When updating your theme is the wrong thing to do

And the vagaries of using others themes…

Bit of background. I’m a web designer (woohoo!) I design about 12–15 sites a year, and I manage, under contract, about 40 websites for clients around the world. About 80% of all the sites designed or managed are WordPress (surprise!).

So I'm doing a site design for a client. I have a theme in my library that I haven’t used for a production site and it seems that a few customisations of this theme will fit the job nicely — great says I — less coding time and more design time for the budget!

I do the design, a few tweaks in a child theme and we are ready to go, get the site online, few client comments to tidy up and we are all done. Great, on budget and on time! …

And then the developers say they have an update available for the theme. OK. As the contract isn't yet finished yet, that’s cool, I’ll just update the theme and then the client doesn't have to do the first update immediately on receipt of the product. Bad for my brand image that is.

What a mistake! This theme I'm using — the7 by dream theme is a really nice looking theme, with lots of integrations and options. But it has a history that I forgot all about…

I should have remembered the issue we had when they updated the theme last time. That time, I was working on a dev site, and had the7 down as one of the options — I bought the theme installed it on the dev server, did a bit of work and then dream theme give notice of an update. So I install that update and boom! Everything is gone haywire — theme options reset to default in bizarre places, layout all squiffy. Uuurgh. So I go rewind — back to pre-update, copy all the settings, check the functions, try updating again — push the options back in, tweak the functions, but still a mess — anyway — at this stage I've had enough — I've got another theme that works just as well, ticks all the boxes, and has fab customer support, and 1st class documentation (Jupiter, by ArtBees if you are interested) so I go ahead with the design that way.

Anyway, on this job it was exactly the same — but I'm so close to launch I can’t go back to another theme.

I use purchased themes when a client is on a tight budget, and time is short. It makes sense. I manage about 40 sites, and about 50% of those use themes from other developers. I've designed many of them, and built child themes and part of my management of the client site is to keep the theme and site upgraded and secure for the client. Most of these themes have no real issues with updates — they go smoothly and there are well documented changelogs that can help me avoid any pitfalls with plugins or customisations in the functions. A few have some issues when putting out major updates to a theme — but the documentation is usually good, and available before the update goes out. That allows me to push the site to a dev server, test the upgrade, do any tweaks, and then push it back to the production site. Usually 1 or 2 hours of dev time max. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the dream theme team…

I had a squint at the changelog before doing this update — but there was nothing there… oh well, check the support site & they have a post on the upgrade — great! Read that — implies a quick 4 step upgrade — so let’s just push the update out and see what happens. So turn off all the caching, ftp the files — check back into the WP dashboard — aagh! Wtf! Fatal error, sites all screwed to hell and back. Yikes — ping off a support request — they say try again(!). During the time it’s taken them to respond, of course I've tried 3 times. We never get to the 3rd step in their installation instruction because of the errors. So anyway — one of the steps is upgrading a few plugins — so I do that manually — Visual Composer and Ultimate Addons for VC— both great plugins that do a sterling job of reducing my coding load. Always happy. Do that.

Anyway support ticket continues: DT want to do the upgrade themselves — great I say — good customer support I say. So they do — great — but they just leave the site all screwy and say — hey we did it — you now need to redo the theme options… Grrr! Really? Ok, so I try importing the old settings — nope even worse — ok so undo that, and now try going through and manually checking all the theme options. Seems some of the options have just been blown away — code and text in input boxes are gone! No backward compatibility in this theme upgrade. Thanks DT!

Also I notice some screwy css on the pages — inspect and find that many of the classes have changed! Ok, so this might be VC or the UAVC, so let’s just check the changelog again — ah yes — no changelog, not even referencing that VC needs to be upgraded for the latest fab version to work (cause of the fatal error)! Grrea — ok go check VC/UAVC changelog — and yes, ok — they do note that some classes have changed in the latest update to their code. But that doesn't answer all of them — some of the classes begin dt- so we can be pretty sure that they are DT specific classes that have changed — highlight that to support team — nope they say — we didn't change anything — must be VC/UAVC . OK — no — I’m inspecting the classes and their origins and they are coming from a DT specific stylesheet (prefix dt-the7 — big clue). Gah!

Go back to DT and they just throw in the towel and tell me I'm on my own… so 12 hours later I've just finished the redesign and I'm ready to go back to the customer and tell them the site is ready… Budget busted, but deadline kept.(wipes brow!)

So be very careful about who you choose as a developer — read those comments — especially somewhere like Envato where the marketplace is huge. Check the support forums if they are public. You will have a few themes that fit your design requirements, but choose wisely. I'm afraid DT will not be getting any more of my money.

I did say I’d write an article about this to DT — they said go ahead and send them the link — so here it is. Sharing is caring.