Introduction

One of the most anticipated releases in recent memory had to be Justice League. That didn’t go too well (for the record, I didn’t mind it as much as some vocal others since I’m fine just watching the super heroes doing things).

Avengers Endgame was highly anticipated, and it was pretty great. Cap finally said “assemble.” cool

In this specific neck of the woods, Divi 4 is about as anticipated as any Marvel movie because it promised to deliver the long-awaited “theme builder.”

I’m not kidding about the ‘long-awaited’ part. This was posted on May 17th, 2018, and it’s been long enough that all the people who decided that this feature is exactly what they needed for their next build have either given up, complained for 17 months, or “waited patiently.”

This means that expectations were through the roof.

Many people thought that they could change the world with their mice. Or at least the header.

(People seem to care so much about the header. I guess 5 options weren’t enough.)

 

Disclaimer

I love using Divi. I really do. It’s the theme of choice for 99% of my websites. The other 1% I use a different theme and the Divi builder plugin. So.. yeah.. I use Divi. I’ve used it since 1.0, and I’ve used Elegant Themes even before they released Divi. However, I’m not sponsored by ET, nor do I necessarily need to blindly endorse them, so this review should be pretty fair.

Also… as you can see from the screenshots below, the theme builder worked a bit better than it did in the video.

 

Updates

To be fair, I’ll be updating this post and add tags to the updates that have happened.
The update tags will look like this

 

Background

Because WordPress is a blogging platform (technically it’s still true), a “page builder” should actually allow the customization of archives, and posts.

Let me say that again.

WordPress page builders should be able to customize archives and posts.

Except for ONE snag. They’re PAGE builders, not archive builders or post builders. (haha)
See, WP has three main types of ‘pages’
– Posts : have categories (note: custom post types, like products, are posts)
– Archives : a bunch of posts in a category/tag/taxonomy
– Pages : have parents/children

Only pages have had the luxury of being “built.”

This is most likely because
– page-only builders are conceptually easier to make work and develop,
– and the content is usually static, and lastly,
– since WP got popular, people make way more pages than the other types

(“but you can allow the page builder on blog posts too!” That’s the same thing as pages, it’s just the inner content, not the actual template that pulls its data dynamically.)

So.. we have a good variety of page builders. Not many have tackled posts & archives though.

There have been a few brave plugins and themes that have attempted it.

I’ve personally opted to code the php myself or use other methods than deal with bad post/archive builders.

Finally, Divi tries its hand at doing something that others have failed.

 

Watch the video, or keep reading to see if Divi did a good job!

The Video Review

 

The good & the bad

I’ll cover the main talking points below.

This is a review for Divi theme version 4.0.2

I’m sure it’ll get better later.

 

The Theme Builder

“The post & archive builder” is what I’m going to often describe it as because that’s the main feature and the most important usage. So Divi came out with a post & archive builder, which is awesome! (the fact that they released it)

This is the main interface.

What they did well:
– Easy to follow graphical representation of the post templates & archive templates.
– Easy labeling of everything.
– Quick and responsive when assigning templates
– Made it possible to make layouts and builds for pretty much every/any category, author, date, tag, etc. It’s truly amazing.

What could be better:
– Be a little easier for beginners to understand

Tips:
– Don’t forget to ‘save changes’ after you exit the builder.

But that’s about it. Don’t forget to save changes to have them applied to the frontend.

 

Header & Footer

What they did well:
– Allow different headers and footers anywhere/everywhere
– Allow pretty much anything in the header/footer. (The whole builder gamut is open)

What could be better:
– Actually add the header in the header tag. (bad HTML semantics could mean bad SEO) fixed in 4.0.3
– Actually add the footer in the footer tag. fixed in 4.0.3
– Have some header specific modules, like phone number, logo, email, etc, and maybe a setting for the menu to turn into a hamburger via setting
– Find a way to disconnect the complainers’ keyboards… because it’s really annoying.

As you can see divs all the way.

I’m sure all of those problems will be fixed (except for the last two) in future versions.

I can’t believe I’m saying this (because I hate Flatsome), but the Flatsome header builder isn’t too shabby. It has some header specific modules, and some HTML blocks you could add to up to three layers of header. Not bad. And they had this years ago.

 

Post Archives

What they did well:
– Allow customizations all throughout the archives and tags.

What could be better:
– Have the builder actually load…. fixed in 4.0.3
– Have the builder load better. (numerous white screens when things are moved) better in 4.0.3
– Have the builder save things better. (numerous crashes)
– Add a dynamic content module. (it’s the blog module and text module at the moment, and it’s so hard to realize this)
– Add better content detection. (Category descriptions and other custom fields can’t be pulled through as dynamic content meaning that you’d have to make each category separately) ACF support added in 4.0.4

Little things I’ve noticed:
– Code module loses br (line break tags) on front end. why? Something even as simple as this makes it hard to use because I lose control over the design so easily, making it unreliable, so even something like this is important for me.

