Review: Startbox, a new theme framework


Is Startbox the revolutionary framework it claims to be?

Startbox, by Brian Richards, isn’t your run-of-the-mill commercial WordPress theme. Startbox is a parent theme, sometimes called a theme framework, which is designed specifically to build themes on top of.

Reviewing a theme framework is tough. It’s a different review process than reviewing a typical one-use theme. For instance, average themes are measured by their design, the number of options they offer, and how well they fit a certain genre of website. A framework theme, on the other hand, should be measured on flexibility, forethought, and how easy other themes can be built on top of it.

Startbox theme review gallery

Startbox is new to the scene

Brian Richards released Startbox last week to the WordPress community, which is when I got ahold of it.

Theme frameworks should be measured by how they stand the test of time, in development years (one development year is equal to about six or seven normal human days).

Now the developer, Richards, has been using Startbox himself for about two years, and that means something. But then again, if you would like to hold off until after a community has formed around Startbox, if only to prove its worth in more use-cases, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Startbox doesn't look bad using the framework theme on its own, even. It has a nice minimalist style that is pretty trendy nowadays.

Default content is your new bicylce

Startbox comes with default content as an XML file. This is a nice touch, especially since most themes need at least some content to really shine. It also makes the review process that much easier on guys like me.

Seriously, if you make WordPress themes, consider doing this. And when you’re finished considering, do this.

Documentation will help break new users in

Brian has built out some nice documentation for getting started with Startbox, both on his site and in a clean PDF that comes with the theme. This is a much nicer way to deliver getting started information, and beats the hell out of a readme file.

I haven’t spoken to Brian about it yet, though I plan to, but I’m sure one of the challenges of selling a commercial theme framework comes with the necessary education. Depending on the user, they may need to be taught what a theme framework is before they can be told why they want to use one. On top of that, users need to be taught how to use the framework once they have it.

From what I’ve seen of Brian’s documentation, as well as the helpful example child theme Startbox ships with, developing with Startbox shouldn’t be a problem for the average user to pick up on over time.

Expand upon child theme options quickly and easily

Everybody loves options. And if you are building for a client, odds are they fit into the everybody classification. Startbox makes it refreshingly simple to add child theme options on top of its own default theme options. So, instead of building out a brand new theme options screen for your theme, you can use the provided API to add new options with a simple array (See image below.)

The Startbox documentation does a nice job of explaining how to add new options to the default Startbox options.

Frameworks are a new sort of thing

I feel the only way to really, properly, test a theme framework would be to build a website using it. Or to build four or five websites using it.

I haven’t build a website using Startbox. But, I know I could build a website using Startbox, without going outside of my comfort zone when it comes to building child themes.

Honestly, if I didn’t have my own framework already, I would give Startbox a very serious try.

Startbox, structurally, does everything right. The code is solid, and built intelligently. I’ve dabbled in different frameworks, but tend to use my own. Honestly, if I didn’t have my own framework already, I would give Startbox a very serious try. But changing frameworks is a big thing to do, and I just don’t see myself switching at this point.

Final thoughts on Startbox

Releasing any new theme in this environment should be applauded. There’s a lot of competition. To do so solo, and as a development framework (and thus built for some of the pickiest people on the planet), is very ballsy. Cue more applause.

As far as theme frameworks go, Startbox seems to be a solid entry in a burgeoning new theme category. I’m looking forward to seeing it, and the development community around it, grow.

WPCandy rated this 4 mints

5 thoughts on “Review: Startbox, a new theme framework

  1. Looks really good, other than the price. Seems a bit steep given that it’s competing with other frameworks like Thematic (free) and Hybrid (free with the option of only $25 p/yr for exclusive content.

    An option to buy just the framework (with documentation) at say $50 would be nice for those who don’t necessarily want/need support. It would also be a good way for the author to leverage his work as a stand-alone product in addition to a service. But then, that’s a business decision everyone has to make for themselves. 🙂

    • Pricing a framework is an interesting topic of discussion. What is a theme worth, for instance, if it’s intended to be used to create other themes? Does that make it more or less valuable than a theme intended for a single use? On the one hand, it seems less valuable. On the other hand, maybe it’s quite a bit more valuable. Whether it’s worth it or not probably depends on the end user.

    • Awesome suggestion Charity, something I’ll definitely consider.

      It’s hard to demonstrate the value of Startbox because, to the public, it is just an infant. I don’t fault you for finding $150 to be quite steep, but that’s mostly our fault for not being as clear as we could be about what that includes.

      In addition to Startbox, documentation, support, and exclusive tutorials, we’re also including ALL of the child themes that will be released throughout the remainder of 2010. Three are available now, two more are coming this weekend, and there are a ton of designs on the board getting prepped for release.

      Beyond all that, though, I wanted to make sure we were charging enough so that we could give a significant amount away and still afford to keep working on Startbox. For me, Startbox is a not-just-for-profit veture, and I want to use it to do as much good as possible. Not just for developers and site owners, but for everyone.

      And, because I don’t want anyone to feel like they’ve been cheated, we also offer a 100% money-back guarantee. If someone doesn’t like it, I’ll gladly point them in the direction of another excellent framework.

      Hope that clears things up!

  2. Currently this article is no longer correct. As it is pretty high up in the search engines when it comes to searching for startbox child theme I feel I have to correct the author. The current GitHub download of startbox does no longer include an example child theme and therefore seems to make this whole framework a little useless… I mean I could create it myself but then, what’s the use of a framework if I have to do all the work myself. I would NOT recommend to download startbox.

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