So, before I started reviewing Cherry, I had never worked with any WordPress theme framework at all. Sure, I’ve had my share of creating and editing existing WordPress themes, but an actual theme framework? I had no idea what to expect. Hence, what follows are the adventures of someone who’s about to take his very first steps in Theme Framework Land.
So what is a theme framework in the first place? After doing a bit of reading and research, I was under the impression that a theme framework is actually just a theme but with a lot of options built in (on the WP admin side), which enables the user to customize the way everything ends up on the WordPress site. Things like a graphical background color picker, or a sidebar selector, or a carousel module, specific widgets and shortcodes, and so on. All this within the WordPress admin, so that with little to no programming skills, users could edit the theme (and thus the website) to their liking.
It turns out that it’s somewhat like that, but there’s a little but more to it than just that. And Cherry showed me how beneficial a framework can be to your WordPress development cycle.
To install the Cherry theme is quite easy and self-explanatory.
- Download the framework from http://www.cherryframework.com/
- Login to your WordPress Administration Panel.
- Select the Appearance panel, then Themes.
- Select Install Themes and select Upload.
- Browse your computer to select your Cherry Framework .zip file.
- Click Install Now.
- After installation, click Activate.
- Go to the Plugins section and install the recommended/required plugins.
At first glance
After activating the Cherry theme, it looks like it’s just that; a theme. The front-end of the site looks quite clean (although not necessarily minimalistic) and would be a nice starting point for further customization.
To customize the way your site looks, the standard options are all available. Going through Appearance –> Themes –> Cherry –> Customize, you can make all the changes you need. From the background color/image to the styling of all H1-H6 headers, from displaying the search box and breadcrumbs to the page logo, from the sidebar location to the navigation settings, and from the option to have a slider to have a portfolio. Most options and settings you can think of (and that you’re familiar with with theme customization) are all here, and give you a good deal of control.
If you’re OK with just changing standard options for your theme, that’s where you should go. However, this would just be scratching the surface of the customization possibilities. If you have a look under the Cherry Options menu, you will not only find all these settings, but a lot more. Of course, some of these you might not want to change or look at at all (like the Character Set for all the various headers and content, although that could be handy in some cases), others may come in very useful. For example, defining headers and titles goes much further than just the font type — it’s here where you can also set the size, line height, color, and style. This is also where you can set the actual detailed settings of the slider, portfolio and blog.
Out of the box, it’s a very nice theme with a good amount of customization options. If you want your site to look clean and structured, Cherry can take you very far. Of course, the theme is fully responsive, but that goes without saying, since that’s such a “standard” feature nowadays.
As it turns out, there is so much more to Cherry than just being a theme. You will notice there are some new custom post types available: Testimonials, Services, FAQs and Our Team. Naturally, the purpose of these custom types speak for themselves, and so they’re welcome additions if you want to show some of that on your site (see below how we’ll do that).
A quick look at the Widget section reveals that there are about 8 new widgets available to use. Some of these widgets are new/unique and can be used to show ads, custom post cycles, photostreams, social icons/links, and vCards. Others build on core WordPress functionality but add a few more options (e.g. Recent Comments can be shown with author’s avatars, Recent Posts can show a specific amount of words in an excerpt).
The third additional is one of the most powerful things: a large amount of available shortcodes! This will enable you to add all kinds of modules in your posts and pages to spice things up. Accessible from the toolbar above the content field, an enormous amount of shortcodes are waiting for you. These codes can help you define the look of your post (mostly by assigning grid elements, rows, columns, etc) as well as inserting actual content (video previews, Google maps, etc.) or more basic HTML (spacers, buttons, labels, and so on). Incredibly handy if your content editor needs a little help, or if you just needs some shortcuts.
Let’s look a little deeper in all these additional functionalities that come with the theme.
Cherry adds 8 widgets to your toolbox for use in any sidebars you might want to use:
- 125×125 ads: shows up to 4 advertising image banners.
- Advanced Cycle: displays a number of posts, completely customized the way you want to. You can select titles, post types, number of posts to show, many date and meta options, thumbnails, size…and so on.
- Facebook Like Box Widget: shows a standard box for any given Facebook page.
- Flickr: shows a fixed number of photos from your Flickr gallery.
- Recent Comments: displays a set number of recent comments, with more options than WP’s standard widget
- Recent Posts: displays a set number of recent posts, but not limited to regular blog posts. Show custom posts, in any order, with or without excerpt or thumbnail, and more.
