Introducing the Catalyst WordPress Framework!

Out with the old, in with the new! I’ve managed to make another theme change for AnotherWindowsBlog and hopefully this time around, I’ll stick with it for as long as possible. We all know how important a theme is to a blog or website. It can either make or break your reputation. It’s really sad in my opinion that it has to come down to that but I’m sort of an old-school type of guy. I value information and content first rather than fancy graphics and fonts. However, not everyone is as boring as me. So, I’ll have to play ball if I’m to keep my readers and visitors happy. I didn’t really have a problem with my old theme but it really wasn’t what you would call “customizable”. I didn’t want to install dozens of extra plugins nor spend time researching how to code just to do the things I want. It was time for a much needed change.

Switching to a different theme is always a pain if you’re not a PHP or HTML expert like me. You have to make sure you are comfortable with maneuvering around the theme, how it’s structured, what features it has and how to enable them and all that other stuff. Luckily with WordPress, plugins you’ve installed and have activated will remain in place even after switching to a different theme. You might have to adjust some settings to match your new layout but for the most part, they shouldn’t be a big problem. Also, your pictures and other embedded files will also remain in place. The majority of the problems I encountered was things that worked in the background such as importing custom functions and CSS settings.

The old theme I used was called Brainstorm and can be found at Themeforest, which is a huge repository of custom WordPress themes (among many other types) that could be purchased. Luckily for me, the developers provided awesome support. Each and every time I had a problem with something in the theme, they replied back to my emails within a day or two. As mentioned earlier though, I wanted a theme that had more features integrated into it by design rather than having to spend time manually configuring them (it probably wasn’t even possible given the limited knowledge I had) and Brainstorm didn’t provide that. It was a great run but its time to part ways even though Brainstorm is such a beautifully designed theme.

Brainstorm

WordPress Catalyst Framework

More information about the Catalyst theme and framework can be found here and no, the theme is not free.

After debating for a long time after having seen literally hundreds of unique and beautiful WordPress themes, I’ve decided to give the green light to the Catalyst Framework. It’s really hard to describe this awesome theme in a few words because it has so much features and settings that it will at first give you a headache. I’m not kidding.  However, once your brain settles down, you’ll find that no other WordPress theme offers as much customization options by default (built-in) than Catalyst. The important part? It’s dead simple to use the theme. I mean drop dead simple. With that being said though, you can still use Catalyst to build sites as complicated or as simple as you want them to be. Let your imagination run wild but hopefully not too wild as you’ll likely experience another headache!

The Basics

It’s not possible for me to go over each and every feature of Catalyst. Their website contains pretty much all you’ll need to know about this awesome theme and framework. They also have a showcase area where you’ll get to see firsthand what others are doing on their site using the Catalyst framework. They have provided many video instructions and tutorials showing you how to get started with the theme. Again, you’ll initially feel overwhelmed by what the theme offers you and you might feel a little intimidated but once you get a hang of it, everything will fall into place. You’ll just have to trust me on this one!

What makes Catalyst so freaking amazing for people like me who can’t code even if their life depended on it? Every setting that pertains to a element or section of your website is grouped neatly into different categories. That’s it you ask? My answer is yes, that’s it. But here is the interesting part. All those settings and options you get to configure are extremely easy to use. You do not have to type in any code at all for the majority of them. Catalyst presents you with settings along with the options for that setting, you make the choice that best suits your needs, hit the Save Changes button and that’s it! Many of the options consists of either drop-down menu choices or check-boxes. Settings like customizing your sidebar widths and whatnot you’ll have to obviously type in your choices but what really makes Catalyst so easy to use is that everything is brilliantly described for you. Rarely will you have to scratch your head wondering what a setting will do because Catalyst explains them to you in a way that just about everyone can understand.

Options

You’ll have three main sections to configure in the Catalyst theme. The first is what is called your Core options. Catalyst is a framework meaning you’ll usually use a child theme to lay over that framework. Think of a parent to child relationship with Core options being the former. These Core options are the main settings for your website. The settings here you usually just configure once and never have to touch again. Things like SEO, your header type and navigation bars are all considered Core options. In the picture below, you’ll see the navigational bar consists of many different sections relating to a website. Clicking on a tab will lists all the options and settings for that element or section. This is how the majority of the Catalyst framework works. Easy right? Just think of category and settings.

Core Options

Next you have the Dynamik options. This is the child of the mother in the relationship model. These are options and settings for your child theme (called the Dynamik theme). This where you’ll do the bulk of your customization. In other words, the place where you’ll configure the look and feel of your site. Here is a perfect example. In the Core options, you’ve enabled a search form and button on the right side of one of your navigational bars. In Dynamik options, you get to configure how this search form and button will actually look. For example, how long should the search form be, what color comprises of the borders, how thick those borders should be along with font type and background color to use, etc. You’ll be shocked at the level of customization Catalyst allows you to configure. It’s crazy!

