Well the answer is simple… just the same way you chose Genesis over the rest… Let’s see…
What is a Genesis starter theme anyways?
A starter theme is a Genesis child-theme that helps you build multi-purpose sites. So essentially it’s a base that you build on. And you stay with it because it streamlines your workflow and the development process… It’s supposed to make your life and the site delivery process easier. Another way of putting that is… If Genesis is the king… the starter theme is the queen… It’s like a marriage and once you finalise a starter theme you must be ready for a commitment. Because you’ll use this couple to deliver a lot of smart sites in the long run.
With these requirements, we now know some things we are going to look for in a Genesis starter theme. Now we’ve just started building a criteria for selecting a starter theme.
It must be as flexible (or inflexible) as you want
Your Genesis starter theme should be flexible. It should allow you to deliver a variety of website solutions so it has to be very flexible. Now there’s a catch though. If you only provide your services to law firms or real-estate market etc or any specific niche for that matter then your start-up theme is going to be different. Because you are serving a specific niche you’d want to have a theme that help you with your specific design purpose and requirements not essentially try to satisfy the whales and the dolphins.
Your Starter Theme must be ready for the modern web
That’s where most of us stop defining our starter child-theme requirements. Modern is not just more widgetized areas, color schemes, etc. Modern is HTML5, responsive, retina-ready (and somehow IE compatible) etc. Pretty basic it seems but the truth is that the keyword HTML5 is still used in the list of theme requirements. Modern in that spirit is conversion optimization. Put in a minimal slider if you can because it a basic, common requirement and will boost the conversion rate with minimal work-overhead.
Startup Theme !== Minimal Theme !== Barebones
As you can see, I’m going to draw an important distinction here.
The fact is that such a theme like above may still never speed up your process in it’s existing form. It will force you to invest 80% of your time in building up the base and setting it up. You’ll invest tons of time in installing plugins and configuring them and then building the often requested, base features into the theme every time you work on a project. And then with the 20% of the client budget is left for you to work on the heart of the project. Is this smart? You are forced to ask clients for a higher budget to cover your inflated costs.
You fall victim to the Peter-Principle… 80-20 rule – 80% of your time, effort, budget has gone into 20% of the entire project scope.
So what do you do?
One of the very basic requirements that I personally have is the ability to speed up my design and delivery process. And this means a starter theme doesn’t have to be a bare bones minimal theme–if it were so then you’d probably want to build a barebones Genesis sample child theme, copy the genesis stylesheet and there you have it. Because only then it will be truly minimal.
For a moment let’s forget about the requirements of a starter theme. Let’s understand “what” a starter theme is? A starter theme is a tool. It’s just a little tool and that is what it’s supposed to be. And the thing with tools is that they are a part in the chain of the entire process. And as it is the thing with the chains, tools can be the weakest link in the chain and then they act as a bottleneck. It’s a different matter if the client is the weakest link in the chain. (The simple solution is to choose your clients carefully). But what if your tool is the weakest link in the chain? It will suck the project down and it will make things painful for everyone.
Your tools have to be smart and powerful so that they allow you to work smart and also stay by your side when you build powerful robust solutions and for the long run.
So if we come back to the starter theme requirements, it must be smart. You may want to have the bells and whistles like SASS… rich configuration settings that make things faster for you, not to slow you down; and settings that you can hide and lock down to prevent anyone messing them up.
One of the big questions and bane of contention is should a starter theme come with bells and whistles of features? Don’t confuse a starter theme with a minimal theme or a simple barebones theme. A starter theme by definition is the Genesis child-theme that helps you start the project. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. And a starter theme doesn’t have to be minimal. If complexity is the need of the hour then so be it. That will simplify your life. And a starter theme can be as complicated as you like as long as it simplifies the project so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Must serve you in the long run
What about the future? Yes! The starter theme has to serve you in the long run. It is the same reason whey you chose Genesis. It’s has to be a platform just like Genesis (except for the fact this is going to be your personal development platform). It must be ready to scale as your requirements grow and should stay with you in the long run. You must understand it’s intricacies to so that you are comfortable delivering custom solution on top of it. After all it’s not easy and pleasant to have to change your starter theme every few quarters and start afresh.
It will grow with you (and bloat with you)
Since you’ll live with your startup theme for a while, certain things are bound to happen. When you begin one, a Genesis starter theme that really is just two files with no code isn’t what you are looking for.
How can a starter theme simplify your life? Let’s see… does your starter theme allow you any basic theme options that you can set to get the ball rolling? Often developers start with a basic options panel that allows them to set some kind of essential, minimal settings to allow them flexibility. In the next project you may realize you could use another settings field. What do you do? Of course you build it in.
How flexible is your starter theme when it comes to implementing professional features requested by businesses? Are you focused on delivering just another website… or websites that actually help your client have the edge over their competitors? For that you’ll either need to code in those features yourself every project.
It it won’t be a starter theme any more. It becomes your Genesis start-up theme. It got your started as a starter, but now it’s what you start with now as a pro.
Your starter theme will evolve the most with your first five projects. These projects will essentially pose certain requirements and pretty basics that you starter child theme must have. Fox example you may just realize that your starter theme must have a custom template that will serve as a landing page. Or may be some feature like a widgetized homepage. And you will continue to incorporate such features into your starter theme until a time wherein it just feels bloated. And I think that’s fine. It’s perfectly fine… as long as you are not initiating these extra features when not required. It would be a smart thing to use remove_post_type_support, remove_theme_support etc. to silently disable such bells and whistles when the project doesn’t require them. This will increasing the caching and the performance and also simply eliminate some confusion. At the end all this just means that you still have a starter theme that does an excellent job, doesn’t load all the feature-gang and it only has some extra function and files that are not called.
Choose what works for you and you feel comfortable working with, regardless of the distinction and semantics
Also the universe truth is that not every theme is meant for everyone. If it really suits you to build a child-theme from scratch then go for it. If it’s your decision to start with Genesis’s Minimal Pro (which is not a pitched as a starter theme, but may just be something that works for you) or something that’s more sophisticated then go for it… because that is your starter theme… that’s the theme that helps you get started. For example in the WordPress wild, I chose _s (pronounced underscores) as my startup WordPress theme to create some killer WordPress themes. It’s SASSified.
Finally let me say this: The best startup theme is transparent.
- It would do all the smart work and then get out of your way as if it wasn’t even there.
- You can silently disable the features or lock things out and hide them once done.
My starter theme was the Genesis Sample Theme. And since I serve multiple niches, it evolved into the feature rich Lander µFramework platform over several years into a robust platform that is multi-purpose, mobile optimized, developer centric and user-friendly. What is your starter theme?