When I set out to begin this review process for the Divi Theme Builder, I can’t say I expected it to turn out the way that it did.
I have been a customer of Elegant Themes for many, many years (since 2010, in fact). Back when I was still running my original technology blog, I actually used an Elegant Theme as the basis for one of my main themes for that site.
Things have obviously evolved substantially in the last 10 years. I haven’t actually used any of their themes in quite awhile, but I was grandfathered into an annual membership price that can’t be gotten any longer ($20/year). And I just kept it. Just in case. 🙂
Today, all of their themes are considered “legacy products”. They’re still there, but this is not what Elegant Themes is all about today.
Today, they are most known for Divi.
Divi is an all-in-one theme and visual page builder. It is often marked alongside other page builders, my favorite so far being Thrive Architect.
Elementor is another direct competitor and I recently sat down to do a full review and comparison of Elementor versus Thrive Architect.
But, right there, next in line as the one I’ve had many people ask me about is Divi. So, it is time to dive in and take a look.
In this post, I am going to dive into the latest version of Divi. And I’m going to see how it works, how it compares to Thrive Themes and Elementor, and where I think Divi falls into this lineup.
Prepare thyself. This got more interesting than I expected.
Divi Price Comparison & Installation
Divi comes in two flavors:
- Divi Theme. Your entire theme and essentially your whole site will be based on Divi. No other theme required.
- Divi Plugin. You have the visual builder, but you can use something else as your main theme.
This flexibility is a good thing. While I make no secret of my love for Thrive Architect, this is currently a major weak spot for Thrive Themes. Architect has no Theme Builder. It’s coming. But, as of this writing, it does not exist. Elementor does have the ability to build the theme.
UPDATE: Thrive Theme Builder now exists. Not only that, the combination of Architect + Theme Builder in the Thrive Suite blows Divi away in every possible way. Just sayin’. Check out my Theme Builder review here.
The pricing for Divi is quite competitive. They have an $89/year membership and then a lifetime plan for $249/year. Both options include ongoing support and updates.
Elementor Pro costs $49/year, but that’s ongoing. No option for a lifetime plan.
Thrive Architect is part of the Thrive Suite. At $228/year, I think the Thrive Suite is one of the best deals out there. But, this isn’t an easy comparison to Divi because the two solutions have very different intentions. As you will see as we move on here.
In order for me to make any judgements on how these things compare, I have to dive into the tool itself.
Using it on a test site, I elected to use the full Divi Theme.
One interesting thing is the sheer file size of Divi. When I downloaded the theme, it was a 9.7MB file. I must say, I was pretty surprised just how large it is. Is this thing going to be a beefy, heavy system to use?
I upload the Divi file directly inside of Wordpress as a theme and I activate it. Now my test Wordpress install has a very default look and feel:
So, Divi is installed. It’s turned on. Now what? This is that point where a lot of people would have “blank slate syndrome” – not knowing exactly what to do next.
So, let’s see if we can figure it out…
How Divi Builder Works (Oh, Man)
Coming from an experience using Thrive Architect or standard themes, Divi immediately comes off as confusing. Even Elementor was easier for me to understand initially because it resembles Architect.
Divi is a whole different animal. For instance, when I go to create a page with it and choose to edit the page with Divi, I get 3 options:
First, I thought I would try the “Build From Scratch” option. With Architect and Elementor, that was pretty intuitive. But, with Divi, I see this:
Bluntly… what the hell is that? This is pretty much the opposite of “what you see is what you get”. It seems as if this is a global way to assemble the layout of your page. Honestly, though, I don’t get the point of it. It feels like you’re flying blind. It’d be like driving a car blindfolded putting a layout together like this. Am I missing something?
I see a tab to allow me to “Build On The Front End”. This seems like it might be more along the lines of what I’m used to, so I tap it.
It opens up the page, but now I can edit it more or less how it will end up looking to the public. I can see that the layout that I could see inside of Wordpress (pictured above) is a global framework for what I see on the front-end.
Usually, I would think a visual editor would immediately be easy to use. Instead, playing with the editor in this way is still, I must say, really annoying.
- I have no toolbar of available tools. Just page modules with buttons all over them. There are plus signs all over everything to add stuff, but it seems the only way to know whether you’re adding a section, a row or a module is to hover over it.
