Headway is a drag and drop visual editor for WordPress that allows you to build your own themes. Now on version 3, Headway features a grid system that enables you to build WordPress layouts just the way you want them. Nearly all the elements you add to your theme can be customised, allowing you to modify the layout and the appearance of the site to meet your needs.
The product can be used by anyone who wishes to design their own WordPress themes from scratch, or designers who have been tasked with building a WordPress site for a client. No knowledge of code is required to build themes with this tool. However, coders can make their own changes to the designs, complimenting the drag and drop editor if they so desire.
Features and Usage
Headway is activated by uploading the theme files as you would with a regular premium theme. Once installed and activated you will be presented with a blank canvas on which to build your theme. Thankfully it’s very easy to get started and by using the Grid Wizard, you can quickly select the layout for your theme. This is a nice touch as starting with a blank canvas and having to work out how to add elements to it straightaway, can sometimes lead to overwhelm, making it appear more difficult to get started that it actually is.
From the Grid Wizard there are a few options to choose from which cover the most commonly seen WordPress page layouts. At this point in the process you can also decide to start with an empty grid and go from there.
You can also use the Layout Selector tool to select individual pages or posts to edit. This means that when using Headway, you are able to have a range of different layouts for the different pages and posts on your site. This is great for sites that display lots of different types of content and want it presented in different ways.
Once you’ve selected a grid for the layout of your page you are not limited by the pre-configured dimensions. The elements on the page, such as the header, the content areas and the widgets can be changed in width and height by simply dragging and dropping their boundaries. If at any point you are not happy with the grid you have chosen, you can simply drag the page elements into a layout that better suits your site. It would be nice if you could select multiple items at the same time (using Ctrl+Click) as this would make it quicker to move elements around, but it’s not a major problem.
Throughout the building phase you can quickly save or preview your work by clicking on the relevant buttons, which are located at the top of the screen.
When it comes to adding the content to the different areas on your page, it’s an easy task. Simply right click on an area, such as the header, and then select Open Block Options. From there you can upload an image using the familiar WordPress file uploader and insert it into the element on your page. The different areas, or blocks, on the page are all clearly labelled so you are clear what part of the side you are working on at any given time.
It is worth pointing out that Headway cannot be used to edit existing themes and is a standalone theme for WordPress which you can edit using the drag and drop builder.
Add Your Own Code
At this point, you can also add custom CSS classes to these areas for customising them further. If you prefer to have more control or input over how your pages look than what the drag and drop editor can offer then this is a feature that will appeal. While being able to code a WordPress theme from scratch is a worthy skill to have, combining it with a drag and drop editor like Headway will undoubtedly save you time and prevent you from hand coding the mundane parts of the theme, allowing you to focus on the more interesting aspects of the design
While you can get up and running with a design of your own creation using Headway out of the box, your themes can be extended by tapping into the market for addons, or Blocks as they are called. This ecosystem that has built up around Headway includes Blocks from the Headway development team as well as those from third party sources.
Some of the available Blocks include:
- Storefront: which adds WooCommerce compatibility to your site for creating an eCommerce store
- Gallery Block: allows you to display images in a number of ways including lightboxes and sliders
- Article Builder: to give you more options as to how your posts are displayed and organised on your pages
- Community Builder: build a site with social networking capabilities with Headway and BuddyPress
While the blocks store isn’t overflowing with options, there are some good extras there to help you build the site you want with Headway.
It is also possible to export Headway themes and distribute them as skins. At the moment these are not available from Headway themselves, but a growing selection can be found elsewhere on the internet. These Headway skins could be useful for providing a finished template to use or a foundation to build your designs on.
As you’d expect from a tool like this, Headway is not free. There are two price plans available:
- Base: $87
- Developer: $174
The difference between the two options is that the base plan can only be used on one site while the developer option can be used on an unlimited number of sites, making it the ideal choice for web designers and developers.
Both options feature a no risk 14 day money back guarantee so you can give them a good try before deciding if Headway is for you or not. You can also try the demo first before buying.
Support and Documentation
Whether you sign up to the base or the developer plan you get one year of support and updates for Headway. After the 365 days are up, access to support and updates can be renewed for 25% off the base price and 50% off the developer price.
Support is available via a busy user forum and is recommended as the first port of call should you have a question or issue. There is also email support when requested. There is no telephone support available.
Final Conclusion and Recommendations
Headway is a popular choice amongst the current crop of WordPress theme builders and not without good reason. It is certainly easy to use in terms of starting with a blank canvas and then quickly building a layout, adding elements and then modifying the appearance.
I really like the ability to create multiple page layouts for a single WordPress site. A popular criticism that is levelled at WordPress sites is that they can look to similar, from page to page. While multiple page layouts can be used with any theme, creating many layouts and then applying them to the different pages on your site is very straightforward with Headway. For anyone building sites with different types of media, such as text, image galleries, videos, product reviews and so on, being able to quickly create a layout to best showcase each type of content will be much appreciated.
Who is Headway For
If you help people get online with WordPress sites for a living, then having Headway at your disposal is only going to be a good thing. Sometimes an off the shelf theme just isn’t suitable for the job in hand. Being able to quickly build a theme that meets the client’s specification is an increasingly easy proposition with a page builder like Headway. Also, if you are supplied with a mock-up of a theme in image form, building it using Headway is not going to be a difficult task.
Who Headway isn’t For
For someone setting up their own WordPress site, without much experience or knowledge of design, buying an existing WordPress theme is probably a better option. With so many to choose from there is bound to be one that meets their needs, and this route will save them a lot of time and effort building their own theme with Headway.
With little design experience, it can be easy for users to go overboard during the design process and create a mishmash of design elements, including mismatched colours, fonts and effects that as a whole, don’t work well together. While this is not something that tools like Headway can be blamed for, it might be safer for non-designers to buy an existing theme rather than running the risk of creating a monster with their new found powers of drag and drop, no matter how patronising that might sound.
PageLines DMS vs. Headway
I recently took PageLines DMS for a test drive and it is worth spending some time comparing the two products as they both have similar aims.
Headway certainly is easier to use from the outset, and it seems like a more sober and functional tool than PageLines DMS. The latter has more attention grabbing features and bells and whistles, yet it didn’t quite deliver on its stated goals and ambitions. Headway feels like an antidote to PageLine’s flashy and slick UI, and its claims are much more modest.
With Headway you can simply get the job done; whereas with PageLines DMS you have the potential to build a more impressive website, but it would take you a lot longer and perhaps be a more frustrating experience.
I’m not sure if it’s fair to accuse Headway of having low ambitions, but if it does, it certainly lives up to them. Although PageLines DMS has the wow factor, if you want to choose a tool that makes it easy to design your own theme, that works well, and with the minimum amount of stress, then between Headway v3 and PageLines DMS 0.9, I’d begrudgingly recommend Headway. Although I do think PageLines DMS has the potential to be a much more powerful tool in the next version or two.
If there was a way to combine the sober functionality of Headway with the dynamic elements of PageLines DMS it would definitely be an attractive product.
Overall though, Headway is a solid tool for building custom layouts for WordPress, and giving you control over how they are styled without the need to edit any code. While it might lack some flair, it gets the job done and there is nothing wrong with that at all.
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