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These past many years, I have bought all too many WordPress themes and I have helped a ton of people set all kinds of WordPress themes up in more or less adequate server environments, mostly for fun, at times for a little profit and, always, to learn a bit more about WordPress.
In the end, after about 13 years of doing so, three theme shops have managed to convince me with their unerring dedication to quality and design, Mike McAlister’s “Array Themes“, Ellen Bauer’s & Manuel Esposito’s “Elmastudio” and Jonathan Atkinson’s & Barbara Atkinson’s “Cr3ativ“. There are a few more, but I’ll leave those to a future post.
I cannot quite retrace my steps in regard to when I first ran into Mike McAlister’s themes, but I think the initial close encounter was with his “Author” theme, one that still exists and one that he was crazy enough to put on his “free” list a while back. I don’t want to ruin his business model, but if you download “Author“, you will get a spectacularly good theme, which is a magnificent showcase for his talents, and you’ll get it for – did I mention that already? – free.
If you are like me though, you also like to support those theme designers and programmers out there that deliver quality themes and that’s why I bought into “Lenscap“, a theme that does everything correctly, plus more, and which is, at least to me, a logical extension of everything I liked about “Author”, which really packs an extra punch.
Interlude: “Kitchen Sink Themes”
If you happen to be (relatively) new to WordPress, it might seem very enticing to buy some of those magnum opus themes that are available on ThemeForest and other online market places. I really don’t want to discourage you, but before you do that, think twice, three times, and maybe once more.
For a beginner, a theme which had two or three kitchen sinks thrown at it might seem to be the perfect fit, ready to do any- and everything, with top sales numbers and constant development backing it up, plus a price tag attached that is downright laughable, but, believe me, if you are not a WordPress Jedi, things might turn sour really fast.
Although many of the top themes have demo content to import so a new site will look exactly like the nice demo that made you buy the theme in the first place, installing one of those themes on top of an existing website is an entirely different thing, especially if the new theme includes one of those ever-popular page builders.
The problem with page builders and built-in shortcodes, both of which usually form the basis of many of the most popular themes, is that you lock yourself into an ecosystem that is a pain in the neck to get out of again, especially if you happen to be a relative novice. Once you uninstall the theme, you are often left with a site that won’t function properly anymore with any themes that strictly adhere to WordPress standards and, for example, rely on the WordPress customizer exclusively to get things up and running. You will often have to start from scratch once more and, most importantly, you will have to learn how to carefully remove all the leftover “junk” the old theme left behind or that you had to add to your content to make that theme work properly.
One thing that really annoys me with some of the most popular themes available via ThemeForest, for example, are the mile-long changelogs that accumulate over time. After kitchen sinks one and two were thrown at the theme in its original state, 17 more were poured over it in the following months. Often, those “updates” will break things and need to be fixed in even more updates and, worst of all, after a year or two you will most likely end up with themes that are a) highly complicated and b) look nothing like what you bought originally. Every suggestion by every customer was integrated and in the end, the options menu stretches from here to the moon and back. In a worst-case scenario, the theme author will, at some point, decide to ditch the original version and completely rewrite it and many users will be left wondering what broke in the process. They essentially need to start over again, especially because their carefully spliced together layout and extended theme (via plugins, extra CSS and whatnot), from one moment to the next, just doesn’t look like what it used to anymore.
Frustrating, to say the least, especially for the average customer.
Mike McAlister & Array Themes to the Rescue
That’s where people like Mike McAlister come into the picture. In my eyes, there are a whole lot of aspects that put his themes at the very top of the WordPress theme market food chain:
- His themes are the result of years of clean design, typography, layout and programming experience that has been fine-tuned and perfected across a whole range of excellent predecessors. His use of white space, line height, font choice & size, grid layout and mobile adaptiveness are superior in comparison to most themes I have tried and Array themes consistently get things right.
- His themes rely exclusively on the WordPress foundation and accepted practices. That means you won’t lock yourself in with his themes. If you so desire, switching to another one of his themes or to any other one available is a breeze, simply because you’ll be left with a clean website once you uninstall his themes.
- Mike’s themes rely on a few plugins where necessary and the customizer for everything else. That is in line with WordPress philosophy and, most importantly, makes his themes highly adaptable. Often, his themes will provide appropriate styling for several plugins which are recommended to extend a theme, but if you want to use any of the other available ones, that is just as easy and will always yield the appropriate results (if the plugins were programmed according to WordPress standards).
- Last, but not least, if you buy into Mike McAlister’s themes, they will be supported both for the long haul and in a very speedy manner. Years of experience in the theme market show and he knows what he’s doing. If an issue does pop up, which is rare indeed, it will be fixed instantaneously and, as I have seen in the past, anything fixed will be applied across his available themes if necessary and “trickle down” to all of what he has available via his Array website.
To facilitate the latter, Array’s WordPress themes install a “Getting Started” menu item in the “Appearance” menu of your WordPress admin and once you have entered your license code, updates will be prominently announced whenever available and are seamlessly installed via the click of a button. Easy as pie.
“Getting Started” also embeds every bit of information you need to get your new site up and running or your old site switched over to the Array theme of your choice. It will – in detail – explain which plugins are recommended and/or necessary to get the most out of the theme and how to download & set those up, take you through both the installation and setup of every theme feature and detail available, and link to every available resource you need to clear up any questions you might have.