- The popup window interface is not as elegant as a side panel toolbar. When I click to edit anything, I get this popup module. That module opens up over top the editor, covering things up. If I want to see what’s there, I need to shrink it (manually) or close it again. Even clicking outside the box won’t close it. You can lock it to the side of the screen, but it does not change contextually when you click on other elements. So, it is pretty useless.
- Clicking on a page item does not immediately provide access to it’s settings. I don’t get anything contextually merely by clicking on it. I specifically have to hit the little gear icon to open settings for it, THEN I get the popup module.
- The editor makes page structure WAY more rigid that it should be. Case in point, I can drag and drop any page element anywhere I want in Thrive Architect. No thought required. However, with Divi, if I want to drop a simple image within some text, I have to use the popup editor to do it. I have to click the little tiny gear icon on the text module, open settings, hit “Add Media”, then insert the image. Then, once the image is there, moving it around is a real pain in the butt. If I click the image, it opens up the TEXT formatting options (whuh?). So, I have to click OUTSIDE the module to disable the toolbar, THEN click the settings icon again and go into that stupid popup.
- Accessing the formatting options even for text is an extra click to get to the “Design” tab. Then, all the options are auto-collapsed, causing me to need to hunt around.
Honestly, I really don’t like this. Not even a bit. This editing interface is clunky, not very intuitive, and makes designing a page much more difficult than it needs to be.
Overall Usability Of Divi Visual Editor (Compared to Architect)
When I am evaluating a tool like this, I am looking at it from the perspective of user-friendliness. I look at it from the standpoint of somebody who is not a developer.
And, at this point in my evaluation of Divi, I just wasn’t feeling it AT ALL. I even was wondering if I was missing something here. I asked on Facebook, in fact. 🙂
I don’t think Divi is very user-friendly. Here are some broad views about the overall editing experience:
- Too many icons. Pretty much every damn thing in this editor sits behind an icon. And clicking around the page just pops up icons all over the freakin’ place.
- Almost nothing is editable right in place. With rare exception, you cannot simply click on something and access the settings to edit it, or edit it in place. You have to click the little settings icon to do that and pull up that settings dialog window. And God forbid you don’t select the right one and end up opening up the settings for the row and not the thing you actually want to edit. Grr.
- Too many hover effects. I get it, Elegant Themes. You really like your icons and hover effects in the interface.
- You can’t even drag-and-drop stuff where you want it to appear. Try to drag a page module to another section? Nope. The Divi Gods won’t allow it. I guess it violates the layout?
- If you do something wrong, I can’t find a simple undo option. Only an edit history window. Which, of course, is hidden behind an icon. Then, I get a list of all my changes and I can back it up. The history is nice, but it took me a bit to figure it out because it seemed as if a simple undo icon would be expected.
- Divi forces you to think way too much about the wireframe layout of the page. For instance, when I open a blank page to edit it, I cannot simply drag a module in and go. I am forced to insert a row first, THEN a module.
- Page Tools in a popup and takes a bunch of scrolling. I like being able to just drag and drop anything I want. In Architect and Element, it works that way. With Divi, I am forced to use the little “+” button to access available tools. And, worse, the tools list is in alphabetical order with no way to quickly access common things. For instance, text would be one of the most common elements to use. SCROLL down to the “T” to find text. Try repeating that every… damn… time you want to simply put some text on your page.
Overall, I feel like Divi was built by people who have never watched a normal Wordpress user try to build a page. This is not the way people think. A developer might, but not normal people.
Other than the pretty icons and hover effects and nice looking menus, I can’t say this is very… elegant.
Does It Get Better When Simply Editing A Blog Post?
A simple blog post. This should be easy.
Well, that’s only if you’re not using Divi.
Just like any other editor I’ve tried so far, you can go to write your blog post the normal way. And you will have a button there to do it with your page builder. Divi has a big purple button to “Use The Divi Builder”.
Then, it happens. I get the same 3 options I got before (build from scratch, import a layout, or clone). I get the Divi Builder for me to build a wireframe layout. Why the hell would I build a layout for a blog post?
Even when I choose the option to use a pre-built layout, it makes very little sense because why I am seeing all these Layout Packs for a simple blog post?
Just to see what happens, I chose one and imported it. Well, that didn’t help much:
Apparently, that’s a blog post. Just to see what that looks like on the front-end, it basically imported a full page layout right into the blog post template. I can get rid of the sidebar and all that by selecting a different page layout, but here’s the big point…
Divi doesn’t seem to differentiate between a blog post or a regular page. It seems to me that if you’re writing an article, you simply want to edit content. You don’t need page layouts.