Dynamik Options

Last but not least, you have the Advanced options. This is the hardcore stuff but don’t worry as once again, Catalyst makes it extremely easy to use. A busy website or blog will have many different widgets displayed. However, many themes only allow you to place widgets on the sidebar. If you want to place them elsewhere, you’ll have to do some coding. Catalyst eliminate the coding steps for you and allow you to create custom widget areas just about any where you can think of on your site. It’s unbelievable. Here on AnotherWindowsBlog, I’ve created a custom widget area right next to my header to display a advertisement ad. Without Catalyst, I wouldn’t even dare dream about doing such a thing with my older themes as it didn’t give me that option. The cool part is I’ve enabled that widget area in less than a minute! Catalyst includes many ‘hooks’ where you can simply call them to do your bidding. That avoids you the hassle of having to create those hooks by yourself which I’m sure many of us don’t even know how!

Advanced Options

Catalyst’s website provides you a screenshot of every admin area in the Catalyst theme. Please check it out to a get a more in depth view of what you can do with the Catalyst theme.

My Dilemma

With such an awesome array of customizable options and settings, I don’t even know where to begin! As of this moment, I’ve just applied the Catalyst theme and made a few changes just so that everything looks presentable. Therefore, it’s looking pretty bland and boring. I haven’t even begun to think about how to style AnotherWindowsBlog with the Catalyst theme! I’ve definitely played around with the theme prior to applying it here but nothing was really finals. Just because a lot of things are customizable doesn’t mean that you need to do so just for the sake of change. I really don’t want to make that mistake. However, I knew that I had to apply the theme right away because if I would have waited until I’ve decided on a specific style, Catalyst would never see the light of day!

Luckily though, I have created a test website to mess around in. That way, I can easily test how my site would look if I were to configure it a certain way such as applying different background colors and whatnot. If you are also planning on switching themes, a very good technique to get yourself familiar with that specific theme is to use it on a dummy site. You can do so without having to spend a penny but following the instructions I’ve gone over here on how to create your own self-hosted WordPress installation for free. This allows you to play around with your theme any way you want to without fear of affecting your live site. Once you’re comfortable enough to finally roll it out on your live blog, you’ll know exactly what to do.

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Comments

  1. Great article Simon! Looking forward to reading many more

  2. The theme looks great . bit like techcruch or similar professional sites which is good.

    also , What is catalyst ? is it theme or does it provide set of functions etc ?

    • Thanks Ankur. I’ve noticed many tech sites also having two navigational bars at the top with one being the main navigation links while the second row consists of the blogger’s most used categories and topics. As you’ve said, that was one of the reason why I made the switch. I loved my old theme but it just didn’t have a “technology” feel to it.

      Catalyst is a theme/framework. While they have many child themes to go over that main framework, the Dynamik child theme is the more popular one. You can actually consider Catalyst as a theme too if you want. It doesn’t matter because it functions exactly like a theme. Look here at the Catalyst demo page. You can use the dropdown box to select the many different child themes which produces different colors and fonts. However, notice that while the colors and fonts change with every different child theme, there is a similar “look” and “feel” to every one of them. That is the Catalyst framework. All the functions and whatnot is included in Catalyst. No matter which child theme you apply in the future, the main functions and features remain the same. | http://bit.ly/pZv22O

      • ok, got it.
        It looks like Thesis theme . I personally dont mind being fancy . eg: neowin,makeuseof,lifehacker are also beautiful sites.  

        • Definitely. I actually looked at the Thesis theme as well but it just wasn’t as easy to use as Catalyst in my opinion. Many professionals and even celebrities (although I’m sure they hired someone to do the actual design) use Thesis and so it’s very popular. I just think you still need to have some coding knowledge and expertise to extract the full power of that theme.

          Another framework I really liked is from Studiopress’s Genesis Framework. | http://bit.ly/dbYZ1D

          • OMG !! this Yellow, background ruins the professionalism. Not looking good

            • Huh?! Please don’t scare me. Where are you seeing yellow on my blog?! The only thing I’ve changed so far is moving one of my navigational bars above my header and changing that background to a blue color. Where are you seeing yellow?

            • It seems fine now. Yesterday, i opened it in Linux and the background, text of comments and so many things were yellow ( that too that bright striking yellow ). 
              I dont understand what happened that time. 

              Anyway, its fine now :)

            • I see yellow again. I am posting a image to show how ur website looks on Ubuntu in chrome . 

            • Thanks Ankur for the attached images. They have helped tremendously. I really don’t know why it is showing up yellow inside Ubuntu. All the browsers (Firefox, Chrome, IE, Opera) I have tried it on looks as it should inside Windows. However, I have a bigger problem right now in that switching my WordPress theme have completely messed up my ranking in Google and my daily visitor average have dropped a big percentage as well. I have currently switched back to my old theme until I can figure out what is going on.

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