Most people who buy and install a theme often don’t care much about the people behind the product they just bought, but to me that also happens to be an important factor. I have watched Mike for years and he’s both a pleasant and, yes, and opinionated person, the latter especially in regard to WordPress theme design and programming as well as topics surrounding WordPress. He is a staunch defender of standards and critical of theme market machinations.
In short, Mike knows his stuff and it shows … everywhere.
To me, Lenscap – as was the case with all the previous themes Mike McAlister published – is a culmination of his previous work and experience in the WordPress theme market. Instead of writing another thousand words, here’s a list of what makes Lenscap a great WordPress theme:
- Installation: The initial install took me a few minutes and getting this site here into a generally appropriate shape took me roughly 30 minutes. I’m quite sure I would have needed less time, but I decided to redo some areas of my website quickly to revert some changes other themes had practically forced on me. A quick check instantly revealed that even the more complicated posts and pages I had on my website displayed without any problems whatsoever. No headaches there.
- Speed: Lenscap isn’t the fastest theme on the market, but it is fast enough to put it into the top percentile of themes I have run through various website speed test pages in my time. As you probably know, speed is more often than not impacted by the website owner’s faults and decisions, as uncompressed images, too many plugins, a faulty setup and, most importantly, a below average hosting solution can have a massive impact on page speed. Ignoring the – to the average user – useless Google Webmaster tools that throw totally irrelevant site “errors” into your face, Lenscap and Array’s WordPress themes are more than clean and lean enough to compete with other top themes available out there. As an added bonus, Lenscap also plays very nice with my cache plugin of choice, even if I use all the rather nasty compression options.
- Attention to Typographic Detail: As mentioned above, I just love looking at Array themes’ layout and typographical detail. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but font choices, line spacing, grid layout and small (but important) details such as the inclusion of sharing buttons is perfect, across all screen sizes! I’m anal about these things, as every customer should be, and it shows that Mike knows what he’s doing. If you have ever read extensively about how text should be displayed, every relevant recommendation I have ever studied in this regard is integrated here. We are talking years of refinement and the only thing you need to do is look at this post to see what I mean.
- Mobile Responsiveness: Across the devices I have (a Samsung S7 phone, a Samsung 10” tablet, a 29” PC screen, plus more), my website displays without any glitches whatsoever whereas, with many themes I tried in the past, something jarring always jumped out at you on some device. With one theme it was the sidebar that didn’t flow properly on the tablet, the line-height that didn’t work on the phone, unclickable menus on a small screen, too much white space on my 29” monitor, etc., etc., etc. Lenscap, for example, has this really nifty two-column layout on my 10” Samsung tablet that I noticed by accident the other day. It’s one thing I had forgotten to check before I bought the theme. Of course, I needn’t have worried.
- Adaptability: If you need a plugin and if, that’s important, it was programmed properly, it will work with Array’s WordPress themes. In fact, the only changes I had to make myself these past weeks were in those cases in which a plugin just did not supply the output a standard WordPress theme needs to display it properly. Every error I encountered was not with the theme itself, but with plugins that didn’t stick to standards.
- Pleasure: For me it is important that my own small website, this one here, looks good to me. The “lenscap’d” deus62.com does. Today, websites are often subscribed to and nobody will ever invest the energy to actually hit your website as new posts are available, for example, via mail (like in my case), but many of those visiting via Google searches should be greeted by a pleasantly viewable site. Lenscap does that for both the website owner and his or her visitors.
- Features: In addition, Lenscap’s features include a nice content carousel, an immersive lightbox for videos and galleries, a cool footer category menu (which I’m going to implement soon), and seamless WooCommerce integration (with a shop homepage).
[screenshots © Mike McAlister/Array Themes]
Array Themes: (Other) Personal Favorites
Pocket: I used “Pocket” for years before I integrated parts of that website here and deleted it. Pocket can be used for anything from simple blogging to a nifty small photoblogging site. If you want simple and nice, with the same attention to detail as all the other Array themes, this one might be it for you.
Transmit (free): Actually, I use “Transmit” here for my small “Anthony Vadala Memorial Website“, which resides in a subdomain of deus62.com. Transmit is really meant to be a “fully-featured landing page theme with MailChimp and Campaign Monitor subscription support“, but I decided to use it differently.
Baseline: I was about to get myself a license for “Baseline” when “Lenscap” became available. It is a “magazine-style theme with multiple layouts, featured content areas and simple customization options” and, along with “Lenscap”, it is also the culmination of all of Mike’s previous work in the field. Very nice!
Paperback: “Paperback” is another (popular) magazine-style theme that has a wonderful grid-based layout and includes a very nice featured post carousel as well as a category mega menu.
[screenshots © Mike McAlister/Array Themes]
I’m quite sure that you have run into some of Array’s WordPress themes before because they are also available as premium themes on WordPress.com (Editor) and on ThemeForest (Lenscap, Baseline, Paperback, Candid, Designer, Publisher and Checkout).
Mike McAlister’s themes have been part of my WordPress life for many years now and because Array has been delivering consistently excellent quality ever since its inception, it is one of the very few theme shops I can highly recommend. If you read the above carefully, you know that I keep returning to Mike’s themes and, in my experience, many of the highly-touted themes available via, for example, ThemeForest, can’t hold a candle to Array’s WordPress themes.
In a highly competitive market, quality, longevity and reliability play the most important role and in all three departments, Mike McAlister’s themes not only come out on top, … they are there to stay; and rightly so.
P.S.: There is an interview with Mike McAlister in the works, but that will take a while until it’s done.