I am writing this very blog post using Architect. It is very easy. And bluntly, I think I would pull my hair out and be literally bald if I tried to write a blog post with Divi.
One Massive Difference Between Divi And Architect
I have to say, I didn’t expect to dislike Divi as much as I did.
My reaction was strong enough where I was wondering if I missed something. So, I went out (as I rarely do) to check out other Divi reviews posts to see what they were saying. What was I missing here?
Apparently, one of the reasons for this page builder working so differently is that, under the hood, it is doing everything using Wordpress shortcodes. This is a pretty fundamental difference from how Architect and Elementor works.
With Architect and Elementor, the editor is working with HTML and CSS. When you save, it is saving HTML to the database and serving it up directly. This is very fast. It means you can disable the editor and you’d still have the underlying HTML code. Plus, the editor is snappy because you’re navigating the page’s DOM (document object model).
Divi uses shortcodes on the backend. Every shortcode has to have some code behind the scenes which processes everything before you can get any output. It also leads to a very rigid, modular structure because you’re not working globally with a standard DOM. This HAS to be why the Divi editor seems so incredibly stubborn in how it enforces you to think.
To demonstrate, I temporarily switched back to a Thrive Theme (thereby disabling Divi). Here’s what my stupid little testing page looked like:
You can clearly see shortcodes for every single thing. Every section. Every row. Every module.
Every shortcode has to be backed up with PHP code behind the scenes, taking in all those shortcode attributes and doing special stuff to get the output.
Aside from this underlying structure affecting the ease of use of Divi, there’s another VERY IMPORTANT thing to understand here…
Divi is a one-way street. If you build a site using Divi and ever turn Divi off for some reason, your site will be littered with shortcodes that no longer have any code there to process them.
You can use a tool like Shortcode Cleaner Lite to search for those unused shortcodes and remove them. But, it will be some work to re-build if you ever decide to leave Divi.
Why Divi Is Still Very Powerful
As you can tell, I don’t like Divi very much. I think the editor is tough to use.
But, there’s no getting around the fact that there are many people out there who really seem to like Divi a lot.
If I had never used another editor before, I would probably be impressed with Divi. If the only alternatives I knew of was to have to manually customize the PHP code of my theme, I would be more easily impressed by Divi. But, since I have used much easier editors, Divi feels like a real pain in the ass to use.
There’s no getting around the fact that Divi IS very powerful and very flexible. I take nothing away from Divi in that regard.
For instance, the power of the layout builder is great for developers who want to build global, custom layouts that work across an entire site. You can have multiple layouts for different types of content or different sections of a blog. This provides a LOT of flexibility.
A regular page builder (like Architect) excels at building singular pages. You can save templates, too. But, Divi has the interesting ability to build LAYOUTS. This controls the overall structure of the page, allowing you to customize and enforce layout and structure, but put your own content in when editing.
Divi also comes with a lot of full layout packs. Essentially, they are full site themes that you import straight into Divi. Broken down by site types and niches.
And you have a lot of flexibility in how these layouts are used. You can use them for any segment of your theme (pages, specific pages, categories, archives, posts, etc.). You can even use it to provide layout to product pages powered by WooCommerce.
Compared to a regular theme, Divi is insanely powerful and flexible.
Way more than Architect. And more than even Elementor (which also has the ability to be the theme).
The problem is that all that power is just really annoying to use when doing actual editing in the visual builder. The visual builder is a major weak point, in my opinion. It doesn’t hold a candle to the ease of use of Architect.
While I could probably build a nice layout on my own with Divi, it would take quite a bit longer to do than it should. Lots more clicks. Lots more hunting around for what I need to access. More cussing. More alcohol. Stuff like that. 😉
UPDATE: OK, it has to be noted, again, that since this article was originally written, the Thrive Suite now includes the Theme Builder platform. And it now puts it in direct league with Divi in terms of ability to control the theme and set up layouts. While Divi offers more customization for unique site types (good for a developer), Thrive is just easier to use. Check out my review of Theme Builder here.
Who Is Divi For? Who Should Get It?
So far, I would sum up Divi with 2 major points:
- The most fine-tuned control over theme building I’ve seen so far. Very powerful.
- The visual editor interface is clunky and there are better options.
So, the question is: Is Divi a good fit for you?
It can be tough to figure out. When you look around, Divi can foster pretty polarizing reactions. Some really don’t like it. Others sing it’s praises. And surely, the fact that Elegant Themes has an affiliate program is going to have some people just promoting Divi as easy-peasy because they want the sales commission.
