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Genesis Framework vs Underscores 2021: The Best Way to Build Themes

(This is a guest post republished with permission from Jarrod at WPCity. )

Genesis Framework and Underscores are two popular WordPress platforms that allow their users to enjoy better flexibility and have full control over their sites.

These platforms have varying approaches when building WordPress themes, making it difficult to know which is the best for you.

Genesis Framework relies on child themes for design while ensuring it has all core functionalities. Underscores is the bare coding of a WordPress theme meant to be developed from the ground up.

Though both platforms require proper knowledge and experience, Underscores is more technical.

There are other factors that you need to know about Genesis Framework and Underscores before you can make an informed decision.

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In this article, we will cover all of them in great detail, from user experience to pricing, in order to help you find the platform for your business.


Genesis Framework vs Underscores: Comparison

Genesis Framework vs. Underscores is an interesting comparison because they are very similar in many ways but present two very different approaches to building WordPress themes.

Before we go through the in-depth discussion on both these options, it would be best to get a snapshot of what they are and what they can do for WordPress developers.

Genesis FrameworkUnderscores
TL;DRGenesis Framework is a parent theme that allows you to build a child theme using secure and search-engine-optimized coding.Underscores is a starter theme that allows you to build a standalone theme, independent of any community, from the ground up.
User ExperienceIt works similar to any WordPress theme; you can install any child theme or develop a unique child theme dedicated to Genesis.Experienced website builders can get rid of all the necessary steps to make a functional theme. It is a toolkit meant for web developers.
Design OptionsNewer WordPress users will enjoy the child themes from StudioPress and hundreds of other 3rd-party child themes from the community.The designs you can do will be limited to your knowledge in coding and designing WordPress themes from scratch.
Best FeatureA huge community that supports the development of the framework, making it easier to get updates or fixes from other Genesis users.You have full responsibility and sole access to the theme that you develop. It also has deep integration with the Automattic team and Gutenberg editor.

What Does Genesis Framework Do?

genesis framework overview

If this snapshot seems a bit confusing, let’s address each of them one-by-one, starting with what you can get from Genesis Framework and what it can do for your website.

In essence, Genesis is just a framework that you-or anyone in the community – can use to develop a child theme.

You can either use it solely for your business or sell it to other Genesis users while providing the support it needs.

It is a very useful feature because both new and experienced WordPress users can take advantage of the lightweight and secure coding that Genesis Framework offers.

Developers can build a theme around the framework, and new WordPress users can choose from any of the child themes available for the community.

You want to have a child theme on top of a parent theme because it helps you future-proof your website while keeping it secured from any loopholes.

Most WordPress updates will require an update from the theme you are using, and some may cause issues with your site’s design and functionalities.

However, if you are building your website on a child theme, it will be easier to update WordPress and your parent theme without affecting how your site looks or functions.

Aside from this, you can take advantage of the clean coding that doesn’t slow down your site, and you get to keep your site secured from any loopholes that may be present with your current WordPress version.

Genesis Framework is the most popular and robust parent theme that you can use, and you have hundreds of different options for the designs to use on your website.

Aside from this, it also unlocks the limitless potential of WordPress because you can develop any child theme from scratch.

What Does Underscores Do?

underscores overview

Underscores is similar to Genesis Framework but also different at its core. For starters, it is not a framework, parent theme, or child theme-it is a starter template.

It will provide you with the bare essentials that you need to start building a functional WordPress theme.

The simplest way to explain what Underscores can do is turning an HTML prototype into a WordPress theme.

You can also build a WordPress theme for other people using the same toolkit without going through all the steps you need to build one.

It reduces the time you need to build WordPress themes, and you don’t even have to worry about the coding because Underscores has a deep integration with the Automattic team and the Gutenberg editor.

These are two reasons why it is one of the most popular starter themes available.

You will likely want to use Underscores instead of Genesis Framework because it doesn’t depend on any development from the company or community.

Though it may be hard to imagine that StudioPress will discontinue its developments, in a hypothetical world where Genesis Framework stops its development, your child theme will eventually become obsolete because it is connected to the parent theme.

On the other hand, Underscores doesn’t rely on any entity, company, or community. You develop your theme with your own rules, and it is meant for development right from the start.

It is a standalone theme that solely relies on all of your developments.


User Experience of Genesis Framework and Underscores

The user experience is where the biggest difference between the two lies. Although both Genesis Framework and Underscores will let you build your “own” WordPress themes, this similarity only applies to web developers and experienced WordPress builders.

Users who have limited coding knowledge may not be able to take advantage of what Underscores can do.

