Moving from WordPress development to Statamic comes with a few changes. One of the biggest ones is the lack of themes, at least in the way they work in WP. You can't just log into your admin control panel, pick a new theme from a selection and give your website a completely new look with a few clicks.
Instead Statamic offers a handful of so called starter kits, which you can find in the official market place. Since the Statamic community is a lot smaller, there are only a handful of options so far - some free, some cost a couple of dollars - but the selection is steadily growing.
However, starter kits and themes can't be used interchangeably. They have a few major differences you should keep in mind when working on a new Statamic site - let's take a look at those.
Themes and Starter Kits Solve Similar Problems for Different People
No matter if you're using WordPress or Statamic, a freshly installed site is fairly underwhelming, both in terms of looks and functionality. In almost every case you will have to add some new features, content types, interactive elements, and a bunch of styling to make the result look presentable.
While it's possible to do all of this from scratch in both systems, you might not always have the time or knowledge to do everything yourself. And after a while you'll find yourself repeating the same steps over and over for each new site.
This is where themes and starter kits come in. Both want to help by taking you most of the way to your finished site. The key difference is that WordPress and Statamic are aimed at different user segments.
WordPress Wants to Enable End-Users
The reason why WordPress is so incredibly successful and widely used is the fact that it's easy to use for everyone. You don't need to be a developer to setup a site and publish content, the no-code approach let's you make major changes to the site right in the admin panel.
Since it's targeting a lot of non-developers, WordPress had to create a fairly fool-proof way of adding styling to a site that doesn't require any coding - and where the underlying code can be updated by the original theme author if anything needs fixing.
Statamic Tries to Speed Up Developers
While it's definitely one of the more user-friendly CMS out there, Statamic isn't trying to give full control to the end-user. The people using Statamic are usually either developers themselves or they work with a developer or agency that built and maintains their site.
Since developers want full control over their site, they can add or remove features or styles themselves, meaning they are less reliant on help from whoever created the starter kit.
How Starter Kits are Different From Themes
So how does this difference show when developing sites? It mainly means that a couple of admin panel actions that you're used to from WordPress simply aren't possible in Statamic. This is a tradeoff for giving developers a lot more freedom when building out sites for their clients or themselves.
Starter Kits are Only a Base
A starter kit is only supposed to give you a boost when you create a new site. In the end it only adds a bunch of code that you would otherwise have had to type out yourself.
Your site will still be a stand-alone project and there is no permanent connection between it and the starter kit. There is never the case where your WordPress site is now an Elementor site or a Divi site - it's always just a Statamic site.
You can think of a starter kit a little bit like copy&pasting a bunch of code from Stack Overflow into your site to add the features and styles you want. It's just a lot faster and more sophisticated - and the end result is a lot cleaner and more stable.
Starter Kits Can't be Switched
If we ignore more complex examples like page builders, themes in WordPress can usually be substituted with a few clicks. By switching to a different theme you change the whole look of your site and add some functionality (and sometimes lose some) - but the underlying site and all your data remains the same.
Statamic's starter kits make much more drastic changes to the code base and are usually not compatible with each other. So it is not possible to install a starter kit into an existing website - no matter if it was created using another starter kit or from scratch - without starting completely over and setting up a brand new site.
This allows creators to add a lot more individual code to their starter kits, like a page builder or third party integrations, without having to worry about compatibility with all the other kits out there.
Starter Kits Can't be Updated
When you install a starter kit into a fresh Statamic install, you get exactly the features it has at that point in time. If the creator adds new functionalities or changes anything about the starter kit, you can't just run an update to pull those changes into your site as well. If you want them, you'll have to add them manually.
While it sounds impractical at first, this actually has a major advantage over constantly synced themes: the creator can easily make drastic changes or remove features without breaking anybody's site, and developers don't have to worry about their modifications falling apart with the next update.
So when installing a starter kit just be aware that from this point your site is stand-alone and everything is up to you.
Recommended Starter Kits
Knowing how starter kits work, it's obvious how they should be used: find one that has a lot of features you want or looks similar to the design you had in mind, and then add everything that's missing yourself.
Here are a couple of kits that are worth looking at depending on your project:
Peak - the most popular starter kit comes with a ton of helpful features and building blocks for almost any type of site
Cloud - for when you quickly need to set up a clean landing page for a (digital) product
Simple Commerce - let's you quickly setup an e-commerce site using the simple commerce addon