WordPress themes have always had multipurpose capabilities to a degree. One has seen it with built-in front page sliders, configurable headers,multi-page theme layouts, and even importable complete mult-page Website designs like the Moody theme seen here. In addition, some Multipurpose themes pack on a frontend PageBuilder like Visual Composer. But these MultiPurpose themes lack key Multilayout capabilities which can be applied to any post, page or custom post type:
- the ability to specify whether sidebars will appear on a page/post and where or not at all;
- likewise specify whether a header and/or footer are to appear on a page/post or be replaced by a PageBuilder stand in;
- Specify whether key page/post attributes like author, published date, featured image, etc are to appear;
- Define the contents width in pixels, whether the content is boxed or contained or side-to-side full width.
MultiLayout Themes take WordPress page design to a new level – the ability to provide a unique look and layout for every page/post on a WordPress website. So of course MultiLayout themes work best with topend PageBuilders that provide drag and drop UI design and layout. Not just dozens of pre-built UI elements or widgets but also their layout in multi-column rows and grids.
What is even more revolutionary, the PageBuilders are taking on three new roles:
- Extensive CSS Styling of the PageBuilder’s UI element is controlled in the PageBuilder property popups;
- many PageBuilders are assuming the role of creating unique layouts for headers with menus, search boxes, titles, logos, bread crumbs, banner ads, top bars and sliders [with sticky and transparency settings] mixed, matched and set into positions with ease;
- Ditto for the layout of sidebars and footers.
Here is the killer result => PageBuilders are now responsible for the layout and look of an entire webpage. In the process, the very best PageBuilders are becoming overall SiteBuilders. We have tracked the SiteBuilding trend already here.
But what the new PageBuilders-become-SiteBuilders need is a MultiPurpose theme that allows the developer to control the appearance of the theme’s default header, sidebar, footer and other layout elements. This is what is meant by a MultiPurpose Theme. But such themes could easily be named MultiLayout themes. This is because such MultiLayout themes allow developers to control what UI element will show on a page or post – the default header or the developer designed one. Ditto for sidebars, footers, topbars, popups, etc.
This is the second WordPress UI breakthrough of the past two years => MultiLayout or MultiPurpose themes allows designers and developers to design a unique look and layout for every page and post. So that is what this review is really about – to explore the best combination of MultiLayout Theme and its associated PageBuilder to do complete WordPress webpage design and delivery.
But first let us examine the implications of MultiPurpose Themes enabling PageBuilders to become SiteBuilders. First, the WordPress Visual Editor has become subservient to and just another widget in most page editing tasks including the new Gutenberg PageBuilder from Automattic. For the best PageBuilders the direct online editing is replacing the need for using most Visual Editors.
Thus in PageBuilders are now replacing the WordPress Visual Editor as the primary tools for content layout and design. So Gutenberg which is targeted to replace the WordPress Visual Editor has much bigger shoes to fill – it must match the capabilities of the best WordPress PageBuilders. And Gutenberg is currently well short of that mark.
Second, the choice of what WordPress theme to use has now become a much more narrow choice for most WordPress Designers and developers. Instead of thousands of themes and hundreds of PageEditors, the choice now comes down to about 10 MultiPurpose/MultiLayout themes and 6-10 PageBuilders. Wow what a drastic reduction of choices. Also for WordPress Developers guiding their client to the best choice of Theme and PageBuilder has become as vital as the choice of hosting service used. Again, what a remarkable change in the traditional WordPress workflow.
Nature of WordPress Multipurpose Themes
As noted the notion of Multipurpose WordPress themes has been embraced by the WordPress community for many years. Genesis Theme Framework pioneered the use configurable content layout with choice of right, left , both or no sidebars all in a responsive design. Other developers took advantage of the Genesis Framework API to create child themes which further extended their theme capabilities to add hero images, vertical menus, header sliders etc to the design mix available to developers.
Headway allowed developers to drop blocks anywhere on the design screen or omit them. In addition, every page and post could have a unique design layout. Thus the above design omits any sidebar and later stacked the Navigator above the Header and removed the Footer for the Home page but had a completely different layout for Blog Posts. Ultimatum brought templates to the design process so developers could repeat layouts quickly for different pages or websites. Recently Ultimatum has added 12 free premium plugins including Visual Composer, Revolution Slider, and Essential Grid for a packed lineup of Design plugins.
