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Non-coder graphic designers who build websites are often lured into multi-purpose themes like Divi, Avada or X.
These themes certainly seem like attractive solutions for designers—at first. They promise visual drag-n-drop builders, full design control and ease of use.
But as most eventually discover, these themes are not the answer. They’re bloated, slow, hard to customise, and provide surprisingly little room for creativity or custom design—at least for my students anyway.
Read on to learn more… and discover a far superior alternative.
Here at Design Build Web, I teach non-coder graphic designers how to build custom-designed, responsive websites quickly and easily, to their own custom designs.
My email inbox—and the Facebook groups I’m in—are overflowing with complaints.
And I totally understand.
Because I’ve used all 3 of those themes myself too.
Why do graphic designers choose multi-purposes themes like these?
If you’re a graphic designer and you want to build WordPress websites to your own design vision, then ‘pre-designed’ WordPress themes are a big no-no. Way too restrictive.
You’re a designer, for heaven’s sake!
So the lure of multi-purpose themes like Divi, Avada or X is very strong.
These themes certainly seem like attractive solutions for designers—at first. They promise visual builders, unfettered design control and supreme ease of use.
What’s so attractive about these themes for designers?
The feature lists on the sales pages of these themes look great. Let’s take a look at Divi’s, as an example:
Visual drag-n-drop builders
Tons of functionality
Design control without code
The beautiful demos on their sales websites look amazing!
So what’s the problem?
Or: The broken dreams of multi-purpose themes…
Many of my students are Divi survivors who lived to tell the tale.
Just now, I took a very quick sweep of recent emails from my email subscribers, as well as a quick review of some Facebook groups I’m in.
Here are some of the complaints about these themes I found, in less than a minute of looking:
“I had tremendous trouble – after handing over a project – explaining how the client can use Divi. It was just too confusing for them.” – Verdi, on Facebook.
“I get the ‘mechanics’ of Divi but I was so busy with the technical stuff, there was no room for creativity.” – Mor, on Facebook.
“I’m so sick of fighting with Divi. On every project I’ve had to hire a developer to write custom code for me. He can’t believe how badly coded it is.” – Jan, via email.
Don’t worry… It’s not all doom and gloom. Keep reading for a happy ending to this…
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7 Reasons Why Multi-Purpose Themes Like Divi are Not the Answer:
Let me be clear: these sort of ‘do-it-all’ themes are totally fine for the general public. There’s a reason they’re popular. They allow anyone to put great, functional websites together quickly and easily.
After all, Regular Joe doesn’t care much about design, creative integrity, page loading speeds, or future maintenance.
But, in my opinion, these themes are not suitable for professional graphic designers building websites.
1. They’re heavy, bloated and slooooooooowwwwwww
Because these themes try to be all things to all people, the sheer weight of code is huge.
This means that—in my experience—pages can take 5–7 seconds to load, not the 1–2 seconds that your pages should be loading in.
Page loading speed is massively important, even if you don’t personally care.
Because the success of your clients’ businesses depend on fast loading websites:
- Their visitors want a fast experience. Better usability = more sales.
- Google reward fast websites with higher rankings. Higher rankings = more customers = more sales.
Take a look at the size of the code from a well-coded, lightweight theme like GeneratePress, vs Avada and Divi’s codebase:
Avada is over 10x the size. Divi nearly 14x the size!
Now, the size of a theme’s codebase aren’t the only considerations for page speed, of course.
But also, because multi-purpose themes have so many bells and whistles, they need to include a heap of redundant code to power all those features you likely won’t even use.
This isn’t an in-depth page speed review or benchmarked comparison.
But I can tell you that, in my experience, websites built with themes like GeneratePress load in 1–2 seconds, while sites built in Divi or Avada load in more like 5–7 seconds.
These are sites with the same caching and speed tweaks applied, on the same server and with similar content and functionality. It’s like night and day.
Multi-purpose do-it-all themes are typically the opposite of lightweight and clean.
2. They include a ton of settings and features you don’t even need
The more features and options that come bundled in a WordPress theme, the easier it is for Regular Joe to use.
But the problem here is that it’s highly unlikely—on any one project—that you’ll need even a fraction of those features.
But the theme still has to load up all the code to support those features—even though you don’t need it. And that… leads…. to the…. slooooowwwww…. thing…. again…
And, because you’re tied into that theme’s particular implementation of those features, you often still end up having to pile on additional plugins to achieve what you want anyway! Unfortunately this increases the chance of the theme’s functionality conflicting with other plugins.
Multi-purpose themes promise ultimate flexibility.
Spoiler alert: they’re nowhere near as flexible as they’d have you believe.
The idea of drag-n-drop builders and a whole range of modules sounds lovely. In reality, as a creative designer, you’ll quickly butt up against the limitations of how the theme expects you to work.
I quoted David—one of my email subscribers—earlier. But his quote is worth repeating:
“With Divi, the whole WordPress experience felt like designing in a strait jacket, and to push the boundaries meant becoming a guru in CSS.”
I built my first website in 1998. I’ve been a professional hand-coder web designer and developer since 2003. And for every one of the 10-15 sites I built with Divi, I had to write a not-insignificant amount of additional CSS to achieve what I wanted.
