won’t click on it more than once, but it is something to consider.
This author has taken the time to contribute to the dot org directory, and I totally understand that he wants to drive some traffic toward his commercial offerings, but this just feels gross to me. I’d be fine with having a credit page with links out to his social media listings (links, not embedded iframes as seen here), and I’d even be fine with a link to purchase the full version of the theme and see his other offerings, but this feels more like a storefront that I didn’t expect to be installed with a theme. When I installed WP App Store, I expected a storefront. When I install a theme, I expect to get a theme – and nothing else.
This is basically a stripped down version of a commercial theme by the same name. From what I can tell, what you would gain by purchasing the full version of the theme is:
- Responsive design
- Support and Documentation
- 10 more color options
- More available slider “slides”
The price is about what you would expect from a commercial theme, in line with most theme marketplaces. If I were building a site for a business I’d strongly suggest that the company purchase the theme for the available color options and more slides for the featured slider. It’s a bit frustrating that those features are limited on the free release.
Personally, I think theme authors should make one of their best pieces of work available on the directory to show off their talent, and not just as a way to get users “on the hook” and basically be forced into a purchase once they begin inserting content and hit a limit three hours into the project. If I were to come across a free theme that did exactly what I wanted for a project, I would certainly look toward the author’s other offerings for future projects. I have learned to find good theme authors and follow their future work, but maybe I’m not the normal theme purchaser.
I suspect that the problem of too many HTTP requests would also be present in the paid version. That is probably just the developer’s style. Also, I’m curious if the “InkThemes Themes” advertisement page would go away in the paid version. My guess is not.
[pullquote type="roadblock" text="I would still use BizWay to get a quick site up for a friend or family member."]
This is a solid theme, with respect to design and functionality. I would still use BizWay to get a quick site up for a friend or family member. It’s very easy to customize with your own content, and generally behaves the way I would expect it to.
If you can live with the blue color, or can change it in the style sheet yourself, I say “Go for it!”
This review was completed using version 1.0 of the BizWay theme.