The Genesis Framework is a fantastic foundation for anyone looking to build a self-hosted WordPress site. Genesis caters specifically to the do-it-yourself crowd. It’s awesome enough out of the box to for folks to set up it without any coding knowledge, but it’s so well-structured that developers can customize the heck out of Genesis child themes.
StudioPress, the makers of Genesis Framework, explain it like this: WordPress is the engine that runs your site, Genesis Framework is the body or structure around it, and child themes are the paint job.
There are two premium plugins in the marketplace that specifically address the paint job part of your site, Genesis Design Palette Pro and Genesis Extender. Both enable you to customize an existing Genesis child theme to get exactly the look you want… so how do you know which one you need?
Genesis Design Palette Pro vs Genesis Extender
I run a weekly podcast called OfficeHours.fm, where listeners ask questions and my guests and I answer them live on the air. Both plugin authors have made appearances on the show — Episode #6 with Eric Hamm and Episode #13 with Andrew Norcross — and we’ve fielded lots of questions describing the differences between the plugins.
Even though they occupy a similar space in the market, they’re two very different products. To clear up the confusion, I’d like to look at both to help you decide which (if either) is right for you.
Genesis Design Palette Pro
Our first contender is Genesis Design Palette Pro (or GDP). Weighing in at $49 for a single site license, GDP was created by Andrew Norcross (and is now maintained by Reaktiv Studios) as a way to customize design elements for a Genesis child theme without writing a single line of code.
What Genesis Design Palette Does
Code-Free Customizations for the Every-Day User
The shining glory of GDP is the ability to customize a site design without touching code. The plugin runs on top of your Genesis child theme and includes a Settings panel, where you can adjust font families, sizes, colors, margin, and more. ALL WITHOUT TOUCHING CODE. Did I mention you never have to open up your style sheet or write any CSS?
Don’t believe me? Go take the demo for a spin.
GDP also has built-in support for:
- Mobile site previews showing your customizations
- Mobile-specific settings (i.e. Use a blue background on mobile!)
- Export your custom CSS (no long-term dependency on the plugin if you don’t want it)
- Free-form CSS (if you just really do want to code some styles)
If that’s not enough, GDP also uses a cartoon portrait of Bob Ross as a spokesperson.
Extensible Codebase for the Theme Developer
Do you create custom child themes to sell for Genesis? Imagine a world without theme color options and pre-defined font choices. Add support for GDP to your child theme, create some different “skins” as a bundle or an add-on sale, and you’ve simultaneously made life easier for your customers and increased your sales opportunity.
What Genesis Design Palette Doesn’t Do
Where GDP shines as a code-free style customizer, it lacks as a theme layout customizer. Actually, “lack” isn’t a very good word as the plugin isn’t technically lacking, rather it’s very specifically scoped to just deal with theme styles (fonts, colors, alignment, etc.).
Things you cannot do with GDP:
- Add custom PHP
- Create a custom layout (think sidebars and widgets areas)
- Create a custom home page
The focus of GDP is to do one thing really well and that’s customizing your theme style without touching code. If you’re expecting to control site structure elements, you’ll be disappointed.
Next in the ring we’ve got Genesis Extender (GE), created by Eric Hamm of Cobalt Apps. Weighing in at $49 for an unlimited site license, GE is a Genesis plugin offering you total control over your site’s structure.
What Genesis Extender Does
GE is for folks who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty with code, but aren’t quite comfortable diving headlong into functions.php yet. It’s a great tool for a junior developer looking to build a deeper understanding of the Genesis Framework. As a matter of fact, it was a big help to me in my early days of Genesis.
Create Static Homepage Layouts
With the click of a button, you can generate homepage layouts for your Genesis child theme (i.e 1 wide column up top, 3 columns in the middle, and 2 columns below). With over 30 predefined layouts for the homepage, you can get just about any structure you’re going for.
Here a Widget, There a Widget, Everywhere a Widget Widget
Set up new widget areas, tell Genesis where to hook the widget in (i.e. before content), and conditionally show the widget based on whatever WordPress conditionals you specify.
If that last sentence made your head hurt, GE’s probably not for you, but if it made you heart beat a little faster to use a helper UI for creating & displaying widget areas, then you’ll want to take a closer look at this plugin.
GE also enables you to:
- PHP and CSS Builders to help you write code
- Input free-form PHP or CSS
- Export all code generated by the plugin (no long-term dependency on the plugin)
- One-click activation of WordPress post formats
- Lots of other cool things
What Genesis Extender Doesn’t Do
GE doesn’t magically do things for you. Yes, it provides a helpful user interface to build your own customizations, but you still have to build them. With the exception of the home page layouts, the rest is up to you. Also, GE does not bake cookies.
So, What’s the Verdict?
So, who wins the battle in Genesis Design Palette Pro vs Genesis Extender? Turns out there’s no competition.
Genesis Design Palette Pro boasts that it’s a plugin that frees you from needing a developer to style your theme. Conversely, Genesis Extender claims to be a developer living inside your theme.
In short, they’re two different plugins targeting two very different types of users. If you’re just starting out with WordPress and Genesis and need to quickly change up the colors and fonts on your site, go with Genesis Design Palette Pro. If you’re dipping your toes into custom development and are code-curious, go with Genesis Extender.
I’ve used both products, know both developers, seen the quality of their customer support, and recommend proudly both plugins (hence the metric ton of affiliate links in this post).