Review Of iThemes Builder Theme

At A Glance:

Builder is a revolutionary new theme developed and released by iThemes. I had the privilege of being a beta tester of the first version and in this review, I’ll be using the latest release version 2.0.2.

License:

The theme is licensed under the GPL as is all of the themes available from iThemes.

Installation:

Installing was easy. All I had to do was upload the files to my themes folder and click activate. I didn’t encounter any errors but I am reviewing this theme on a fresh install of WordPress 2.9.1 on my local server without any plugins activated.

Configuration:

With every theme available for purchase, iThemes includes a My Theme widget which provides links to relevant information when it comes to configuring WordPress or the special features found within the theme. A nice touch since I don’t have to go searching through their support base looking for the same links.

As for the actual configuration of the theme, this is where it gets interesting. First, you tell builder which pages and categories you want to be INCLUDED into the navigational menu. It’s as easy as checkmarking a box next to a page name. The second configuration option enables you to decide on whether the default text widgets should have default text in order to identify them easier. This is like dummy content. I recommend setting this to yes just to make it easier from the get go to see what’s going on with the theme. Next is the familiar tracking code that would normally go into the footer of your theme. Last but not least, Builder includes some SEO options such as using post tags as meta keywords on single posts and category archives being indexed by search engines.

The bread and butter of this theme that I find exciting to use is its layout builder. Builder comes with four created layouts to use but why stick with those when the real fun is in creating one of your own. First, you have to give your layout a name. Second, select between narrow 600px, medium 780px, wide 960px, or a custom width. Third, select an extension. Selecting an Extension allows this Layout to modify the theme’s style.css styling. I decided to use the built in blog extension. You can then tell builder whether the extension should disable the theme’s style.css file. You can also choose to hide the widget areas to make working with the theme easier.

Last but not least, my favorite part of the process, actually creating the design without using any code. Builder currently uses a module system where you choose from different modules that are available to determine the overall design of the site. There are six different modules to choose from: Content, Footer, HTML, Image, Navigation, and Widget Bar. Most of these should be self-explanatory. Using these modules, I will create a layout similar to the one used here on WPTavern.com with Hybrid News.

In less than five minutes, I was able to create a layout similar to the one used here without touching any code. Thanks to the way the design flow works with being able to add modules above or below each other, you can easily create some creative layouts very easily. This is what makes Builder exciting and this is the kind of theme framework I always thought about when thinking of the term. As a non developer type, I’m able to whip up themes in no time without worrying about hooks, filters, or those other weird terms. That’s not to say those don’t exist as I believe over 50 actions and filters are available for developers to tap into.

The next step in the Builder process is to configure views. Custom layouts can be applied to specific posts, pages, etc. This part of the equation takes the building process to the next level as I can create an awesome front page layout but have an entirely different one for the single page view. Sure, you can already accomplish this manually by creating Single.php and assigning that page template to a newly created page. However, while the creation of Single.php would normally have to be done by hand, I can use the View builder to create a page template which in this case is called a view, then assign that view as I see fit. To make things simpler, this component of the Builder theme provides a Page Template builder so that you don’t have to create each page template by hand. Exciting for me since I’m no code monkey!

The views that can be configured are 404, archives, attachment, author, category, date archive, page, post, search, singular, and tag. All of which would be normal page templates in any other theme except in Builder, you can easily control how the page is laid out for that specific template.

Support:

Support for Builder is available for paying customers in the iThemes forum.

Final Thoughts:

Between the layout builder and the view assignments, this theme is killer because of the ease of use in creating unique looking designs with a couple of mouse clicks instead of modifying code. While not ready for prime time, iThemes has already started to put the foundation in place to add a simple Extension editor which will make it really easy to create styles that can be applied to your layouts. Note that in Builder, layout styles are now called Extensions.

While I was a big fan of Flexx, Builder takes the concepts of Flexx to the next level while also breaking down the walls of limitations that Flexx contained. During my conversation with Chris Jean who is the main driving force behind the theme, Builder is aimed at being the tool used to create a theme from start to finish without spending hours within a code editor. It’s also interesting to note that child themes can be built off of Builder and that is one of the topics covered in tomorrows webinar being presented by iThemes.