Do-it-all mega-themes simply aren’t as flexible as they seem. They certainly have ended up costing me in unexpected additional time and expense.
4. Your websites all look very similar
It’s dead easy to spot a site built in Divi (or Avada, or X).
If custom design and creative expression is important to you as a designer, you’ll likely be disappointed. These themes still ultimately have limited built-in styling options within the tightly defined parameters of the theme.
5. You might be locked in for the long haul…
Want to switch themes in future? You’re potentially in for a rough ride.
Let’s take a look at a site built in Divi…
Now imagine in future you decide to switch themes.
Let’s deactivate Divi…
Cover your eyes….
Here’s the same homepage….
Two words spring to mind:
What’s going on here?
Well: these themes typically use ‘shortcodes’ in the background code, to achieve their layout and functionality. As a regular user, you don’t see them. But they’re there… and WordPress knows.
Imagine cleaning this mess up on a large website with lots of content!
I don’t have to imagine: I’ve done it. It’s an experience I’d rather forget.
If you previously ran a Divi site built on the Divi theme and wanted to switch themes, you can—by installing the Divi builder plugin. This carries over your layouts and style settings to the new theme, without losing everything to shortcode hell. Good tip!
However, in the event you wanted to switch page builders too (to something like, say Elementor or Beaver Builder), then you’d have to deactivate the Divi builder plugin… and be back to the shortcode mess again. Hmm.
It’s not all doom and gloom though—Stephen’s written a really elegant function which loses the shortcodes, without losing your content. Perfect.
6. Not especially developer friendly
As a non-coder graphic designer, it’s likely you don’t care too much about code quality, future maintenance or making life easier for developers.
But how friendly a theme is to developers matters a great deal—yes, even for you.
At some point, you will need a bit of help from a developer. Or, you may need to just add a bit of copy-paste code to a site yourself.
I’ve found that multi-purpose themes like Divi and Avada can be unfriendly to developers. There are very few ‘hooks’ (meaning: built-in ways for them to get done what they need to, as quickly as possible).
The documentation for developers is typically lacking too.
Even time-served, experienced WordPress developers struggle—certainly the ones I’ve worked with. In my last role, we needed some sort of customisation on every single Divi project we built. Our developer – a seasoned WordPress pro – found the whole experience maddening!
7. Slow support
The quality of support is a major factor in the tools I choose—and the tools I recommend. If you’re stuck and in a bind, you want to know someone is there to get you unstuck and moving again quickly. After all, time is money.
Things might have changed these days.. and hopefully they have. But with Divi I had to wait days for answers to support questions.
Not good enough.
So if Multi-Purpose Themes are NOT the Answer… What Is?
If the problem is all-in-one, do-it-all, and multi-purpose, then the answer is…
Here it is:
- Use a very simple theme as a solid foundation and…
- Pair it with a separate page builder (like the incredible Elementor).
(Yes, those are affiliate links. Be assured, I’d be 100% recommending them both, regardless of the small commission I get if you buy.)
I’ve tested this combo with lots of non-coder graphic designers, as well as on my own projects. It works incredibly well.
Think of it like this:
- The theme is the ‘picture frame’.
- The page builder is the ‘canvas’.
The separation of the two allows you to use the best tools for the job.
Keeping these separate (rather than ‘all-in-one’) keeps everything fast and lightweight.
It’s also much easier to use and allows you total design control – without having to know any code.
Use a lightweight theme like GeneratePress:
- It’s the foundation on which everything else sits.
- Well-coded—to WordPress development best practice.
- Super fast!
- Amazing fast, helpful support from Tom, the developer.
Read my full review of GeneratePress and see exactly why I recommend it for non-coder graphic designers building websites.
Pair with a drag-n-drop page builder plugin like Elementor:
- Total design freedom—open-ended styling controls for everything.
- Super-powerful features—but built thoughtfully and carefully. It doesn’t weigh down your website.
- Completely drag-n-drop, in the way designers think.
- Very fast and very easy to use.
- Fast for the visitors to your site too.
- Switch themes or even page builders in future? Doesn’t matter—your content is still there, with no shortcode mess left behind. Goodbye shortcode hell.
Check out Elementor right now. You can thank me later.
I love a happy ending
I told you earlier about my 1 minute sweep for complaints about Divi.
Honestly, I hate complaining. The sun is shining, the weather is sweet! 😀
So now let’s round off with some quotes from Divi survivors, who made it to the other side.
“Been using Divi for about 2 years, but once you go Elementor you never go back!” – Karsten, on Facebook.
“Elementor fan now: Superior code, clean, SEO friendly, user-friendly, intuitive, robust, fast, not buggy, ultra-flexible, offer more control, etc….in a process of switching all my Divi sites to Elementor.” – Hitch, on Facebook.
“Hell I am so happy to be using Elementor after years of Divi. I could never have banged this landing page out in a few hours without touching code. Elementor freaking rocks!” – Jeremy, on Facebook.
“There is NO learning curve. Trust me. I have grappled with Divi for MONTHS – with GeneratePress – I was up and running in an hour. The documentation is SUPERB and Tom Usborne the developer’s personal hands-on support is amazing.” – Mor, on Facebook.
Awww. All’s well that ends well, eh?