I’m sure most of those problems will be fixed in future versions.

Tips:
– Save save save reload reload reload save save save reload..
– Have the patience of a thousand Buddhas waiting last in line at the DMV when it’s 4:45pm.
Use the blog module for the dynamic content. Seriously, I was so lost in the beginning.
This works for search results as well.

 

Single posts

What they did well:
– Made it possible to make templates for single posts, and it’s great

What could be better:
– Allow some custom fields to be pulled through… (not all of them work..)
– Not totally cancel out WP specific files like single.php but use a conditional to check if the theme builder was used and take out only the the_content() part (because it makes it harder to add php customizations, and it’s too reliant on the theme builder which could cause problems down the line)

Tips:
– Don’t forget to ‘save changes’ after you exit the builder.
– Remember, the post title has all the meta data, and you can also pull some fields with the text module.
Don’t forget to add the and the post content module for the content.

 

Single products

What they did well:
– Pulled apart the whole woocommerce product page elements really well, and made it so it pulls the content through dynamically. I’m really impressed.
– This can be used to make truly awesome WC shops, so it’s great. (It will need to be able to pull in a lot of custom fields to be really great though)

What could be better:
– The “product tabs” module keeps crashing the builder.

Tips:
– Add the product tabs last for now… because it keep crashing everything.

 

Updatability

Here’s one thing that a LOT of people have trouble with.

Whether to update or not.

If you have jitters about updating your current live site, then here are some questions you can ask yourself before you pull the trigger.

Do you have a child theme? Yes
Does it have all the styling and customizations in it? Yes
— most likely good.

Do you have the static CSS generation setting turned on? Yes
Are you jumping about .5+ versions? (Last Divi 3 was 3.29.3, so if you’re below 3.24..) Yes
— could be tricky. Try to refresh everything and turn everything off before you proceed.

Have you edited the parent theme at all? Yes
Does your custom CSS look something like this: .et_pb_section_2 { /*blah*/ } with the number suffixes? Yes
— definitely bad. Start with a backup, and work your way slowly into it.

I’d also go as far as to say that relying too heavily on builder settings can also cause problems when there’s a huge version difference because it can cause a shortcode parameter problem, but it should be ok by definition.

 

However, one important thing to remember is that the theme builder is totally separate from the rest of the existing pages you would have on your site. So it most likely wouldn’t break much. So not too much to worry.

 

Backlash

The main backlash I’ve seen people complain about is one of two things.
a. the header not being as customizable as they want it
b. being confusing

 

If you are one of those people, then

a. check out some header tweaks you can do (the php line number might have changed a bit, but the approach is the same) in the meantime, and
b. it’s really not confusing at all if you are mindful about dynamic content. Posts and archives are all about the content that fills in the blocks, so always remember that when you put things together. It’s just a whole different part of WordPress that’s opened up for you, so of course it’ll take time.

Also.. if you’re like me, and can’t even get the theme builder to load… just leave it alone haha it’s so frustrating that the more you try to get it to work, the worse it’s going to be.

 

Conclusion

What they did well:
– Finally made and released the theme builder!
– Made an easy to use/understand builder for the archive and post templates

What could be better:
– Have the wireframe mode stay wireframe whenever it’s loaded. (if wireframe has been chosen)
– Get things to load properly.
– Get settings panels to work when clicked on.

Some tips:
– Save save save reload reload reload save save save

Sooooooo…..

Is it worth the wait? No.

17 months is enough to teach yourself how to write CSS, PHP, or JQ. It’s enough to find your own good/coded solutions to the post & archive templates. Although I believe they’ve worked their way up while bringing everyone up to date and easing into it, I’m pretty sure there are better ways of doing this.

 

Is it good for beginners? No.

It doesn’t even work on GoDaddy shared hosting, so beginners are going to have problems.

 

Is it good for intermediate users? Maybe.

As long as they have a clear goal of what they want (and not “play around with the design”) then it could be helpful as long as they understand what’s going on.

 

PS.

What about Extra?

Ah.. yes. Extra, the bastard child of Elegant Themes. So neglected that it’s not even above the fold in the downloads section.

Extra got the theme builder update.. but it already had the category builder built in. Now there are two archive builders. Wha…?

If it were up to me, I would have modified Extra’s category builder so it becomes a full fledged post-archive builder. It has some good modules, and it works really well. I can see the advantage of adding a new “modern” builder.. but.. now it’s just Extra’s legacy builder + a new “theme builder” and it’s redundant and confusing.

 

Comments? … Angry rants will be deleted or made fun of. Reasonable debates are fine. Questions are totally OK, I’ll try to answer the best I can.

 

Need to learn CSS so your builds won’t break easily?

 

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Photo by Lorenzo Herrera on Unsplash