Revolution vs. Thesis: The Premium Theme Cage Match

This article will take approx 3 minutes to read.

Now that WordPress 2.6 has been released and you’ve got yourself upgraded (you have upgraded right?), you might as well take some time to spruce up that old dingy theme of yours and replace it with something attractive and practical.

If you can afford your own custom theme development, then by all means, do it. Nothing says professional like a completely unique theme that has been professionally designed with not only appearance, but functionality and practicality.

However, maybe you can’t afford a $3500 theme or maybe there is something that, out of the box does what you need.

While I won’t get into the merits of “premium themes” and if themes should ever be mass marketed AND paid products, I would like to do a compare and contrast on two separate premium themes by two very competent designers.

Revolution Theme

If you believe your WordPress powered blog is more than a blog, you probably want to check out Revolution Theme. Revolution currently has ten different variations designed with the intentions of various industries in mind. If you’re using WordPress more as a content management system and your business is in real estate, pro media, tourism, online magazine, sports, tech news or other corporate variety – Revolution might be the theme for you.

Brian Gardner, the creator of the Revolution Theme commented to me that he “developed the Revolution themes in order to take WordPress to a higher level ““ to stretch the capabilities, and to show that it can be used for so much more than a blogging platform.”

Indeed, we used the Revolution Pro Media theme over at The District of Corruption and found it to be very suitable for displaying all our content in a sexy way.

Revolution was not without its problems though.

For instance, the out of the box CSS is not compatible with Firefox 3 which handles the

1
float

property incorrectly. We were able to hack the CSS with a different solution. In addition, the video box on this particular theme assumes that video content is going to come from YouTube which is an incorrect assumption, in our opinion, with all the video formats available.

Also a problem with our use of the theme was the requirement for every post to have images attached to them via custom fields. We had to hack the theme files to not display images when no images are available.

Revolution Pro (which again is only one variant) offers few options for power users. It does offer a WordPress administrative page but jumps to vast conclusions that are probably not relevant to bigger publishers.

Picture 6.png

Revolution Theme is an incredible sexy and well designed theme from the code point of view. Semantics are paid attention to and the use of the WordPress API ensures that the theme will be compatible with WordPress for, likely, years to come. I would recommend that Brian does not rely on plugins to accomplish tasks. Include that code in the theme’s functions.php if the code is GPL and use an

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if( function_exixsts() )

check to find out if the extra code is needed.

The Revolution theme is available for as little as $79.95.

Thesis Theme

Unlike Revolution, Thesis comes in one variety. It is a good variety though. The brainchild behind the Thesis theme is Chris Pearson. Chris is never content just building a theme but making the theme as braindead simple for anyone to use in a wide variety of situations.

To that end, Thesis is mainly configurable directly from WordPress admin and I have yet to have to significantly modify the out of the box code base. Granted, I have not had the length of time with Thesis as I have with Revolution.

One of the things I get to do is maintain my church’s website, which was in desperate need of overhaul and maintenance. I did not want to spend tons of time on it as, let’s face it, I’m not paid to do so. ;-) Thesis allowed me to stand up new content, new organization and a completely different look and feel in less than an hour. There’s still work to be done, but Chris has done most of the work for me.

The key to this ease is the amazing configurability directly from WordPress admin. With the interface, I have granular control of my navigation elements, formatting of posts, ad and analytics software, etc.

Picture 7.png

Thesis does not allow me to modify some of the basic layout rendering to my heart’s content, however. Fortunately, I could write little plugins to do little things like apply different CSS to elements but, as robust as it is, more could be done.

The Thesis theme only comes with one variety and it is available for $89.95.

Comparison Chart

Revolution Thesis Winner
Ease of Deployment (1-10) 6 8 Thesis
Variations 10 1 Revolution
Plugin Dependencies Yes No Thesis
Price $79.95 $89.95 Revolution
Support Forum Blog + Forum Thesis
CSS Firefox 3 Incompat Support for custom CSS Thesis
CMS-Friendly Yes Kinda Revolution

Winner: Thesis 4-3.

Both are great and Chris and Brian should be commended for providing great resources.

Added: I forgot to mention one thing that I really wish theme authors would do more of. The Thesis theme has some of this but it could use more. Hooks, people! Add hooks everywhere in a theme.

The main reason for this is that people who want to modify the behavior of a theme can do so without editing the theme at all if there are hooks built into the theme.