I am using an affiliate link, too. But, clearly, I’m being pretty tough on Divi in this post.
It might seem as if I’m bad-mouthing Divi in this post. But, bear in mind that when I evaluate a tool like Divi, I am doing so through the eyes of who I see as a “normal person”. 🙂 That person might have the following traits:
- They either have no technical skills at all, or even if they do they just want things to be done easily.
- They don’t want software that is a struggle to use. They want to be able to simply jump in and go. If it requires hours in the documentation to figure out where to even begin, then it’s too much.
For a normal person, I do NOT think Divi is a good fit. I think the learning curve is too steep and it will do little to ease the technical overwhelm of the average Wordpress user who is already confused about how to modify a regular theme.
Sure, you can avoid PHP code and raw CSS. But, you replace it with the confusion of wireframe layouts that make no sense and a builder that is too difficult to use.
So, who IS Divi a good fit for?
If you are a site developer and don’t want to code your site by hand, Divi might be a good fit. I think you would need the mindset of a developer to appreciate Divi. It’s flexible. It’s powerful. You can pretty much avoid having to dive into the code. If you’re a developer and know what it takes to do this stuff manually, you will appreciate Divi. If you build sites for a living, you might appreciate Divi.
Divi is pretty innovative. It offers an amazing amount of flexibility. It even has some great shortcuts in it that would require custom code otherwise or perhaps some other third-party plugin.
In terms of being a theme builder, Divi is an amazing theme builder. But, that’s what it is. This is really a developer environment for building a site theme without needing to mess with the code directly.
But, who builds themes? Developers. Normal people don’t. 🙂
And that’s why I think Divi will be overly confusing for most people. Certainly most people who read the Blog Marketing Academy blog.
The Pros And Cons Summary
Alright, let me bring it all together with my final list of the good and the bad about the Divi Theme.
The Good Stuff
- Provides an amazing amount of control over site layout and the ability to create and use different layouts across your site in a very granular way. Really quite innovative. As a theme builder, this is incredibly powerful.
- A really nice, aesthetic user interface. Elegant Themes clearly wants the interface of their software to be elegant. Nice icons. Nice looking admin settings screens.
- Contains a number of nice shortcuts and time-savers for site developers to speed up workflow.
- A community of 3rd-party development providing add-on capabilities that do a number of things (similar to Elementor) as well as layouts.
- Nice site layouts available and they add new ones frequently. After all, Elegant Themes was most known for their themes for years. They still do that, but it is all within the Divi environment now.
- Lifetime pricing option. Overall, Divi is very cost effective.
The Bad Stuff
- The use of shortcodes as the infrastructure for Divi makes using it a one-way choice. If you use it to build out a large site, you better be pretty sure you’ll never want to switch themes.
- The use of shortcodes also enforces a rather rigid, modular structure in the editor interface. Not nearly as fast or easy to edit things in place as with Architect or Elementor.
- The visual editor is more difficult to use than it should be. Requires a lot of clicks and scrolls to get to what you want to change. Too much is hidden behind tiny little icons. It is easy to miss them, click the wrong one, etc.
- The wireframe layout designer in the page/post edit screens is all but useless. And only a developer would appreciate such a thing.
- Divi has a lot of code and it’s just… big. This combined with the use of shortcodes for everything will affect site load times negatively. It can be offset through optimizations, but other builders have less bloat and less code involved.
In summary, I cannot say I’m a fan of Divi. When my readers or students ask me about whether I would recommend Divi to them, my answer will almost invariably be “no”.
Mind you, it isn’t because I think Divi sucks. I think Divi is actually very powerful and very innovative. But, I do not like the basic approach they have chosen. I don’t think it is user-friendly for most people and I think the editor is a very clunky experience compared to Elementor or Thrive Architect.
I continue to remain a top fan of Thrive Architect. In my mind, it remains the easiest page builder to use. I’m talking about the Architect editor versus the Divi Visual Builder interface.
Now that the Thrive Suite contains the Thrive Theme Builder, offering powerful (and simple) control over your full theme as well, I see no reason for most people to consider Divi over Thrive Suite.
Divi’s ability to design a full theme is best suited to developers who need to develop something for unique needs. But, for most Wordpress blog sites, Thrive Theme Builder and Architect is a much easier combination.
… or check out the full Thrive Suite if you want an easier time of things with your site.