All in all, the only thing missing from this theme right now is an awesome style editor but as stated earlier, that’s on the roadmap. If you want to easily create different layouts and have the ability to assign those layouts to specific places down to the post level, this is the theme for you. My hope is that WordPress theme frameworks in the future somehow tap into the design ideas inside of Builder and improve upon them.

Also, if you feel luck is on your side, tell me what you think of what you’ve seen of this theme or ask questions regarding it. Chris will be keeping a watchful eye on the comments and one lucky commenter will receive access to the Builder theme for free!

19 Comments


  1. Thanks for the review Jeff. The response we’ve gotten since release has been great. Every day we get new ideas to expand Builder to even greater functionality and usability. The biggest request we have currently is a style editor. Today’s big release was to get the code base flexible enough to support the new features we plan to implement ASAP, the style editor included.

    We have six new child themes lined up for release over the next few days. There is a new feature that will be released either tomorrow or next week that many people have been asking for (it isn’t the style editor, but I think people will be excited about it). We’re getting ready to launch a wiki-based documentation site specifically for Builder. So the next week should be very exciting, and we plan to keep this pace of frequent feature releases going.

    For those that may not have heard about Builder before, the idea is to make it as easy as possible for the end user to take control of their site’s layout (without needing to code) while at the same time giving developers a wealth of expansion options to be able to create new styles/features and rapidly launch sites.

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  2. Wow !!!

    Even though this is an affiliate-based review, I am still impressed at the Builder.

    We are getting closer to drag-n-drop land! Although, isn’t Headway theme framework already at that level?

    Keep up the good work, Chris!

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  3. I did like the look of the Flexx theme, but after reading this review i’m swayed towards Builder now. It does seem a very impressive theme, now all I need to do is win a copy.

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  4. Great review Jeff, you seemed to cover all aspects of the theme.

    The theme looks interesting, and I could see myself using it for projects in the future. The main reason for this is that I find it hard to just “make” a site. This is why I usually go with a pre existing theme, and modify it to my needs.

    The only thing that worries me though is what the final code looks like. The one problem with wysiwyg editors are that the code it spits out is horrible. For example, I once saw a page that had every sentence beginning and ending with . So the code was: “I love WPTavern It is the best

    Code like this would completely defeat the purpose of my use of this theme. I hope it does not act like this, and I would love to try it out.

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  5. Good review.

    Builder sounds very interesting. I use Thesis for a lot of my projects so I wonder what the major differences are though you seem to address some of those as with Thesis I need to install Thesis Openhook for access to the hooks available in Thesis.

    It looks as if with Builder I wouldn’t have to worry about that.

    The one thing I would like to encourage with the dev team is to take the time to ensure accessibility of the theme with regard to the building options for users with disabilities.

    I can sure help with that.

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  6. Thanks for the review. Builder looks pretty interesting. I’ve been experimenting with Thematic and Carrington but this would seem to really reduce the time it takes a newbie like be to get the look I want. However, it seems a little pricey considering the alternatives.

    Enjoy the podcast and learn alot from it. Thanks and keep up the great work.

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  7. Thanks for the review of iThemes Builder. I have had my eye on this theme ever since I began reading Cory Miller’s blog, Adventures of Entrepreneurship. As a newbie web designer with newly earned certification, it never occured to me to use pre-existing themes to help me build websites. I thought I would need to find a group of back-end web developers to help me with the areas that were beyond my capability. Now it looks like I have found a product that can give me the creative freedom I’m looking for while taking care of the back-end development. Not to mention the fact that I would have access to the forum to answer any problems that I might encounter in the process. It’s almost like having a business partnership. I could certainly use a freebie Builder theme since I’m just starting out but I will probably purchase Builder eventually anyway. It would just be nicer to have it sooner than later:)

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  8. Thanks for the review because my internet connection is so slow so I can’t watch the demo clips of the Builder theme.
    I really want to know if Builder will finally suit my need.

    I’m not a web designer/developer. I learn how CSS and WordPress template tag works by reading the tutorial, copy&paste code example, and trial&errors.

    I bought Thesis and Flexx theme but never use it on the live site due to many reasons. (and that’s a big bucks as a regular meal in Thailand costs ~$1)
    I’ll think as I buy it for learning’s sake :)

    My current theme is not fixed width nor fluid that stretch across the screen. It’s flexible width by the power of YAML CSS framework.
    (I’m obsessed with flexible width layout and tons-of-widget WordPress theme :P )
    I see Builder provide custom width option. I wonder if I can apply the YAML CSS’ flexible width to the Builder theme.

