Review Of Headway – Where SquareSpace Meets WordPress

At A Glance:

Headway is a WordPress theme framework that makes it easy for both end-users and developers alike to create killer websites. Headway is no ordinary framework however as you’ll soon find out. The theme is split GPL licensed where as the PHP code is licensed under the GPL v2. If not otherwise stated, all images, cascading style sheets, and included JavaScript are NOT GPL, and are released under the Headway Themes Proprietary Use License v1.0 unless specifically authorized by Headway Themes. Elements of the themes released under this proprietary license may not be redistributed or repackaged for use other than those allowed by the Terms of Service. The Headway personal option costs $87.00 while the developer option costs $164.00.

At the time of this review, the purchase page for Headway themes has two options, Personal and Developer. Further down on the page is a section on what you can and can’t do. The what Can’t You Do section screams anti-GPL but I’ve followed up with Grant Griffiths who has notified me that that particular page will be be updated to reflect the licensing changes that have occurred recently.

The theme version which I’ve reviewed is 1.7 Beta. The current as of August 19th stable version of Headway is 1.6.6.

Configuration And Use:

I’m really happy to see that Headway Themes is at least split licensed GPL now because this theme needs more exposure. Configuration of Headway was a breeze and contained the usual selection of options such as the Feed URL, favicon location, etc. Headway also has a comprehensive search engine optimization configuration panel where if you were to use something like AIO SEO with Headway, it might be over kill.

Headway Configuration Panel

What do you notice missing from the following screenshot? Most themes have options in the back-end that allow you to configure the number of sidebars, which side of the site those sidebars will appear on, header uploader, etc. That’s all missing from the Configuration page of Headway because this particular framework contains a Visual Editor. The visual editor has taken the place of the visual display options normally configured from the back-end of WordPress allowing the configuration page to be strictly tied to the behaviour of the theme. This is a great way to solve the dilemma of hundreds of options to configure for the theme.

By far, the visual editor is the bread and butter of Headway. The only thing I’ve seen that I can compare the visual editor to is SquareSpace and the editor they provide for creating designs.

Amazing Visual Editor For Headway

For at least the past two years, I’ve talked about the idea of being able to visually design a WordPress theme with something like a WYSIWYG type of editor. Drag a content box here, drag a sidebar there, etc. I’m really excited to see this idea see the light of day thanks to Headway. After going through the editor wizard which allows me to select a default layout e.g. sidebar right content left or sidebar left content right, color scheme of the major elements of the site, the ability to upload a header image, I’m then ready to start editing the various elements that comprise the site. I could go on and on about how awesome the visual editor is and what it entails you to do but the following video illustrates it much better than 1,000 words can.

If that type of versatility is not enough, welcome to Leafs. Leafs are sort of like widgets but more powerful and flexible. For example, Headway ships with a Text/HTML/PHP leaf that is like a WordPress Text Widget on steroids. Leafs are content boxes that exist between the header and the footer. For example, in the following screenshot, I’ve created a new Content leaf.

Content Leaf In Headway

Instead of the default mode of a Page or single post, I’ve selected the option to use a Custom Query. This allows me to use filters and configure additional options that take the default content leaf to new leaps and bounds. This also illustrates that the developer types can have fun with the visual editor as well. Speaking of developers, Headway contains something called Easy hooks. Headway Easy Hooks provides you a simple way to add content to your site that would otherwise be impossible (without hacking, of course).

Easy Hooks For Developers

Headway has done a great job of modularizing aspects of the design such that things are broken up to the point where you can export configuration settings for specific sections and import them into another site using Headway. Among the various items that can be exported are the Headway Configuration options, SEO Settings, Visual Editor: Header, Footer, Navigation, and Site Dimensions, Visual Editor: Style, Visual Editor: Leaf Templates, and a full export/backup of the configuration of the theme which does not include leafs, layouts for any pages and widgets. This is great, especially for those that purchase a Headway developers license as they have made it incredibly easy not to repeat development work such as a cool Leaf.

Headway Import Export Tools

Support:

Support for Headway is handled by free documentation available to anyone who wants to read/watch it located here. Highly recommended before playing around with the theme. There is also a support forum available to members only. Also note that in order to receive automatic updates of Headway, you’ll need to have a valid registration which includes a Headway Username and Password.

