Review: Headway 2.0, the only WordPress theme I’ll ever need


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:

  • Layout
  • Header Image
  • Colors
  • 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.

Learn more about Headway

WPCandy rated this 5 mints

This review was made using the 2.0.3 version of Headway, which was provided to WPCandy for review purposes.

19 thoughts on “Review: Headway 2.0, the only WordPress theme I’ll ever need

  1. Thanx for the tip, I’ll give it a try! I’m using another free theme, but that’s build with tables which isn’t perfect. Does this theme exists of clean (validated w3c) html code?
    Greetz, Stijn

  2. I’m curious, J. D., how you think Headway would work for those who do like to sling code around. Is is a theme that will work that way, too, or should you pretty much stick to their visual editor?

    • It’s good for code slingers. Like Grant said, the Live CSS Editor is a nice feature for people who aren’t into drag and drop. It also has “Easy Hooks” that let you plug in code in various parts of the theme.

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  5. I bought Headway when 1.5 came out and I was not completely pleased with the experience. Things were a little rough. Same with 1.6. There were some great feature updates, but I was still opting to create sites from scratch instead of using the framework. After testing 2.0, I am anxious to give it a real run for it’s money. The documentation is one of the best features about 2.0. They did a great job explaining the logistics of how to use this framework. It’s simple enough for a beginner, but if you’re an experienced designer/developer you will find it’s extensibility to be quite amazing. Thanks to the Headway team for putting together a phenomenal product and listening to all of its users feedback.

  6. I was just on the edge of purchasing Headway (vs. Pagelines) and thought I’d try out their support response. I emailed and tweeted both companies, not knowing what timezone their companies are in (I’m on GMT). I tweeted Headway again, a couple of hours later, after realizing that their account was not used much. (Getting late here and I was hoping for a reply; there was nothing rude or insulting in my tweet.) Got a reply from Headway’s main Twitter account first, and then immediately got a rather snarky reply from one of the co-founders, @GrantGriffiths:

    “Seriously, we work hard, but we are not robots. You might want to consider we don’t live in the same time zone as ou.”

    Wow. They just lost a customer. If that’s a representation of their support, then I don’t need it. If they are rude to a potential buyer, how do they treat you once you’ve purchased the product? An argument in favor of having a Social Media Manager and a policy regarding corporate communication right there. Artists and engineers are not always great PR people.

    • That’s a bit harsh. For @$190 unlimited use what I expect in terms of “after care” is that they fix bugs and improve the product on a regular basis — which Headway seems to be doing. Big bonus if they document changes and tips. From what I understand you get questions answered online, on their forum. Don’t know much more than that since you have to buy to get in. But as long as knowledgeable people are hanging out there and I get an answer within 24 hours or so I’d be happy.

      I don’t expect live response for that kind of money; I expect that when I’m paying a large annual fee for it. You’re right about having a social media policy, though. The guy could have been less snotty in his response. But the substance of his response was reasonable, and the fact that he gave one at all is impressive. I think they have a money-back guarantee, so why not buy it and let the product itself to the talking? btw, I have no affiliation with this firm. Like you I’m considering trying it out.

      • I was considering switching from Thesis to Headway and had a couple of questions. Sent an email and did receive a brief 2-line answer the following day, which unfortunately didn’t answer my questions.

        Re your statement about thinking they havea money-back guarantee: According to their web site they DO NOT offer any refund or guarantee other than to “try to correct any problems encountered.” And clearly state that the product is offered as is with no guarantees. The price is chump change so was not concerned about that — but I am uncomfortable with any company that has a refund/guarantee policy such as that read on their site a few days ago (3/8/12).

  7. Headway, clearly not all that, once you pay for the Headways theme and get your account details, then you get hit with extra hidden option fees, , not clear on the sales pitch at all. When you contact sales, the give you a BS story, after trying the Headway for 10 days its clear its not really drop and drag ,nor easy to build a website as advertised. When you ask for a refund , they state no refund.
    This is not sour grapes, this is junk at best and a total waste of money.
    Buyer beware

  8. Guys, I just got Headway 3.1 and yikes. It is barely functional. I’m waiting on support for some various critical issues and my overall review will definitely be swayed by how well they respond.

    But for now, really, don’t buy it. They don’t offer refunds or trials. And it’s a shame because the premise of a simple visual webpage design program is so promising.

  9. I want to add, in fairness, that I found Headway’s support staff to be quick to respond to my issues. And I was able to work around some of the bug issues (un-intuitively but worked around non-the-less). If their coders are working as hard as the support guys, hopefully we can expect good things in the future.

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