Catalyst Theme – EZ Widget Areas

I’ve been playing around with the new Catalyst Theme 1.1 release for the past few days now, and one of my favorite new features is the EZ Widget Areas. With this new feature you can do some creative things, like create your own custom front page layouts. Or you can use it to add top or bottom widget areas to your site. With EZ Widgets, you can truly use Catalyst Theme to create almost any common site design you can think of.

EZ Widget Areas

Most WordPress Theme Frameworks give you the standard layout options (1, 2, or 3 column layouts) and it’s used throughout the site. But what if you want to use a special layout for the front page of your site? With EZ Widget Areas you can do this using the new Static Homepage EZ Widgets options.

Look at JohnChow.com for example. His front page 2 sections in the top (Featured Posts and an Opt-In Box) In the middle section, he has Recent Blog Posts, Featured Video and Blog sponsors areas. And then in his footer, he has a single section that spans the width of the site that contains all of his categories.

John Chow Top
John Chow Footer

Previously, doing something like this with Catalyst (or any other theme) would of been a lot of work. But with the new EZ Widget Areas, this can be done very efficiently with just a few clicks. After installing Catalyst 1.1, you will notice now in Dynamik Options, that there is now a tab called EZ which is where you can play around with these new EZ Widgets. At the top of this page you will see the Static Homepage EZ-Widgets settings.

Catalyst EZ Widgets Settings

Lets say we want to mimic John Chow’s layout. If you use the Static Homepage Structure dropdown, you’ll notice that it contains a long list of different layout options. The one we would select would be ez_home_wide_left_2_3.php. This gives us two sections on top and 3 sections in the middle.

Catalyst Theme - Static Homepage

Once you’ve chosen your layout, you can also customize the Fonts, Colors, Borders and Padding of the widget boxes to style them how you like it. To add content to each section, you can then head over to your WordPress Widgets settings. From there, you will now see widget areas for each section where you can drop in the whatever widgets you like.

Feature Top and Fat Footer EZ-Widgets

If you head back over to the EZ Tab and scroll down a bit, you’ll notice there are also sections for Feature Top and Fat Footer EZ-Widgets settings. They both work similarly, except that the Feature Top adds a section to the top of your page, while the Fat Footer adds sections to the bottom of your page. You have the flexibility to add between 1 and 4 sections. And you can choose whether the section appears on your Front Page, Posts, Pages, Archives or any combination of each.

Catalyst Theme Fat Footer

Going back to our John Chow example, we would probably just enable the fat footer, and choose the ez_fat_footer_1.php layout. This gives us a one section footer that spans the width of the site. Then we could add in the Categories widget to this section.

Conclusion

As you can see, the new EZ Widgets are an amazing new feature of Catalyst 1.1. They basically enable you to create a whole new class of websites that you weren’t able to previously. If you haven’t upgraded your Catalyst Theme install yet, then make sure to do so as soon as possible.

Catalyst Theme – First Impressions

Catalyst Theme is a new wordpress theme framework from the developers of Frugal Theme. As with many of these next generation WordPress theme frameworks, Catalyst aims to help you quickly develop your WordPress blog design in any way you see fit. As you can see, I have purchased Catalyst Theme myself and I am learning how to use it on this site. So far I’m pretty impressed. It has a multitude of design options which allows you to be very creative with your site design, and it has some really nice features which makes it easy to use.

Here are some of the cool things that are a part of Catalyst Theme

  • Dynamik Child Theme with over 600 design options. While the Catalyst Theme has a core set of options, the Dynamik Child Theme expands on this with even more options to give you complete control over the look of your site.
  • Included 22 Dynamik Child Skins. Don’t like the default Catalyst look? There are 22 different skins to base your designs on. And if you choose, you can easily create your own custom skins.
  • Custom layouts, widgets and hooks. With Catalyst, you can create any layout you want (1 col, 2 col, etc), and you can place your widgets anywhere you choose. Not only that, you can have different layouts for any post or page.
  • Custom CSS Builder. Allows you to easily edit the CSS for any elements on your site within the Catalyst Theme option pages.
  • SEO Friendly Options. Includes all the common SEO features you want in a theme like setting custom post titles, descriptions and many other important SEO options.

Catalyst Theme Initial Look

I’ve only been using Catalyst Theme for a day now, but there’s a lot to like about the theme. For one thing, it is really easy to use out of the box. Each of the customization options of the theme includes tooltips that explain each option very thoroughly. Also, you can check out the videos in the Resources page to see how all the advanced functions like Custom layouts work.

As far as customizability goes, Catalyst Theme will be hard to beat. Almost all of the common settings (fonts, colors, padding) you will want to customize for each element of your site can be changed from the option pages. You can choose between a variety of layouts (1 col, 2 col, 3 col) and adjust the widths for each. If there is an option that the theme doesn’t expose, just press the #Custom button next to the element and you can insert the desired CSS without having to figure out the exact CSS selector yourself.

Catalyst Theme - Dynamik Options

One other nice touch that I immediately noticed is that the Save Changes button floats near the top of the page no matter where you scroll to on the page. I’m finding it to be really convenient, especially when I have to make a lot of changes on an options page. Plus, because of some nice use of AJAX, there’s no page reload after saving. It’s a small thing, but it really makes using the theme more enjoyable to use.

Catalyst Theme vs Thesis Theme

Thesis Theme is still the most popular premium theme framework out there. But it hasn’t been updated recently and new challengers like Headway Themes, Genesis Theme Framework, and now Catalyst Theme have come out with some really unique features that are starting to make Thesis look antiquated in comparison.

So far, I’m finding that Catalyst Theme is easier to use then Thesis. Especially for less html/css savvy people. Unlike with Thesis, all the customization and design changes you want to make using Catalyst Theme can be done from within the theme options itself. I also predict we are also going to see a lot more cool and innovative skins for Catalyst Theme compared to Thesis since support for them is way better.

Then there’s the price. The Thesis Theme personal option is $87, but you can only use the theme on a single site. With Catalyst Theme, you can get the theme for $97, but you can use it on UNLIMITED sites. This is a big difference for many people, especially internet marketers like myself who create many sites.

All in all, I like what I have seen so far from Catalyst Theme. It looks to be an awesome theme framework and I’m looking forward to playing some more with it to see what it can do.