X Theme is not for me – an independent review

Am I alone in hating the X theme?  There’s a lot of hype about it, it seems to be “the designer’s dream theme” of 2016. The sales pages are great and it looks like you can create wonders with it in just a couple of hours.

x-theme

And maybe you can…. if you have the energy to look through the 43+ demo layouts and the luck to find one which exactly fits your needs. Then all you have to do is to import the demo and add your own content, pick a few colours, upload your logo and you have a website.

But if you want a bit of this and a bit of that, or want to change something which is not included in the settings for that particular layout, then you might find yourself wrestling with the X theme set-up for much longer than for a more typical theme.

Stick with the Demo Layouts or Suffer

I have spent hours trying to get to grips with the X theme (at the request of clients, who, after purchasing the theme, found that they didn’t want to do that themselves)! Each time I end up throwing up my hands and wishing I was working with a more “normal” theme.

From their sales page – “Achieve virtually any look and layout from within the one and only X WordPress Theme. Stacks allow you to choose from multiple, completely unique designs with just the click of a mouse

As is often the case, to make something simple yet versatile, it has to be extremely complicated behind the scenes. The consequence is that if you want to do something which is not catered for in the settings, it is much harder than usual.  To provide so many choices they have made the theme files themselves pretty complex.

So sticking with the layouts and options provided is easy – changing things is not.

Easily Changeable Settings – but Not for Everything

Some changes need Custom CSS

X claims to be “endlessly customizable” and there is a long list of settings you can change in the WordPress customizer.

I have to say I find the choice of settings somewhat arbitrary…. for example you can choose the colour of your menu text but not the colour of the background. To change the menu background, you have to get into custom CSS. Here’s a menu colour-scheme I couldn’t easily do in X:-

menubackground

Some changes need a Child Theme

To make any changes over and above style changes, you’ll have to use a child theme. Showing excerpts with recent posts is just one example of the kind of change my client wanted, but which was not easily done with X, despite all the versatility claims.

If you don’t know how to create and install a child theme, you’ll have trouble doing anything you might need the child theme for.

They provide a child theme for you to download from the members area, along with detailed instructions. But if you don’t know how to create and install a child theme, then you’re going to have trouble doing anything you might need the child theme for.

To achieve my example of showing excerpts with recent posts, I had to write a new version of the “recent posts” shortcode in my child theme functions.php file. Other changes might involve overriding theme templates with new versions in the child theme – good luck with finding the correct file to override in amongst X theme’s many template files.

Recent posts with excerpts

Recent posts with excerpts – not so easy to achieve

Oh, and by the way, when you install a child theme, any customizer settings you had in place for the main theme are not carried over, so you’ll need to set them all up again. So you’d better realise you are going to need a child theme before you go too far!

Great Support is Needed because it’s Not Simple

X theme claims to offer “unparalled support”. Yes, there’s an active forum, facebook page, knowledge base. They seem to respond quite quickly.

All that good support is needed because the knowledge base has crucial gaps and the installation doc which comes with the theme is a bit out of date. The knowledge base offers a lot of articles and videos but there is no clear path to follow after you install the theme.

How to make the best of the theme, how to choose the best stack for your needs, what steps to take after installation, seem to be completely lacking. So to find out how to set up your home page, change the layout of a blog page, get slider content (which is supposed to be included with the Extended demos but is not), you have to scour the knowledge base and forum in the member area or ask for support.

The member area is a confusing place to be. One has the impression of turning up late to a party, where a lot has happened since it started. So some of the conversations are about the way things were at the beginning, some are about how things are now… and if you have just walked in it’s hard to know the difference. Should we be using Cornerstone or shortcodes? If I find advice on how to do something, will it still work?

To do anything out of the ordinary, you have to ask for help (which they freely give) but which usually relies on adding this custom javascript, that custom css, these additional template files….. if you weren’t using the X theme (having been drawn in by their great sales pitch) you would already have achieved that using the normal WP templates, functions, CSS files.

Why Fix What Ain’t Broke?

They have tried to replace the simple and familiar WordPress editor with their new “Cornerstone” visual editor. It may be visual, but it still takes time to learn. And, as with all visual things, it’s hard to do anything fast, because you have to go through all the visual interface steps for everything, each time you do it.

It produces content which is entirely wrapped in custom shortcodes – so if you ever think about changing your theme…. well, don’t think about it.  Or understand that you’ll have to recreate all of your content at the same time.

In Summary

  • Demo content not as complete as is suggested
  • Customizer settings are arbitrary – you can easily change some things but need to do coding to change others
  • Knowledgebase is disorganised and incomplete – I still don’t know how to pick the most suitable stack without investigating 43 individual sites
  • Overriding a template in a child theme requires picking your way through the myriad theme files
  • Shortcodes v Cornerstone – will shortcodes be withdrawn one day?
  • Cornerstone – do we need yet another proprietory visual editor?
  • Great support is needed because the theme is much more complex than the sales pitch suggests

Conclusion

If you are a designer/marketer/website owner,

attracted to the X theme because “you can achieve virtually any look and layout… with just the click of a mouse”….. If that’s you then, ok, pick the look you like from the 43 choices and live with it, don’t try to change it, just focus on your content.

If you are a developer,

forget it. Using templates, stylesheets and a little jQuery, you can create any look you want much more quickly and easily, based on any typical WordPress theme.