Conclusion:

I was head over heels when Builder by iThemes was released because it brought me closer to the concept of the WYSIWYG apporach to building a WordPress theme. However, Headway has made my vision a reality. In fact, Headway makes it FUN to design a WordPress theme/skin. Instead of editing CSS, dealing with FTP to over write files, etc, the visual editor approach that Headway provides is something I would love to see WordPress in the future get a grasp of for a default theme instead of the same old approach. I’d also love to see the Headway visual editor or something like it to end up on WordPress.com.

I don’t think I’ve said a bad thing about Headway because there was very little to find wrong with the theme. The headway team should be very proud of themselves for creating such a kick ass product.

24 Comments


  1. Jeffro – Thanks for the great review of Headway Themes. Just to clarify one point you made however. The current stable version of Headway Themes is 1.6.6 The next version will be out very soon to the public. As you eluded to, 1.7 is currently in Beta and the input from our developer license holders has been great.

    The comments and response to 1.7 has also been outstanding and we are looking forward to getting it out to the public very soon.

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  2. Great review! I’d also like to point out that when you use All in One SEO Pack, Headway knows it – and disables its own SEO features. Cool, huh?

    I’d also like to add that if you’re a designer or a developer and you DO want to use some custom CSS, you can use the LiveCSS editor — type in CSS and as you type the attributes, see the changes on screen, immediately. Yeah, it’s that awesome. And there are hundreds of styles that you can use and modify included in Headway.

    For coders, there is also the option to use not only Easy Hooks, but regular old hooks, which allow for even greater theme modification and flexibility using PHP and HTML.

    Newbies can also check out sites like HeadwayBeginner.com, HeadwayHub.com, HeadwayTips.com and HeadwayVideos.com :)

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  3. Headway has made a tremendous advance in making blogging and websites more accessible to non-coders while at the same time, providing amazing tools that shorten design time and eliminate redundancy/repetition for pros.

    One aspect of themes is that even with customization you often can easily tell what the theme is (if you’re familiar with these things). With Headway, even a little customization gives you a design that doesn’t look like all the other Headway-powered sites.

    A couple design controls in the beta people may be interested in knowing about:

    — Content boxes can have rounded corners and you can modify the radius with a simple slider control.

    — You can upload a header image easily and have Headway generate a color scheme for your blog based on the colors in your header image.

    — If you make a big mistake and you’re not sure how to fix it, you can reset the design back to the default.

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  4. I love, love, love Headway Themes. I’m absolutely in the not-designer camp so it’s quasi-anathema to me having all these powerful style tools at my disposal – that are uber-easy to use.

    Stellar support and a great guy in Grant Griffiths helping steer Headway into #1 position for WordPress themes – I think it’s fair to say this is one blog accessory that we all need to aspire to.

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  5. Great review, as always. Headway looks like a awesome framework.

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  6. Great review, I just converted my custom theme to Headway last week. I’m using the beta 1.7 too and the features it has are pretty unbelievable. There is a quick start video, a setup wizard with default styles and a lot of improvements and added features that make designing easier but still with the flexibility of custom CSS and easy hooks. I just changed something in 2 seconds which would have taken me 5 minutes on my custom theme. Not a huge deal but over time the effect is enormous.

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  7. I’ve always been surprised that more people don’t use Headway, but thats probably because it doesn’t have the same high profile users that Thesis has. Daryl Koopersmiths Elastic theme project also looks interesting.

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  8. I’m sort of an “advanced beginner” with WP, and don’t do CSS or PHP, but want to add that Headway is very user friendly, and allows me to do much more than any other theme I’ve tried. I’ve been playing with the beta version and can see already that it is even more powerful.

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  9. I’m using Headway from almost all of my new designs. I just finished up a static web design and, frankly, it would have been easier and quicker in Headway. This is one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. Huge time saver, HUGE!

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  10. Headway is a groundbreaking theme with it’s visual editor.

    It’s weakness relates to image centric/portfolio usage. The photo gallery has been removed from the core in 1.7 but available as a plugin. But it’s so basic it renders itself almost useless.

