WooThemes flagship theme is not really a theme. We never call it a theme when talking to clients. We call it a framework. It can get confusing as there is actually a WooFramework that underpins all WooThemes themes and it’s just had a major overhaul (version 6).

Alongside this Canvas has also had an upgrade. Canvas is the theme we call a framework. It’s now been upgraded to version 5.8. For sake of simplicity we just call Canvas the framework (and we think Woo should too!). I’m going to quickly talk about why we use Canvas and what the new version(s) can tell us and why you should be excited about it.

Whose Canvas for?

Some developers are put off by Canvas as it caters for both site owners and developers. Is it a theme or a framework they say! Don’t get me started I reply. Tumbleweeds roll by.

There are settings for Canvas to compete with mega themes such as X Theme. Themes that let you edit the minutia of the site from within the settings. Canvas has that too. So is Canvas badly placed? Is it a theme or a framework. Is it aimed at development teams or site owners. Does it matter?

Canvas as a Framework

It can be both and we use it as a development framework successfully. If you want to develop a bespoke WordPress site then you should be using something like Canvas, Genesis or Thesis. We’ve invested in Canvas because is provides a solid foundation for custom design and development for WooCommerce sites.

One of the main reasons to choose Canvas is the Woo Team. You’re getting a product that is built by the same team that builds WooCommerce and have demonstrated an exciting plan for the future. An explaining development programme, new functionality and more integrations. WooThemes are growing from the success of WooCommerce and are investing.

That’s really important too. WordPress and it’s consistent plugins and themes are all in constant development. If a product has no investment it will stagnate and cause conflicts. We also believe with so many moving parts having consistency is key. If we have our core plugins and themes development by the same software house we ensure consistency and minimise conflicts.

Finally, and critically, we also have a fantastic product that allows us to develop robust sites. That should go without saying! There are other platforms out there and we’ve given them all a go. We are thankful for them to keep the marketplace vibrant and stimulate competition. Everyone benefits from that. But we’re sticking with Woo.

Canvas isn’t perfect

Canvas does not balance the compromise between a developers framework and a site managers theme perfectly. It is a little to ‘pointy clicky’ for developers. Now I’m not talking about a lack of a console in the theme, I mean there is functionality that gets in the way when developing bespoke themes. Cough cough – injecting styles in the head

Canvas needs to be more confident about who it’s aimed at – We hope they make it more developer orientated.

We are keen to have consistency between products we build with so took matters into our own hands. We’ve built a plugin that works with Canvas to iron out these minor items and resolves some of the bug bears we have with Canvas. It’s called Bamboo and is available for free on Github. We’ve put it out there so other developers can help us build upon it and create a stronger development community around the Woo Framework.

What Canvas 5.8 means for the Woo Community

I’m dead excited about the latest version of Canvas. It’s great to see Woo focus their energies on this versatile theme/framework and we’ve spotted loads of neat features and an overhaul of the UX. But most of all we’re happy that Woo are investing in this product. It was beginning to look a bit neglected so we are dead chuffed about this update and the talk of 5.8.1 and 5.8.2.

Child Themes

I’m not sure what to make of the WooThemes announcement of child themes for Canvas. I’m worried but also excited. It depends on what comes out. We have lots of clients who come to us having developed their sites on Canvas as a parent theme and we have to migrate them a child theme so we can upgrade their core. Perhaps the Canvas child themes will solve this. Perhaps it will cause new headaches of having to update the child themes too. I wait and see.

We have also built out own child theme called Bambino and this is available on Github for anyone to use. It doesn’t look any different from an out of the box Canvas install and that’s the point. It’s a blank slate with a folder structure and all files ready to use to build upon. It’s a smart way to develop with Canvas and WooCommerce. Head over to the Bamboo page for more information and a link to the Github Repository.

Observations

Extend

Under Canvas > Framework is the option to add additional Woo Modules. This is similar to Woo Dojo where plugins can be activated. We think this is great and will mean a leaner core product. Additional functionality can then be added only when required.

We would love this to be opened to the marketplace, specifically we’d love to get Bamboo added.

WooCommerce

We are surprised this is still limited. For example why not have separate layouts for categories and product pages. Essential stuff.

Custom placeholder is great news and something we had added to Bamboo – we’ll have to take this out now!

Contact Page

We often can’t use the built-in Contact page on our sites because clients want additional fields in their contact form. It would be great to have an integration with Contact Form 7 or similar plugin.

Styling and Layout Section

After reading the comments on the Woo blog post about the new Canvas I think I’m not alone here. Too much on a single page. One of the best things about the previous theme UX was the option to expand all sections. We’d often just search that page for the section we needed. That was a cheap workaround poor UX but the new menu structure doesn’t seem to be an improvement.

Portfolio

Happy to see the portfolio being replaced by separate plugin (projects by WooThemes). Modulate all the things!

Lightbox Script

Great to see the option to enable the PrettyPhoto lightbox across the site. This is one of the options of Bamboo. We also enable flexslider across the site with Bamboo but if you can add this to the core – even better!

SEO and Yoast

Great to see the option to Add featured image to RSS and Breadcrumbs option. I hope they have better integration with Yoast WordPress SEO which has always been a sticking point. Especially the fact the Page Titles have been broken on Canvas since time immemorial – again items we fix in Bamboo but wish were fixed in the core.

Conclusion

The Woo team have rebuilt the WooFramework from scratch. I suspect we will only discover the hard work that has gone into this product once we start developing a few new sites with it. For the moment we have upgraded a number of our client sites to 5.8.0 and have had no problems whatsoever. I can’t remember the last time that happened!

A big well done to WooThemes and we will report back with any updates. In the meantime please forgive me for plugging away at Bamboo – It’s intricately linked to Canvas and we are keen to foster a strong community of WordPress developers around it. Head over to our landing page for Bamboo and signup for updates or visit our Github page to get involved in development.

We’ll soon be releasing our eBook which will outline more information about how we develop with Canvas, Bamboo and Bambino – watch this space!