- Social Networks: displays simple links to your social networks of choice.
- vCard: shows information about you or your company.
These widgets have plenty of customization options that it’s hard to imagine why you would need any other widgets for these types of functionality. Cherry has done a good job picking the right ones here!
As said before, there is a great amount of shortcodes at your disposal, right at your fingertips in the toolbar whenever you create/edit a post or page. Select an option from the toolbar and the actual shortcode will be included in the content right away. The possibilities are endless, dozens of choices are available and it would be too much to list them all here. Let’s look into the various types of codes you can add:
- Content: you can use this to place content within your actual post content (post excerpts, tags, comments, banners, carousels, and pretty much everything else you can think of what your post should contain.
- Layout: inserting grid-based columns made easy! Choose from fixed-width grids or fluid columns, insert them in your post and fill them up with your content.
- Elements: any items you would normally use plain HTML for, can be found here. Buttons, labels, quotes, icons, iframes, rules, lists, audio/video embeds….the list goes on and on.
- Other: the rest of the shortcodes are those that don’t necessarily fit in any of the categories above. These include alert boxes, title boxes, tabs, accordions, Google Map integration, and a few more.
Every time you select a shortcode from the toolbar, you will be presented with a screen where you can set all the options for the shortcode in question. For example, select a post grid and you’ll be asked how many posts, how they should be arranged, whether it should show thumbnails or not, how they should be ordered, etc.
The number of shortcodes may be a bit overwhelming at first glance, but that is only because Cherry included virtually every option you could think of. This whole feature is especially great when you keep in mind that content editors often need to rely on HTML knowledge in order to display content properly. The availability of the shortcodes eliminates the need for that; it’s never been easier to include the type of content that could previously only be done by including HTML tags.
Apart from the standard posts (that are used for default blogging functionality), the Cherry theme comes with 4 custom post types, and it’s easy to work with them – although there are a few small pitfalls for some of them.
To create a Testimonials section on your site, you’ll first need to create some actual Testimonials in the Testimonial section in the WP admin area first. Every Testimonial is treated as a custom post, with not too many options to make it too confusing. You’ll need to add a title, the testimonial quote, and some information about the author of the quote.
To display the list of testimonials on your site, create a Page in WordPress and assign the Testimonials template to it. When published, this page will list all the testimonials in reverse chronological order.
This basically works the same way as the Testimonials. Every question/answer is a separate entry in the FAQs section in the WP admin (where the question is the title of the post and the answer is the content). There’s really not much more to it, which is a good thing.
To display the list of questions on your site, create a Page in WordPress and assign the FAQs template to it. When published, this page will list all the questions in reverse chronological order.
And for the Services it also works the same. Every service you might want to list on your website is treated as a custom post of type Services. It’s very basic; there is only a title and content (and an optional Featured Image). To display the service is a different story though. There doesn’t seem to be a way to create a page that lists all services (much like the Testimonials and the FAQ), and the documentation also doesn’t seem to list how this should be done. I may be missing something here, but it’s somewhat confusing. For an experienced WP developer it shouldn’t be too difficult to create a query that lists the services, but it’s confusing to see that for the other custom post types, Cherry does include a way of displaying them easily, yet not for this one. Perhaps it is only meant to be viewed as singular posts?
Unfortunately, the same confusion arises with the Our Team posts. You can create a post for every individual team member, but so far I haven’t found a way of showing them on a page the same way as the other two post types. The team members can be listed as part of a post grid or Roundabout slider in any post or page, but especially for this type of content, an easy method of displaying a basic list of team members would be very welcome.
Things make more sense with the Portfolio types of posts again. In the Portfolio section you can create entries for every item you want to put in your portfolio, with a description, type/format, client, URL, even add a lightbox to it.
A list of the portfolio entries is done in the same way as the Testimonials or FAQ, but instead of creating a page and then selecting the proper template, you can choose more than one type; ultimately there are three ways of displaying your portfolio: 2 columns, 3 columns, or 4 columns. The single pages for each portfolio entry looks nicely structured with all the relevant info sorted properly.
Cherry comes with two types of sliders, that you can set in the option screen: a standard horizontal slideshow and an accordion-type that shows the slides side-by-side (Note: although Cherry advertises three sliders, one of them, the Roundabout, seems to be limited to the shortcodes in posts, and doesn’t apply to a classic homepage-type slider).
