Skinning Headway; The Future of Theme Design

The new breed of framework themes such as Headway and Thesis are going to change the way new WordPress themes are designed.

In this post I want to tell you why I think this is and how it will effect your theme purchasing or theme development habits in the future.

Most of my experience is with Headway, so I will concentrate on this theme, but I am sure Thesis has the same functionality, please feel free to comment all Thesis fans.

So What’s The Buzz With The Framework Themes?

Framework theme is the name I give to the new breed of themes which allow a designer to skin with their own look and feel whilst using the underlying code to provide the functionality they want without a complete redesign and new theme development.

You cannot fail to have missed the buzz about Headway or Thesis in the Blogosphere and on Twitter, people are all saying which is the best and how fabulous both products are.  In truth both are excellent themes, they allow people without any CSS or coding skills to develop a highly personalised blog look and feel.

An example of this can be seen from the following sites, which are all built around the headway theme, but look very different.

They are all the same base theme, but they have been designed to the owmers specification, and they are all very different.

Why I think This Will Chaneg the Future of Theme Design

The functionality I really want to talk about, is the ability for people to Skin the Headway theme and then to pass the skin onto another person using Headway theme and to completely change the look and feel of the base HEadway appearance.  In the examples above, these are custom configuration jobs, but their modifications could be put into a skin and easily re-distributed.

How A Skin Works

A skin is a set of custom style sheets,  images and function code which can be packaged up and installed very easily into an existing Headway config.  These sets of files will be developed by traditional web designers, packaged up and installed into a Headway install, from the skin configuration options in headway select that skin and a whole new custom look and feel will be given to headway.

Where Designers Come In

In the future a designer will create a skin for Headway (or thesis I am sure it’s the same from their camp) rather than developing a theme from the ground up.

How do I know this is happening?  I asked. I put a query out on twitter and several design companies came back and confirmed my suspicion that this was their way forward.  One designer was quite sad about this as it took a lot of the challenging (read fun for a geek) work away from the whole theme development process.

I think the role of a web designer will be to think about design rather than underlying code and functiuonality.

Do I think this is a good thing?  Yes I do, there are going to be some pretty fantastic looking sites coming out if all of the time is spent on the presentation of a site rather than the gadgets which power a site.

I Still don’t get Why It Is So Radical

Most of the hard work is already done by Headway.  All a designer needs to do is create their look and feel, do the designing, logo creation, wizzy look and feel effects, style the widgets and gee-gaws.  Thrust them into a headway theme skin and send it off to their client.

Development time is hugely reduced, quality is the same, theme designers can earn the same cash for less time investment, or they can reduce their costs to make custom themes much more accessible to bloggers.

Premium skins rather than themes

It is my opinion that people will be asking for custom or premium skins in the future rather than a whole new premium or custom themes.

As a client you will go to your designer and say “My framework of preference is Headway, I have spent time learning how to use the back-end functionality of my theme but I want a custom look, create me a skin please”

As a designer you will spend you time building premium skins and selling them to existing Headway customers, or developing your own premium skin shop where you develop mulitple skins and sell them many times using the same model as premium themes.

What Is This Skin Market Worth

I have been thinking about this a lot, if you have already forked out $87 dollars for your basic Headway theme, you are not going to want to spend premium theme money on a skin.  I can see skins being sold for $50 – $80 as a premium skin or $400-$500 dollars for a custom skin.  Much less than a premium or complete custom designed theme.

This reduction in cost will come from efficiencies in development time.

How Must Will it Cost A Designer To Get Into This Market?

For a web designer to get into this market they will need to buy a Headway developers license.  At $164 the barrier for entry into this new market is very low, your first skinning gig will probably pay for your investment.  Add onto this, the fact that dev. license holders can provide their clients with a copy of the Headway free of charge means their is no initial theme investement for their clients.

Here is what the Headway team say about their dev license:

If you are a developer or need/want to install Headway on multiple websites, the Headway Developer Option is for you. The Headway Developer Option allows you to install Headway on any number of websites that you or your company operates or developed. You are also allowed to remove the footer attribution/credit with the developer option (woot!).

UPDATE: I missed something in the small print you need to buy an add-on license for each client site you develop at the cost of $40 per site, here is the small print, thanks to James NomadRip for the heads up

Install on unlimited websites that you or your company owns. If you develop client sites on Headway you must pay [or have your client pay you] an additional $40 per add-on license.

Will There Be A Skin MarketPlace?

I was pondering on whether there would be a central place to sell skins using the same business model as ThemeForest.net , a market place for premium themes.

I have been in twitter/email communication with Grant Griffiths one of the people behind Headway.  I was keen to see if there would be and official Headway sanctioned skin marketplace.

His answer was that a couple of domains have been purchased for a Headway Skin marketplace.  He is hoping to build a community of web designers who would market their skin designs from there.

I can only see this as a bright future for people wanting to develop skins for Headway.

All Aboard

The skinning express is about to leave, get your development license now, get your skills up to speed and be part of this new theme design revolution.

I don’t plan to do any more bespoke development, all future sites for me and my clients will be skinned via Headway.

Get A Copy Of Headway Developers License

Want To Learn How To Create A Skin?

I am in the process of creating a video tutorial course to show you how to create your very own headway skin, please leave your email details and I will notify you when the course is ready.  This is a premium course and will cost in the region of $147

join our mailing list
* indicates required

My Skin Site

With the release of Headway 1.6, Skins have taken a massive leap forward, I have joined forced with talented designer Jonathan Woodward  to start creating some exciting new Headway skins, check out our Headway Skin Site


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *