Every now and then, a theme pops up that challenges my expectations of what WordPress can do. The Chipmunk WordPress theme is one of those rarities. It was designed specifically for content curation and resource building. In this review, I take a look at the theme's core functions, consider its strengths and weaknesses, and offer some insight into its potential uses.
Before I get into this review, I want to make a couple of disclosures. Firstly, I am using the Chipmunk Theme on this blog. Although, I purchased the copy myself, I obviously have a personal preference for this theme. Nevertheless, I'll try my best not to let that get in the way of critical analysis. Secondly, this review is the first attempt at creating a series of WordPress theme reviews in response to these guidelines and this Reddit discussion. It is therefore a work in progress and I reserve the right to update this review in due course. I will of course make any edits visible on this page. Thanks for your understanding.
1. Theme Intro
So what is the Chipmunk theme and what can it do? In essence, it allows you to bookmark and share short-form content thanks to a special post type called “resources.” Resources are snippets of content that comprise an image, a short description and a link. They are grouped together into categories called “collections.” The main collection page displays the resources in a filterable grid. The theme also has a separate blog section. Chipmunk is aimed at anyone looking to build and share a collection of web resources. It could be a collection of websites, products, images, videos or any other type of data set.
1.1 The Pitch
Let's move on to how the developers see the theme. Reading a theme's sales pitch can give you insight into the gap that sometimes exists between what a developer believes a theme can do and what it actually does:
Chipmunk Theme makes it ridiculously easy to make a content curation website for marketing, authority or just for fun. No coding skills required. It’s clean, modern and highly customizable. Utilizing world class code and is built for speed. All of our customers and their users love it!chipmunktheme.com
As you can see, five claims are being made about Chipmunk: it's easy to use, has a clean design, it's highly customizable, has excellent quality code and is fast loading. I will test each of these points over the course of the review and by the end we should see how accurate the pitch was.
1.2 The Stats
Next up are some basic stats about Chipmunk.
|Theme type||Content curation / blog||Support system||Email / Spectrum chat (forum)|
|Launch date||Sep 2016||Support duration||Lifetime upon purchase|
|Last update||March 2019||User reviews (avg. rating)||No data available|
|Update frequency (yearly avg.)||3/4 times per year||Popular plugin support||Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor|
|Current version||1.11.0||Gutenberg optimized||Yes|
Three things stand out in this list: updates, support and plugins. The theme receives frequent updates, often in conjunction with major WordPress core releases, but also in response to user requests. This is a good sign in terms of preventing security vulnerabilities. Also, support is valid for the lifetime of the theme, which is rare among premium theme developers, since many choose to offer support as an “add-on” service. Finally, the theme does not need any 3rd party plugins to function, but does support Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor for building follower lists.
1.3 The Developers
To round this brief introduction off, I want to take a quick look at the two developers behind Chipmunk. They are Piotr Kulpinski and Jan Haaland.
Piotr Kulpinski is a freelance front-end and WordPress developer from Poland who builds websites that help improve sales and boost profitability. His recent clients include Colgate, Costa Coffee and Eden Water. He manages internetcurated, a collection of hand-picked resource directories that runs on the Chipmunk theme.
Jan Haaland is a web designer from Norway who built his first website in 1996 (a fan-site for The Clash). He is a partner in a design studio called Folk where he works on user experience. In addition to co-creating Chipmunk, he runs Font Flame, a font pairing app, and the Cast Study Club, which is a collection of UX design studies.
Kulpinski is in charge of the day-to-day operation of the theme, including managing theme support and implementing theme updates. He plays an active role in the Spectrum Forum for the theme.
In terms of design aesthetics, the first words that came to mind while exploring the Chipmunk demo site were “simplicity” and “openness”. The two-tone, grey and white base colour scheme with additional purple highlights give the theme an attractive and professional look.
The content feels uncluttered and inviting thanks to a balanced use of white space between elements, as well as some subtle shadows and lines that help delineate the theme's various grid based sections.
This understated colour palette, combined with the “breathable” layout helps make visual content stand out.
The font work on this theme is noteworthy too. I find the text easy to read with a good balance between heading and paragraph font sizes (see the two examples below).
Font styles can be changed in the customization settings with a choice of 14 different Google font types. Each font type was chosen to match with the overall design of theme, hence most are sans serif fonts.
The only issue I have with font treatment is not being able to modify the colour of hyperlinks in the body of posts. The default colour is a light shade of grey which can be difficult to differentiate from normal text, particularly on screens lacking high density sharpness and colour quality.
I tested the theme on a 27″ desktop PC monitor, an iPhone 5 and a 10″ iPad and it worked well on each device. I also ran a responsive design test using the excellent ami.responsivedesign.is website, and it performed well there too (see screenshot below). I was particularly impressed by how readable and accessible the content was on smaller screen sizes.
I then tested Chipmunk on a range of browsers, including Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Microsoft Edge, and again, I couldn't find any render problems.
3. Core functions
3.1 Home page
The theme's home page is split into three main sections: resources, collections and blog posts. You can choose to enable or disable each section in the customization settings.
The three sections have their own WordPress page templates, each one offering slightly different functionality:
- The resource page lists resource posts in a sortable grid
- The collection page lists all existing collections in an alphabetically ordered grid
- The blog page lists the latest blog posts in a grid and comes with 3 different layout styles.
One of the things I would like to see implemented in future updates to the theme is the ability to re-order these sections. For some users, the blog section will be more important than resources and collections. For others, the contrary will be true. I would also like to be able to edit the names of these sections, which by default are set to “resources”, “collections” and “blog.” The ability to change names would help open the theme up for use in a wider range of contexts.
3.2 Resources and collections
Resources and collections work in tandem and form the backbone of the theme's curation mechanics. Resource posts are designed to showcase “snippets” of curated content and output the following data:
- a cover image
- some introductory text
- a button that links to the resource website
- tags and categories
- a view count
- social sharing buttons
- an interactive up-vote icon
I like the fact that there is an option in the customization settings to turn resource posts into longer review posts. This gives you more space for text and images below the main resource data. I would like it even more if the developers included an option to switch between these two layout styles on a post-by-post basis. At present, you have to choose between one or the other.
Each resource post is assigned to a collection and each collection shows the number of resources it contains and can house sub-collections too. This simple and user-friendly taxonomy is for me the theme's main selling point. While the developers promote the theme for use in curating web content, I can imagine the theme being tweaked and used in very different contexts from creating a library archive or an academic research repository, to curating a personal collection of memorabilia.
3.3 Blog posts
With blog posts, users can choose between a “hero header” with a full-width image and superimposed title, or a regular image + post title configuration. I found myself wanting to switch between these different styles on a post-by-post basis. Again, it is a case of choosing between one or the other.
Unlike resource posts, blog posts use a two-column layout, with a right-hand widgetized sidebar. I found the text column of blog posts a little narrow for my liking and wanted the option to switch to a wider, single column (no-sidebar) format.
The theme supports Gutenberg blocks and does a great job of integrating full-width and large-width images in the Gutenberg editor.
3.4 Other unique functions
Among the theme's other unique functions is an optional user-submission form. This is a built-in form that supports the Captcha anti-spam system and allows users to submit resources to the collections. The submission form works as a pop-up and is neat and simple. There is also an up-vote button encouraging user interaction with the resources. This allows resources to be sortable by rank.
Finally, the developers have recently launched a new premium plugin for Chipmunk called “Chipmunk Members,” which brings user accounts to the theme. It includes a sign-up form, user profiles, resource bookmarking and the ability for users to build their own resource collections. This is an extensive plugin that requires its own review, which I will do in due course.
4. Installation and setup
After purchasing the theme through Gumroad, I was able to download the zip file straight away. Its contents are as follows:
To install the theme, I logged into my self-hosted WordPress account, navigated to the “Appearance” tab, clicked “Add New Theme” and uploaded the “chipmunk-theme.zip” file.
After activating the theme, I returned to my WordPress admin panel, went to the “Tools” tab, installed the WordPress importer. I then uploaded the “demo-data.xml” file.
These are the only two manipulations required to get the theme running like the demo version.
I like the fact that no 3rd party plugins are required to operate the theme. This makes the installation and configuration procedure fast and efficient. As mentioned earlier, the theme does support the MailChimp and Campaign Monitor plugins, both of which can be used to power the theme's subscription form.
Moreover, not having to rely on plugins means the theme is potentially less vulnerable to security breaches. All too often, when you buy a theme that forces you to install a raft of 3rd party plugins, you use it for a few months only to find that one of the plugins has suddenly become obsolete and crisis ensues!
At the same time, the absence of 3rd party plugins means that Chipmunk relies on a bundled “features” plugin which works behind the scenes to operate the resource and collection functions. Given that all WordPress themes have a shelf life, it's worth thinking about legacy problems regarding resource posts.
If you invest a lot of time and effort in creating resource posts, and the developers retire the theme, you will have to find a way to convert those posts either to regular WordPress posts or to a new custom post type in the case that you decide to switch to another theme. That being said, there are no signs that theme development will cease any time soon and there are a number of plugins that can help achieve this. Post Type Switcher is one example.
5. Everyday use
The majority of the theme's options are controlled through the WordPress customization panel. This makes it easy to preview changes.
The list of options is fairly comprehensive, but unlike the claim made in the sales pitch, I wouldn't class the theme as “highly customizable.” As I have already pointed out, there are some basic customization options that are lacking. This includes the ability to change:
- hyperlink colours
- key section titles, including “resources”, “collections” and “blog”
- the resource submission form content
- the layout style of resource posts and blog posts on a post-specific basis
- the order or sections on the home page
Despite these limitations, the current customization options are certainly easy to understand and use. I never had to consult the documentation PDF file, which is included in the download.
It's also worth mentioning that there are no bespoke widgets with the theme – aside from integration of the Mailchimp newsletter form. This makes sense given that the only place you can use a sidebar is on blog posts. In any case, standard WordPress widgets such as “Text”, “Recent Posts”, “Categories”, “Search” and “Archives” all render properly with the theme.
The last thing I want to mention here is the logo size. The default logo height is 88 pixels, which is very small. If you have a fairly wide logo, say between 200-300 pixels, it will be automatically shrunk to the 88px height setting, making it barely visible.
With the current configuration, the best logo size is an 88×88 square image, such as the chipmunk icon in use on the demo site. Not being able to display a bigger logo will be a big turn off for many people as it reduces the impact of branding.
Of course, it's possible to add a small code snippet in the customizer to enlarge the logo size, but this may mean compromising the balance of the header design.
In this section, I am going to run some benchmark tests to evaluate the page speed of the Chipmunk theme. The load time of a website is a crucial factor in retaining or deterring visitors. While expectations differ from person to person, the general consensus is a 3-second load time is the threshold beyond which audience retention dramatically decreases. The optimum load time is 1 second, but for an average website with mixed media, running on cheap 3rd party hosting, a 3-second load time would still be considered decent performance.
Let's start with the Pingdom Tools website speed test to analyze the load speed of the theme. Here are the general results:
The overall Pingdom score of 89 is very good. To put it in perspective, here is how some of the most used sites on the Web perform:
|Website name||Performance Grade||Load Time||Page Size||Requests|
|google.com||A 94||329 ms||413.4 KB||17|
|wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page||B 88||345 ms||368.4 KB||33|
|nytimes.com||D 62||3.35 s||4.0 MB||187|
*Note: this data fluctuates according to time, location, content changes to each website etc.
So comparatively, the load time of 2.07 seconds for the Chipmunk demo site's home page was fast. This is an excellent result given the number of images on display.
You can also see that the theme generated 38 requests in loading the home page. Requests are Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) communications between the browser and the server that hosts your site.
Each request is sent by the Web server to the Web browser and the Web browser collects all this information and displays it in the form of a web page. It can includes things like displaying text, rendering images, rendering any animations or plugins and so on.
Since Chipmunk doesn't rely on 3rd party plugins to operate, the request number is relatively low, making the theme light weight and speedy.
Let's take a look at how the theme performs on mobile platforms. To do this I'm going to use the Google Mobile Speed Test for smartphones. Here are the results:
The mobile score is not outstanding, but certainly above average. If you take a look at the Google report, the main recommendations to improve mobile speed are largely related to image rendering:
Let's see how Chipmunk performs in comparison to other sites.
|Website name||Google Mobile Score|
Overall, the Chipmunk theme performs well in terms of load speed. It is not at the blazingly fast end of the spectrum, but given that theme's main focus is on curating content and that it supports a large amount of visual media, these results are very respectable and honor the claim made in the sales pitch of a “fast loading” theme.
7. Code quality
In this segment, I will run a series of tests to check code quality. The developers claimed the theme has “world class” code. Let's see if that's true.
The first test is the W3C Markup Validation check to check the markup validity of HTML, XHTML, SMIL, MathML code standards.
The W3C Markup Validation check returned 23 errors, the vast majority of which were related to a single coding issue regarding the “button” attribute. Here's an example:
The next test I ran was the W3C CSS validation check. This test looks specifically at the theme's Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) code, which is what governs the theme's overall design and appearance.
Here the results were less promising returning a total of 61 errors and 142 warnings. The silver lining is that all the flagged errors were value related, meaning that they pertain to minor formatting and markup problems rather than big structural inconsistencies.
The final test I ran was WordPress specific using the WordPress Theme Check plugin. This test is designed to check the eligibility of a WordPress theme for submission to the WordPress.org repository. It is a handy tool to check the overall state of code in a WordPress theme regardless of whether you submit it to the repository or not. Using the plugin, I was able to generate the following report:
The report returned a number of errors which can be split into roughly two categories: missing functions and non-WordPress functions. What this test reveals is that the developers added a number of features to the theme that fall outside the recommended guidelines for WordPress theme standards. One in particular that stands out is the inclusion of a zip file called “features.zip” which is a bundled plugin created by the developers to add extra functionality to the theme. Ultimately, this sort of issue is more a matter of circumventing elements of WordPress style and convention rather than code trouble.
One of the most important parts of buying into a premium WordPress theme is theme support. Being able to solve problems in a short amount of time through pleasant and accessible feedback is invaluable, particularly if you're buying into a theme with a view to generating income.
With Chipmunk, lifetime support is included in the one-time purchase cost of the theme. There are no extra fees for support. This is a big plus in my view.
Support is delivered in three ways. First, through the Spectrum support forum. This is easy to sign up to and use. Piotr Kulpinski manages this forum and is the main respondent for support issues. The forum currently has 58 members. It is a community driven forum, meaning that other Chipmunk users can take part in solving problems if they want to.
It took me about 2 minutes to sign up to the forum and a further 3 minutes to type a support question. I received a response from Piotr within 20 minutes. I opted to receive notifications via email, but there is also a Spectrum app that works well with smartphones.
The second route for support is via email. With email, the benefit is that your support questions are private. Since I have not tested this, I cannot report on response speed. It's worth mentioning that I have not seen any complaints on the Spectrum forums about unanswered support.
The third element of support is the theme's documentation. This is freely available as a PDF included in the theme download, and as part of the official Chipmunk website. The content is clear and well written and covers the basic aspects of operating the theme.
9. The verdict
I started this review by highlighting 5 claims that the developers made about Chipmunk. Let's see how each one held up.
Easy to use: I think this claim is true. The theme works straight out of the box and requires minimal WordPress knowledge to install and operate.
Clean design: While design aesthetics are always a subjective affair, I think it's fair to say that Chipmunk scores highly here. It is a beautifully designed theme with some subtle highlights and smooth lines that give it a professional and inviting feel.
Highly customizable: I would part ways with the developers here and say it is moderately customizable. As I pointed out above, there are still some areas of functionality that need to be improved. On the plus side, the theme receives frequent updates, so there's a good chance that customization options will increase as time goes by.
World class code: Given that there were some minor issues in terms of code validation, with both html and CSS, calling the code “World Class” may be a step too far. On the other hand, given the extra level of functionality that the theme brings to WordPress, I do acknowledge that the developers went the extra mile in coding this theme.
Fast loading: I think this is true. The speed tests showed the theme to be light weight and fast loading.
To sum up, Chipmunk is well-designed, easy to set up and a pleasure to use. It brings some innovative functions to the WordPress platform, which will be of interest to anyone creating a resource list or collection. With some minor additions, it could easily become the go-to theme for content curation.
Clean design ✓
Easy to install ✓
No extra plugins needed ✓
Gutenberg optimized ✓
Fast loading time ✓
Lifetime support ✓
Active developers ✓
Theme community ✓
Reasonable price ✓
No post-specific options ✘
Limited homepage layout ✘
Narrow width blog posts ✘
Limited logo size ✘
Special post type could pose legacy problems ✘
Chipmunk WordPress Theme
OVERALL THEME SCORE
(how does it compare?)