Framework and starter themes

Framework or Starter Theme? Genesis vs Underscores

When building a WordPress site, one of the most significant decisions you will make is which theme you will use. There are a plethora of themes available for you to choose from all with their own pros and cons. This article will be comparing two major theme types, frameworks and starter themes. To do this we will showcase the Genesis Framework by StudioPress and the community built Underscores theme as examples.

Genesis Framework

Genesis theme

The Genesis framework is the whole package, everything is done from templates to design. Just install the Genesis Framework as your parent theme and pick one of the many child themes from StudioPress and your site is done! Well, maybe not quite, but you get the idea. ???? Choosing a system like Genesis with great pre-built designs is great especially if you are crunched for time and money.


One might think that Genesis is inflexible given that so much of it is already pre-built. However, there are a number of custom hooks and filters available for inserting meta, removing page elements and generally customizing your site. Genesis has also saved you a lot of legwork by widgetizing many of their themes. This can save you from having to touch the code to insert elements across your site.  There is also support and a surplus of plugins available. My personal favorite plugin to use is Genesis Dambuster. This plugin allows you to remove pretty much any element from your posts and pages.

One of the reasons Genesis is so popular and successful is that the themes are kept up to date and secure by StudioPress. No need to worry about your site not being prepared for new security threats that are all to common on the internet.


Due to the fact that Genesis has already built so much of the site, you are removed from many important design decisions such as template structure and widget positions. If you are working with highly custom design templates this could cause you time and frustration as you work to undo the existing structure to implement your own layout. Overall, Genesis would not be a great choice for sites with highly custom design templates.

Underscores Starter Theme

Underscores theme

Our example starter theme Underscores is a lean, well designed launching pad for your custom WordPress site. Underscores can save you potentially hundreds of hours laying the groundwork for your custom theme without sacrificing customization.


Underscores has the essentials, and just the essentials. It includes basic templates for your header, footer, single, and archive pages. Optionally, you can select a Sass structure to organize your style sheets. The theme is set up with a proper folder structure and well-documented code.

One of the best features of Underscores is that it is free! That’s right, you get the benefit of hundreds of coding hours without paying a dime.


While Underscores is less work than creating a theme from scratch, it is far from a polished looking site when initially installed. You will have to do  a lot of template building and styling to get your site looking and functioning properly. This of course requires skills in HTML, CSS, PHP, and maybe a little JavaScript. Overall Underscores would not be a good choice for beginners or sites with a low budget.


Here at iWitness Design, we have used both Underscores and Genesis successfully. Generally we choose Genesis for our streamlined projects and Underscores for clients wanting more custom solutions.

While both Underscores and Genesis are great systems, there are many other solutions available. Perhaps something less complete than Genesis and more built than Underscores is right for you. There are hundreds more options available to you in the WordPress ecosystem. Hopefully this article will help you make an informed decision about your next web project.



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