    There is a huge community of photographers who need more versatility and customization options for their portfolios. Hoping that something more advanced can be added to the core without needing to use a plugin like nexgen.

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  11. Reading your post and their terms of service I think that they are not really honest with what concerns the Freedoms subscribed by the GNU/GPL.

    Their framework is so dependent from their CSS and Javascript that you cannot use it without them… and those are not free in any way.

    Worst than being stubborn like the Thesis developer, Grant is taking the hype of that discussion without really freeing the theme. That is not such an honest move, sorry to say.

    I think this is one of the best WordPress Theme framework I ever seen but they are not honest at all with their approach to GNU/GPL and the WordPress Community.

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  12. Jeffro – Great review. I’ve been interest in Headway for quite a while. My concern is the trade off for all this functionality. I have read in the past that there is a great deal of code bloat in Headway because all the features. I use Builder and Genesis and wonder if it could be a whole lot worse than those two.

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  13. Thanks for the review, dude!

    Ken — The gallery is going to be enhanced when it is released as a plugin. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please e-mail them to clay@headwaythemes.com

    Lopo Lencastre de Almeida — When did we say we went full GPL?

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  14. @Ken – Have you tried the Photo Gallery now that it is a plugin? It will be much better now that it is rebuilt as a plugin and I have already seen that it is.

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  15. @Ken -Sorry about not hitting on this in my last reply to you Ken. However, I understand your feelings about the Photo Gallery Leaf and the fact it is now a “plugin”. Let me clear up something here. It is a Headway specific only plugin. Making this feature a plugin gives us a better way to service this feature. We removed it from the Headway core since not everyone needs it and the fact we are trying to clean up the core code of Headway to make it run faster and smoother. This is something we plan to continue to work on too.

    The new photo gallery ‘plugin’ is much better and does not have the issues it did when it was a Leaf. Plus, once it is released with the next version of Headway, coming soon by the way, we will be looking for input from those who will be using it the most. There is no reason the photo gallery can not continue to be better and better.

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  16. @Richard Johnson -When Headway was first built, there might have been a lot of code. However, with the newest version, 1.7 and soon to be out, there are fewer lines of code and it is screaming fast too.

    I do not believe you have any worries with there being bloat in Headway. If there is one think Clay keeps very focused on it is the speed and function of Headway.

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  17. Griffiths,

    Glad to hear that the photo plugin will be an improved version of the former core feature. Having not seen its new features I can’t really comment further but look forward to testing. I assume its not flash based?

    Can alt-text be added/viewed by google via the plugin feature?

    Hoping it has a good back end system for organizing images, drag/drop ordering for proper display control, Featured galleries, ability to size per spec, etc.

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  18. As a non-programmer, WordPress newbie, I’ve found Headway to be very frustrating and difficult to figure out. I think I’m done banging my head against the wall, and will be starting over with SquareSpace.

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  19. @Grant Griffiths – I didn’t said you are doing anything illegal. Don’t put in my mouth things I didn’t said.

    I told that you are not totally honest because your GNU/GPL code is useless UNLESS the user buys your CSS and Javascript and obeys to your Terms of Service.

    And those Terms of Service is the total opposite of GNU/GPL or even any OSI-compatible license around. It is is fact one of the most closed licenses I saw in WP themes.

    Being honest and being illegal are too very different things.

    What you are doing is something that I even suggested as a solution for the Thesis and other theme developers to comply with GNU/GPL and, at the same time, circumventing it and close the product. And I also said that that solution is dishonest to the community.

    The honest (and legal) approach is to release all the product with GNU/GPL and sell services around it. Or you could even do it like Blender. You could use http://www.kickstarter.com/ to raise the money to release everything under GNU/GPL.

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  20. Hello!

    I’m a photographer and often need to have a gallery of photographs in EACH post. Can anyone tell me if it’s possible to use a gallery leaf in each individual post – each post will have a gallery associated with it and can be displayed at the bottom of the post, or simply linked to it.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated! Thank you

    ~ Cliff

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  21. @Dennis

    hey dennis, i have no idea either and reading reviews ot know the best to go with hoping not to have to change later. I was looking at both SquareSpace and headway.. headway works with wordpress so has all those plugins to work with.. I don’t think SquareSpace is based on wordpress? right..

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