Comments

  1. says

    Thesis has one of the most unique administration areas I’ve ever see n in a WordPress theme. Kudos for him on creating something very simple to use. I also enjoy the simple layout of the theme which is evident on your church’s website.

    Revolution has been around the block a few times and I agree with you. Theme or plugin authors should never assume anything.

    I thought Brian was going to be releasing forum themes that went along with his WordPress themes? I can’t find them on his site so maybe I am wrong. That would of been the extra point to at least tie Chris, maybe even 2 points FTW!

  2. says

    Aaron – I am impressed with the work done on both of these themes, but please don’t neglect Justin Tadlock’s “Options” theme.

    It is astounding — and more affordable that either of the two you highlighted.

  3. says

    Aaron, what would you say were the top template spots typically lacking in hooks? Or is it more a matter of more custom theme-capabilities lacking in hooks that prevent users from “turning them off”?

  4. says

    There should be these hooks, in my opinion, on any theme.

    * Logo – filter
    * Custom CSS – filter
    * Below the header – action
    * Above the first post – action
    * Between every post – action
    * After the last post – action
    * Above, below, between every sidebar element – action
    * Separate footer hook at top of footer div – action
    * Credit/Copyright in footer – filter

    wp_head hook should be last line before

    1
    </head>

    . wp_footer should be the last line before

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    </body>

    That gives plugin authors extreme ability to modify themes via plugins and not hacking the code of the theme. Also makes it easier to upgrade.

  5. says

    Revolution’s Developer license is a particularly good deal – you get to use all nine versions as many times as you want. When you consider how flexible Brian’s work is, those nine versions give a WordPress-focused Web designer a great platform to work from.

    Best of all, Brian has continued to improve and expand the Revolution themes, making everything available to existing Developer license holders – with so many good free themes out there, I was somewhat reluctant to dip my toe into the world of premium themes but the way in which Brian stands behind his product, and rewards his existing customers, continually impresses me.

  6. says

    A good place for a discussion…

    Chris has been a strong supporter of using custom.css
    Ian advocates the use of child themes

    The biggest advantage of Ian’s method seems to be that you can work with multiple design revisions from a single code base easily, or for example switch between designs using a different functions.php

    I can’t think of any advantages of using custom.css over child themes.

    Opinions?

  7. says

    I bought Thesis last week — I may or may not end up using it for Filmgirl.tv, but the backend was just so nice, I was like — screw trying to craft my own while waiting for Expression Engine 2.0 to come out so that I can use that to run the site, I’ll just use Thesis. Most of my play has been on my local sandbox, but I have to say — it is awesome.

    I’ve looked at Revolution, and it looks nice — but Thesis was the first “premium” theme I actually went out and bought, mostly because I love Chris’s respect for standards and his love of good typography. Plus, if I don’t use it for Filmgirl.tv, I can give it to Grant and he can re-do his site using Thesis instead of Cutline.

  8. says

    Ike, thanks for the mention.

    Aaron, thanks for the list of hooks that belong in themes. Now, I’m off to make sure these go into every theme I have, especially as I’m looking to make my themes as easy to upgrade as possible.

  9. says

    Both look clean and functional, but are also distinctly “American” in their look and feel. From a British perspective, I’m not sure if American graphic designers realize how “American” a great deal of their product looks. This is especially true of magazine and ad layouts, something which appears to have carried over into blog template design.

  10. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  11. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  12. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  13. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  14. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  15. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  16. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  17. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  18. says

    I really like the Thesis Theme but I haven’t seen REALLY sharp looking sites other than the original one which I like a lot.So do you you know any other links than posted on the thesis website?Andreas

  19. says

    I agree with you on the hooks everywhere. I have bought the developer's theme and the design panel left a lot to be desired and the way it was coded made it difficult to edit thesis compared to most themes where it only features less than 10 files. I haven't used and deployed thesis yet and I bought it because of the discount and free lifetime upgrades. :)Thesis had so many php, classes, functions, etc. that only an advanced php programmer can make edits to one satisfaction.I have suggested sdk, manuals, etc. to help tinkering with thesis and hopefully thesis improves to that point.

  20. says

    @Milo – I'm not sure I understand your complaint as I find it pretty easy to customize Thesis. And with the latest release of version 1.2, there are even more admin options available that don't required you to do anything more than check boxes or select items from a drop-down list. I've added a post about this to my Thesis Theme blog here:Thesis Theme 1.2 RevealedLet me know what you think, and if you are still having trouble with Thesis. Most people seem to think it is far easier to work with than any other WordPress theme.