The State of Zen Cart Templates

My first thought was to just sigh. There are a lot of templates out there and I just have seen very few that were worth dealing with. The ones you pay for at sites like Template Monster are the worst but let me count the ways templates can be a problem.

Differing Zen Cart Versions

First, most templates are simply not updated to different Zen Cart versions. They may state 1.5x, giving the impression that one template works for all 1.5 versions but in reality it just means that they may be 1.5.4 compatible but none of those guys have bothered to look at them since. With some it doesn’t matter but sometimes they do the next thing below that makes it all worse.

Breaking Zen Cart Rules

Secondly, the only files that should be in a template are changed files. Too often I see template packages that include every Zen Cart template file, changed or not. Horrible to have to work on, horrible to update and just plain breaks all Zen Cart guidelines. So if the template is supposed to work with all 1.5 versions it’s guaranteed that their files are not updated to the version you have. So the caveat is, don’t buy unless it states which 1.5 version the templates works on. Even then, problems can still arise, leading to my next point.

Bypassing Zen Cart

Thirdly, the most irritating thing I have seen is when the template creator decides he/she doesn’t like Zen Cart code and bypasses part of the template process. Just gag me. Please. These guys are all for short cuts to make it easier to create templates that can work across platforms. All they are doing is mass producing these for a bunch of platforms, never really integrating the template into Zen Cart.

Changing Basic Features

Fourthly and still really the same issue. Even if they don’t totally bypass things, one template series creates some seo links totally different than anything does with Zen Cart. I have no idea why.

Poor Template Creation Processes

One of my biggest complaints is about template makers who decide nothing in default zen cart needs retaining. Those templates are almost impossible to work on because the resulting CSS is a nightmare. The worst offenders are those who use a converter. It is possible to make a image rendition of the site and use a tool to create the CSS. When that happens, the code is a bunch of total gobblety goop and it’s pretty much impossible to work on it.

Along with that are templates that use a totally different naming system for divisions and classes (yes, I know I’m getting technical here). So they make mass changes to all files leaving an experienced Zen Cart designer lost in the woods. This is why most experienced Zen Cart developers refuse to edit such templates.

Templates with Poor and Outdated Processes

Next up? Change as you go in admin templates. There’s a big firm that creates the ability to change bits of the templates in admin like colors or your logo, etc. This means that instead of the site working off the normal files, the code is filled with inline CSS because that can be changed and the CSS file cannot be changed on the fly. So it increases the amount of source code and dependence on the database. This is just a big no no for web design for any type of website.

Hard Coding Features Instead Using Zen Cart

Then there are creators who I wish an early death on. Instead of integrating fully with Zen Cart, they hard code elements into the template. Where normally you could turn off a feature in admin, in those templates you have to edit the actual files and never get to turn on additional features. I get more requests from cart owners with these templates than with all others because the cart owner cannot make normal changes.

Lazy Developers

And finally, my biggest irritation – use of something like Bootstrap for template creation. Bootstrap is one of several developer tools (note I did not say designer tools). You’ve probably seen the default bootstrap template on some major websites. It’s the lazy developer tool for folks who are not designers. One of the problems is that it creates masses of extra files and code, all of which can slow down a site.

Less Adaptability to Change

Bootstrap also is used for a basis for real template creation – the present default responsive template for Zen Cart uses it. That’s only marginally better because it really is overkill in my opinion. The Zen Cart responsive template also relies on separate new code to change depending on the device you are using. That requires listing specifically operating systems/devices. In other words, some new device is created, it may not be in the file!

The alternative? Of course I have an answer.

With only a few template file changes, any template can aspire to be responsive. Now that 1.5.5f has reworked the default files, it’s all more possible. I had to do all those edits myself for my ReadyToGo template before 1.5.5 came out. This alternative approach has its drawbacks for sure but the result can be a fast loading and effective template for any website.

The plus and the minus are the same. My template relies on one factor for change – screen width. With the simple addition of some CSS designed for smaller screen widths, this effect can be seen in most browsers. This site relies on this method but this blog could be better done. Try that out on the ReadyToGo demo site. Just decrease the width of the browser to view.

The minus of this is simple. One has to decide what width is best. I prefer cell phone width as I personally hate, just hate, not having a choice on my tablet. I don’t want responsive on a tablet; I want to see the dang site. That’s one of the reasons for having a tablet for heavens’ sake! But tablets come in all sorts of screen size widths. I always use mine horizontally whereas others do vertical. Those who do vertical really need to switch when they get to a site that doesn’t seem responsive. Many will find that fixes the problem. But the screen width can be changed in this template so each site owner gets to choose what’s best for them and their customers.

Do take a look at the ReadyToGo demo site and read through the information. There’s some of my mods there as well as a few additional mods provided by other developers. Each demo now has a pic of the mobile version on the home to give users a better idea of what it may look like on their website.

If this stupendously long blog post has convinced you, you can purchase your own customized Zen Cart template here or just contact me to talk about it.

Author: Delia Wilson Lunsford, Founder & CEO, WizTech, Inc.

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