Every individual slide is created as a custom post type (obviously, the Slides option from the menu). Each slide consists of an image, a caption and a URL.
After that, you go into the Cherry Options screen, where you define how the slides will display. The options all speak for themselves and (contrary to some other sliders I’ve worked with) the screen is not overloaded with a lot of advanced options that can make things easily confusing.
Once you’re done creating and configuring the slider, it will display by default on your home page. However, this means you should actually have a home page (and not use the default blog listing page). Hence, you need to create a new page and select the Home page template, and then go into your WordPress settings to set this newly created page as your home page.
Aside from the main website/content functionality, Cherry comes with a handy Data Management tool that you can use to make a backup of your Cherry theme, restore it from an older backup, or update your framework altogether. Making a backup of your widgets and such is also possible, as well as importing previous data you may have saved.
There is also a screen with various SEO settings and the ability to generate an XML sitemap, although both are very basic and don’t offer all too many options. That’s OK, by now I’ve come to trust Cherry to take care of things properly, so I won’t be all too busy dabbling in all kinds of settings and options that might overwhelm me.
By now we’ve seen why Cherry is more than just a theme. By installing it, we get an enormous amount of extra options in the form of widgets, custom post types (with a few templates) and all those shortcodes — it’s like WordPress got a big boost and publishing became a lot easier after activating the theme.
But, the look-and-feel of the site is still a little bare and basic, so if you want to make things look more fancy and spectacular, this is where additional themes come in. Of course you can work on it yourself by creating a child theme and go from there. Another option is to download ready-made themes from TemplateMonster. These themes are based on Cherry as the parent theme and act like a child theme.
Most of these themes cost either $75 or $115 for a single license. You can also buy these themes bundled with installation services and hosting (an additional $49 and $33, resp) and even some more customization (such as having your own logo or changing the color scheme). However, for WordPress developers some of those extra services may not be worth it and it looks like these are actually offered for those who have little to no experience with WP theme development.
And if you really, really like a theme, you can get a buyout license for a few grand, which makes you pretty much the sole owner.
Installing a theme
For our review, we tried a theme called Unobtrusive Design Studio. One note of importance though: some themes seem to be made for a specific version of the basic framework, so you may have to uninstall (or at least deactivate) any more recent versions of Cherry than the theme requires.
In our case, our theme was created with/for Cherry version 2.3. However, our previous installation of Cherry version 3.0 (and most notably, its plugins) caused some trouble. Deinstalling the framework and the plugins was therefore necessary.
No worries though — each theme comes with the actual framework it’s made for. You’ll get two .ZIP files; one is the framework and the other is the theme itself. Installing it is just as easy as described in the beginning of this article; install the framework, install the theme, activate the theme…done!
The theme (obviously) builds on the framework — functionality-wise, it’s mostly the same (though some themes will add some more to it), and so the biggest change is really in the looks of things.
Our theme came with a bunch of sample data, which can come in very handy to see what a theme can actually do. Importing was easy and it gave me a good idea of the theme’s possibilities. In this case, it’s a very clean and well-designed theme. According to the creators, Unobtrusive Design Studio is “aimed to show a design, web design, art studio on the web” and I can see where that’s coming from. Of course, it’s fully responsive — but this should come as no surprise; that’s where the underlying Cherry framework is doing its work.
It’s clear that the Cherry framework is not just a fancy theme with some extra options. You actually add a whole new layer to your WordPress install, boosting the possibilities of a standard WordPress site and it’s likely that it will save you a lot of trouble that you’d normally get when you install a handful (or more than that!) of plugins.
Because it’s regarded an extra layer, you can still work with the functionality of using external themes for making your site look great. But what really makes the difference for me between a theme and a framework, is the fact that there are so many themes available to use as child themes for Cherry. Because of that, it truly feels like for all those themes, Cherry is the driving engine.
What I found remarkable, is that Cherry didn’t give me the idea that all the new options it’s giving me, was too much or useless. Most of the extras are actually useful and handy, and at no point I got the idea that things got too bloated.
Like I said at the beginning, I’m not familiar with any WordPress frameworks in the first place, so I can’t compare Cherry to any others of it’s kind. But, judging it by its own merits, I can definitely recommend to look into using the Cherry framework and it’s many available templates at least once and see if it’s something for you.
Check out the latest version of the Cherry Framework at CherryFramework.com.