Choosing the Best Framework for WordPress Theme Design

If you’re a web professional looking to streamline the process of designing and developing a WordPress theme using a framework may be just what you need.

If you’re a web professional looking to streamline the process of designing and developing a WordPress theme, using a framework may be just what you need.

Ideally, a WordPress framework is going to make your life easier. It gives you a foundation to build your site upon with features like pre-made page layouts, theme options that can be setup in the WordPress admin, CSS, Sass, hooks, filters, pre-loaded jQuery plugins, etc.

Instead of writing all of your CSS, PHP, et. al. from scratch, a framework can serve as a great starting point. The basic layouts are done (though you certainly may want to customize them). A good framework may have multiple spots for widgets and navigation built in. That’s going to reduce the amount of time spent on a given project.

Pretty cool, right? Let’s take a look at a few open source frameworks that I found interesting.

WP StartBox

StartBox has been my go-to framework for several years. Originally created by Brian Richards and later purchased by WebDevStudios, I speak from experience when I say this framework has made my life so much easier.


One of the nicest features is the very simple theme options screen. You have the ability to easily upload a logo, favicon, choose whether you want to use featured images for posts, assign layouts to various types of content and add footer content. It’s anything but overwhelming and it just helps to allow me to get a running start on development.

Though popular, StartBox hasn’t seen an update in about a year as of this writing. Hopefully development will continue because this free framework is top-notch.

_s (underscores)

Developed by Automattic (the people behind WordPress itself), underscores is more of a “starter theme” than a true framework. So, unlike most frameworks, you’d don’t need to create a child theme for underscores.


To say things are minimalist might just be a huge understatement. There really aren’t any options to configure inside WordPress. The upside is that underscores is meant for developers who don’t want a lot of fuss in their development process.

There are features included like a theme generator on the website that will allow you to create a personalized download (it will even include Sass if you need it), custom layouts, and navigation that will work in both desktop and mobile environments.

While not made for newbies, this starter theme provides a nice blank canvas for those who want to create their own framework. Imagine putting in the hard work of creating a theme that you can customize exactly the way you want, then using it as the basis for all of your projects.

If you’re a serious developer, underscores is a solid choice.


Much like underscores, Bones prides itself on being a minimalist starter theme. Two of the biggest differences are that Bones comes just slightly more polished out-of-the-box and it also uses Sass by default. If you want to use Bones, you should probably learn how Sass works first.


This is a mobile-first theme and is responsive from the moment you activate it inside WordPress. So while having the ability to make Bones into whatever you want, it’s nice to know that the basics of responsive design are already taken care of for you.


For me, one of the things I found quite comforting with Wonderflux is the fact that it had a wealth of documentation with it. Looking through some of the other frameworks/starter themes out there, detailed information isn’t always readily available. Even if you’re an experienced developer, it still helps to have a quick start guide.


I will admit (if destroys my street cred, so be it!) that I like having a simple options panel inside WordPress where I can make some small tweaks. Perhaps it’s because I’ve used StartBox for so long. Wonderflux has an options panel where you can change the size of your grid (it features a very nice flexible grid system that is built in) and decide if and where to locate a sidebar.

Wonderflux is more of a traditional framework in that it encourages you to use a child theme. They have a helpful example child theme called Girder that can be freely downloaded. The included styles are quite basic and are mostly layout related. This means that you won’t waste time removing items that you don’t plan to use.

Choosing the Right Framework: It’s Personal

Choosing a favorite WordPress framework is a bit like choosing your favorite ice cream flavor. There are so many out there (way more than I can give a proper review to in this post) and each caters to a specific taste. The right one for you is the framework that most closely aligns with your unique style of design and development.

The more minimalist offerings require a little bit of extra effort in the beginning. The advantage of that upfront work is that you really can create a theme with a lot of reusable code, which will save you time in the long run. Frameworks with a few more visual options mean you can get started faster. They’re great if you don’t necessarily have the time or desire to exercise granular control over every aspect of the design.

The great thing is that there is no wrong answer here. It’s all about using the framework as a tool to improve your efficiency and the quality of your work. I encourage you to give multiple frameworks a try and see which one works for you.


Feature image: photosbank

About the Author Eric Karkovack

Eric Karkovack is a web designer with well over a decade of experience. You can visit his business site here. In July 2013, Eric released his first eBook: Your Guide to Becoming a Freelance Web Designer. You can follow his rants on Twitter @karks88.