Earlier this year when I first encountered Headway, I was so impressed by it that it became the first WordPress theme I ever bought. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to the release of version 2.0 all year and now it’s finally here.
Before reviewing it, I assumed that I’d find one or two features to be particularly happy about, but that I’d remain mostly indifferent towards the update. After having used Headway, Genesis and Platform Pro, I adopted the belief that there was no such thing as the “best” premium WordPress theme. Jumping from one to the other was a lateral move. They were all of the highest quality and they all attempted to solve the same problems, the only difference was their preferred method of solving them.
Using Headway today has started to erode that belief. Headway 2.0 completely exceeded my expectations. Not only was I reminded of why I bought Headway in the first place, I ended up wondering how I had been able to tolerate versions 1.5 and 1.6 all these months.
Here are some of the most notable features.
Headway is licensed under the GPL
This is an issue most end-users won’t care about, but I certainly did when I first bought Headway. Buying a non-GPL theme made me feel like a traitor, but after the great experience I had using Headway for client work I was forced to suppress any of that negativity. Though it wasn’t in line with the WordPress community’s core beliefs, it was an incredible theme.
When I checked out Headway’s site on the day 2.0 launched, I was shocked and thrilled to see “Headway is licensed exclusively under the GNU GPLv2 license.” Right there on the pricing page for all to see. It feels good to know I’m supporting a theme that supports the community as a whole. I don’t have to feel dirty about it anymore.
Clean default design
One of the more disappointing things about Headway was that you couldn’t really use it out of the box. I mean, you could, you just wouldn’t want to. It wasn’t particularly pretty. After I first activated Headway 2.0, I was very happy to see that the old boxy default design has been replaced with a clean, open, minimalist design.
The Headway Quick Start Wizard
Headway always strived to be for beginners, but I never really felt like it succeeded at that. The Visual Editor could definitely speed up the building process for designers and developers, but for end-users it was just another thing to figure out and fight with. Out of all the clients I set up Headway for, most weren’t adventurous enough to enter the Visual Editor and the one’s who were gave up after an hour or so.
No more opening Coda, tracking down the CSS file, making a change, saving the file and reloading the browser. Instead, you just type. That’s it.
Thanks to the introduction of the Quick Start Wizard, Headway is a theme I can also recommend for beginners who have no intention of ever hiring a designer/developer to set up their site. With the wizard, users don’t have to look around for how to set up the most basic attributes of their site. Right at the beginning they’re able to set:
- Header Image
- and Fonts
The best part about the Quick Start Wizard is that after you upload a header image, it will automatically pick out a color scheme that looks great with that image. My header had a dark gray gradient and red text. Once it was uploaded, Headway suggested different shades of reds and grays and allowed me to drag and drop them into Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Background positions. One of the most annoying aspects of starting any site with Headway was picking out the colors. I’d always end up missing something. Now that’s not a problem!
Improved drag-and-drop controls
Usually the biggest headaches Headway gave me stemmed from the drag-and-drop controls. For those who don’t know, Headway divides a page into a series of “leafs”. You can then click and drag any leaf and drop it somewhere else on the page. Often times, it would end up in a place you didn’t mean for it to be or the place you were trying to move it wasn’t even available for some unknown reason.
While I might be able to attribute this to using Google Chrome instead of Firefox, Headway 2.0 seems to have ironed out most of the control issues. It certainly feels a lot more solid and that’s all that really counts.
The Live CSS Editor
Though its not a new feature for Headway 2.0, I couldn’t talk about Headway without mentioning the Live CSS Editor. After a few months of doing client work, I realized this feature had become my absolute favorite. Maybe it’s something only designers/developers would appreciate, but it’s so nice to see instantaneous changes. No more opening Coda, tracking down the CSS file, making a change, saving the file and reloading the browser. Instead, you just type. That’s it.
Better WordPress UI integration
While this change isn’t as major as the Visual Editor features, the new version of Headway offers up a more streamlined options page that uses WordPress 3.0’s UI elements. This feels a lot faster than the old configuration panel.
What 20 minutes with Headway gets you
While writing this review, I decided the best way to see what was new and what was good was to go through and create a design the same way I would if I was setting up a brand new site. I installed Headway, went step-by-step through the Quick Start Wizard, made some small tweaks in the sidebar and this is what I came up with in 20 minutes:
Except for a single unnecessary line of CSS code to show off the Live CSS Editor, this is a design that required no coding whatsoever. No HTML. No PHP. I think it looks great for a design that took practically no effort and that no thought was put into.
As I said, this took me 20 minutes, but you have to consider that the entire time I was testing new features and taking screenshots. My guess is that this really amounts to about 5 to 10 minutes of work. When I first bought Headway, I felt like it was the only theme I’d ever need.
Now I feel that way again.
This review was made using the 2.0.3 version of Headway, which was provided to WPCandy for review purposes.