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  9. @ Nice

    I’m glad you’re excited about Builder. Know that the current version does not include a style editor of any kind, so as far as style goes, it’s similar to Flexx. As noted in my original comment, we are working on a back-end style editor and hope to have one done within a couple weeks or so (if everything goes according to plan), but it doesn’t exist currently.

    As for the YAML CSS flexible width, I haven’t looked at it, but I don’t think it would work since the width customization is offered in the back-end editor and is not modifiable via CSS (in order to prevent breaking the layout widths chosen on the back-end).

    I’ve kicked around the idea of being able to support fluid widths for a while, but it’s still just a very conceptual idea, and I don’t know if or when it would be implemented.

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  10. Just wanted to say that Conorp was the lucky commenter and has received access to a copy of the Builder theme. Congratulations. Someone from iThemes should be in touch with you soon.

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  11. Hello,

    I’m very interested in purchasing this theme as it would allow us to be very flexible with our clients. I’m just wondering if the back end style editor is ready yet?

    Thanks!

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  12. @ Elaine

    We just released a beta version of the Builder Style Manager plugin last week. It’s still a very early draft of the concept, but already many people are using it to modify their site’s style.

    You can see more details here: Builder Style Manager Beta Released

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  13. I’ve been using Builder since shortly after it’s release. Love it! It really makes building custom templates a snap. The only issue I’ve had was using a single plugin, and fortunately it’s not one that I need often.

    Still love and use my StudioPress themes, too. Plus Artisteer for uber-quick simple themes.

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  14. I’m giving serious thought to buying Builder to add to my arsenal of themes I can offer my clients. It seems user friendly and doesn’t require a lot of coding knowledge.
    Thanks for the additional information.

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  15. I am using Thesis and thinking of switching to Builder. I think I follow the basic ideas behind builder, but I do not see any discussion of whether each customized layout can have specific widgets assigned to the wigitized areas. Right now, I use widget logic to accomplish this.

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  16. Buyer Warning, Builder only works with 9 Themes, not the full arsenal you get when you buy the all access themes pass. The purchase page is deceiving, leading one to believe that all themes work with builder, when in reality, only 9 themes work, and those 9 are bunky and limited at best.

    When I realized this, I immediately asked for a refund, simple mistake I thought, right? Well, the folks at ithemes REFUSE to issue a refund, despite the fact that it was only a few hours after I realized this shortcoming.

    So now I must pay for something that I am not going to use, and they have been very uncooperative in that they’d rather keep my money, than issue a simple refund.

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  17. I’m a web developer that is new to WordPress and wanted to hit the ground running so I purchased Builder (I retired my clunky custom-built CMS). At first I had a few issues (like refresh not working) but the more I use it and the more I learn about WordPress the more I like what Builder offers. Support has been very patient with me.

    Kevin – I thought it was pretty clear that Builder themes were required for Builder, although I have to admit that the 9 existing themes aren’t super. This really doesn’t matter because the power of Builder is building your own customized layouts to meet client needs. With the price as low as it is one site more than pays for the license – I think you should take another look and you might find that what you own was well worth the money.

    I bought the iThemes plugin package as well – worth it just for BackupBuddy I’d say.

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  18. Hi

    I’m new to wordpress for websites and I have no coding skills… so maybe i-themes builder is for me. But I’d like to try before I buy…is that possible?
    Also, what about the style editor… can I use any font I want for the menu and text? Can I have a menu on the left hand side of the page instead of the top?
    E

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  19. I just took an online course in WordPress and as part of the course fee I was able to choose a free theme. I chose Builder because it was recommended by the course teacher because of its flexibility and the Builder-Style-Manager plug-in. While I do like the theme itself, I’ve had a lot of technical issues with the style manager plug-in, and because I didn’t purchase it from Ithemes I have no technical support. For some reason the custom style I’ve created keeps “breaking”. It’ll be working fine half way through the build and then all of a sudden the CSS Preview disappears and the edits I make no longer work. I was told it could be a compatibility issue with Internet Explorer so I’ve now tried using Firefox but seem to still be having the same issue. I’ve literally rebuilt the site from scratch 4 times now. If it happens again I’m giving up and moving onto another theme.

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