Genesis Framework User Experience

genesis framework user experience

The biggest advantage of Genesis Framework over Underscores -or any other starter theme or framework -is the community behind it.

With hundreds of developers designing their child themes and selling them to the community, even new users can take advantage of what it has to offer.

The truth is, WordPress frameworks may discontinue their development at any time. Still, with the massive support from its community, it is highly unlikely that StudioPress will stop developing the Genesis Framework.

This usability and theme availability are some reasons why more WordPress users may find the Genesis Framework easier to use than Underscores.

Anyone can pick any theme, as they would with any other WordPress theme, and enjoy the perks of using the Genesis Framework.

Underscores User Experience

Underscores is a much better option for experienced developers because it doesn’t rely on any company or community for its development.

If you are thinking about getting the Genesis Framework to develop your “own” theme, Underscores will provide you with better future-proofing and security.

It has all the steps you need to build a functional WordPress theme, allowing you to focus on the design. Plus, it has deep integration with the Automattic team and Gutenberg, making it even easier and more secure for you to build your site around.

New WordPress builders who are looking for themes using Underscores may find it difficult, but it is no different than looking for any other WordPress theme that is available.


Pricing of Genesis Framework and Underscores

Genesis Framework costs $59.95 for an unlimited license, while Underscores is free to download.

You also don’t have to go through many things to get your hands on Underscores -just give your theme a name, and you can start designing on top of it.

It is a bit different for Genesis Framework, and one could argue that it is also confusing. After all, you have the option to get the framework or the framework with a child theme.

genesis framework pricing

You can also opt for StudioPress membership (Genesis Pro) to get your hands on everything you will need for your site.

The three Genesis Framework options are:

  1. Genesis Framework: if you want to build a child theme on top of the Genesis Framework, this option lets you do just that. It is also the option most comparable to what Underscores can do-a framework or starter theme for experienced developers.
  2. Framework + Theme: this option is for newer WordPress builders who don’t want to build their themes or don’t have enough coding experience. The price also varies depending on the child theme you want to use and where you are getting it.
  3. Genesis Pro: if you are a developer or a new user who plans to build multiple WordPress sites on top of the Genesis Framework, this option is the best for you. It includes the framework, every StudioPress theme, support, and updates for $360 a year.

Final Thoughts on Underscores vs Genesis Framework

Like every decision with WordPress, choosing what is better for you depends on what you want to have and what you are trying to achieve.

Even everything that we have discussed so far, it can be daunting for some to pick one over the other. So, let’s summarize the basics to help you understand which of these two is better for you.

Why Should You Choose the Genesis Framework?

Genesis Framework is a more popular option because it caters to the needs of both the average and experienced WordPress users.

However, it is not always the best option, and many may not even find it a viable option for them. Here are some instances where using Genesis Framework will be beneficial for you:

  • You want to build a child theme on top of a parent theme that gets a lot of support from its community.
  • You are confident that StudioPress will keep developing the Genesis Framework, and it won’t make your child theme obsolete.
  • You would rather pick a theme that works and take advantage of the security and simplicity that Genesis Framework offers.
  • You want to save time updating your framework whenever WordPress releases a new update and just focus on developing your child theme.

You can get many other advantages from using the Genesis Framework, but most of them will only be beneficial if you fall into one of these instances.

It would be best to get a clear picture of what you really want to achieve before you start investing in this framework.

Why Should You Choose Underscores?

Underscores is the bare bones of WordPress themes. It is not as popular as the Genesis Framework, but it has been available to developers since 2010.

It was only after the Gutenberg release that it gained more traction for users. Here are the instances where using Underscores will be beneficial for you:

  • You want full control over your theme without relying on a company or community for the development.
  • You have enough experience in building themes, and you only need a toolkit that will help you build one efficiently.
  • You want to develop a unique theme for your business that isn’t available to any WordPress user.
  • You want to explore the real potential of WordPress and have functionalities that aren’t available to the existing themes.

Underscores may seem a bit more complicated, but that’s the goal of this starter theme – it gives you everything you need for a functional WordPress theme and lets you decide how it looks and functions.

It only provides a toolkit that makes it easier for developers to design their WordPress sites.


Conclusion: Genesis Framework vs Underscores

Genesis Framework and Underscores are very powerful platforms that you can use to build unique WordPress themes.

However, the advantages they offer will depend on what you want your website to have and what you are trying to achieve for it.

If you want a more streamlined approach that includes everything you need to build your sites quickly, Genesis Framework works best.

However, if you prefer full control over your theme’s development, Underscores would be the better option. Just remember that it is a bit more complicated and may not be a viable option for newer WordPress users.

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