WordPress Theme Frameworks - dummies

By Lisa Sabin-Wilson

Many theme frameworks are available on the WordPress market. The goal of these frameworks is to allow you to create custom websites and themes without requiring you to be an expert programmer. Creating custom layouts, designs, and functionality can be difficult, and theme frameworks bridge the gap.

At its core, a theme framework is still just a WordPress theme. You install it and activate it just as you do any other theme. The real power of theme frameworks usually comes in theme options, child themes, and layout customization. One of the most important aspects of using theme frameworks is starting with the right one for your project.

When you install a theme framework, you may be surprised to find limited or no styling in the theme. Generally, theme frameworks are meant to be blank canvases that you fill with your own styles. The goal for a framework is to get out of your way while you’re developing. By doing so, it allows you to use the provided tools instead of having to remove a lot of unnecessary elements and styling.

Think of a framework as being like a toolbox. All the tools you need are packaged nicely inside. You take out only the tools that you need for a given project.

Popular WordPress Frameworks

Many theme frameworks are available from a variety of sources. Here’s a look at a few of the most popular theme frameworks.

Hybrid Core

The Hybrid Core framework features 15 custom page templates and 8 widget-ready areas. Additionally, six child themes are available from the Hybrid Core website. This image displays the Spring Song theme, which is available as a Hybrid Core child theme. Hybrid Core also supports a series of add-on plugins specific to this theme. These add-ons include such features as a Tabs plugin, Hooks plugin, and Page Template packs.

Hybrid Core theme
Spring Song child theme for Hybrid Core.

The Hooks plugin in particular can be very handy if you’re unfamiliar with PHP programming because it provides a graphical interface to latch into hooks.

Hybrid Core, its child themes, and all its add-on plugins are available free.

Key features of Hybrid Core include

  • Theme Options menu
  • Support for child themes
  • Add-on plugins that extend functionality


Genesis includes six default layout options, a prerelease security audit from WordPress lead developer Mark Jaquith, and a comprehensive array of search engine optimization (SEO) settings. Another great feature of Genesis is a built-in theme store on the WordPress Dashboard that allows you to easily choose, purchase, and activate more than 18 child themes.

Like other frameworks, Genesis has some theme-specific plugins that add functionality. You can purchase Genesis from StudioPress for $59.95; it includes one child theme. Additional child themes are available for anywhere from $99.95 to $129.95 each.

Genesis framework
A home page with a new installation of iThemes Builder.

Key features are

  • Theme Options menu
  • Support for child themes
  • Style manager for customization
  • SEO Options
  • Add-on plugins that extend functionality