In sum, the trend to Multipurpose themes has a 5-8 year history at WordPress. Here are some of the current features of multipurpose themes often presented in the Appearnce | Customize command:
- responsive layout for all pages and posts;
- ability to control sidebars [left or right or both side or none] sitewide;
- ability to control sitewide content width in pixels;
- ability to control appearance of some page/post decorations like title, published date, featured image etc
- ability to control contents and layout of headers and footers with varying flexibility;
- some ability to provide pre-filled page templates that can be customized for final look and feel;
- limited ability to control sitewide typography and styling;
- uneven support among multipurpose themes for Pagebuilders, sliders, galleries, calendars, and other UI widgets;
- inability to place layout blocks anywhere on canvas like Headway and Ultimatum.
And here is an example of the freemium theme GeneratePress in action with Thrive Architect as the PageBuilder.
As you can see from the above example and list of capabilities MultiPurpose/MultiLayout Themes are clustering around some key functions:
- Site wide mobile responsive layout elements from header through content block to footers;
- Sitewide Settings for layout elements like topbar, header, menus, breadcrumb, sidebar, content section, footer. These settings are for visibility, width, alignment or position and combination plus sticky and transparency values;
- Individual Page/Post settings which override the default Sitewide Settings for visibility, width, alignment for topbar, header,menus, breadcrumbs, sidebars, footers plus more content section options for such items as title, author, comments, categories, tags, visit counts, etc;
- Control of specialized popup events like scrolling, visit duration, top of page hovering, etc;
- Provision of default Home or Landing Page templates;
- Provision of PageBuilder, Slider, Gallery and/or Commerce plugins.
This reviewer regards the provision templates and PageBuilder plugins as superfluous and unnecessary. The developer and user should have the choice of PageBuilder plugins to be used. And part of that choice of PageBuilder will be the strength of the templates portfolio offered by the PageBuilder along with its set of UI elements that meet their design needs.
So in alphabetical order we look at some of the best MultiPurpose/MultiLayout themes currently available for WordPress.
List of Best MultiPurpose/MultiLayout Themes
Astra Free and Pro [$50US/year with unlimited websites and support] are both Multi-layout capable with mobile responsive designs .Here is the test website’s Home page styled with Astra:
Astra is particularly robust because it works with all the major PageBuilders and provides a rich set of default setting with ample opportunity to change those settings for any particular page or post. Also Astra has the least overlap of features with PageBuilder functionality. This is not to be dismissed because whenever there is overlap, then it becomes harder to debug a particular layout if one has to check the Customizer, then the PageBuilder and finally the Theme’s Options for a specific layout setting.
Right now the PageBuilders and MultiPurpose Themes are in a delicate dance over who takes charge of color, typography, spacing, animations and other CSS styling functions. And in the no mans land of header, footer, sidebar and section layout including use of UI elements there is clearly overlap of functionality. This reviewer like the approach that Astra has taken which is to defer much of the time to the PageBuilder in both styling and UI element layout.
Generate Press Free and Pro [$39.95US for unlimited websites and 1 year of updates and support] are both WooCommerce, WPML, BuddyPress and bbPress ready. And as the scrrenshot shows, Generate Pres is capable of generating pages with a unique look.
Every page on this website has a different layout and look because Generate Press even in the free version is loaded with Individual Page/Post custom settings. Lets examine those in detail below:
The7 [$39US/website with unlimited updates and 6 months support ]The7 theme is like the Xtheme but with a lot fewer plugins but more templates. The7 also has more multi-layout features. So as seen in our screenshot below there are many options for creating a unique layout using The7 theme:
The7 has a mega-menu for all the the theme options available to users. This replaces the Customize command. Then The7 trips up because it takes a Save Options to see the changes made in the many theme option settings rather then display the changes like in the WordPress standard Customize. But The7 has embraced multipurpose theme designs with many sitewide options with attention to header, footer and sidebar designs. As well the individual page and post settings for layout elements are rich. See the details in the descriptions below.
Xtheme [$45US/website, unlimited updates and 1/2 year of support]is probably best known for its gargantuan list of top rank plugins and large demo template library. It is also a multipurpose/multi-layout theme as seen in this screenshot of our Toronto for the Holidays website:
For WordPress developers this is a low cost way to test out use of page templates plus experiment with 28 top ranked plugins and services made available through XTheme. For broader website design, Xtheme defaults to the Cornerstone PageBuilder but developers will want to fire up Visual Composer because of the wealth of free and pro Visual Composer PageBuilder add-ons.