Meet Dawn: The Complimentary Default Theme in Shopify 2.0

Uncover the outstanding features of Dawn and its impact on speeding up Shopify theme development.


11 min read

Meet Dawn: The Complimentary Default Theme in Shopify 2.0

Disclosure: When you purchase through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission. As a Shopify Partner, I earn from qualifying sales. Read the full disclosure

TLDR: This article explores Shopify's Online Store 2.0 and its default free theme, Dawn. We discuss the key features of Dawn, including its mobile-first design, performance optimization, customizable sections, and accessibility features. We also cover how to set up and customize Dawn on your Shopify store, tips for maximizing its potential, and how it compares to other Shopify themes. Whether you're new to e-commerce or an established business, this guide will help you understand and make the most of the Dawn theme for your Shopify site.


a green shopping bag with the word shopify on it

This article is part of a series called "Cache In Cash Out", a series where I help educate and inform established businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs, and independent developers about Shopify.

Shopify powers millions of businesses and is trusted by brands such as Unilever, Kylie Cosmetics, Allbirds, and many more.

As someone who values freedom through entrepreneurship, I love how Shopify's Mission is to reduce the barriers to becoming a business owner by providing a platform that makes it easier to launch and grow a business.

No matter where you are on your journey, Shopify fosters a culture that empowers individuals who are seeking independence in the form of starting their own business.

New articles in this series are posted every Sunday!

Sign up for your free trial of Shopify

a yellow box with the words shopify on it

I. Overview of Shopify 2.0

A couple of years ago, Shopify rolled out their Online Store 2.0 initiative.

Online Store 2.0 is a concept that aims to grant theme and app developers greater flexibility and more tools to create better Shopify websites for merchants, and thus a better shopping experience for merchants' customers.

One of the highlights of Online Store 2.0 is an upgraded theme architecture.

Shopify wants to make theme customization easier and more accessible for merchants, primarily by allowing developers to create JSON template files for every page on a storefront's website (as opposed to the old model where merchants could only add sections to the homepage).

In addition, app integration with themes is much more seamless now thanks to theme app extensions with app blocks.

In this article, I'm going to focus on the primary, free Shopify theme that was part of the Online Store 2.0 rollout: Dawn.

II. Key features of Dawn

a) Mobile-first design

Data shows that most of the traffic to Shopify store websites is through mobile devices.

To create webpages that are mobile-friendly in both design and functionality, web developers have to code in specifications for different-sized devices.

Usually, web developers start by developing web pages fit for desktops, and then go back and program mobile specifications.

However, Shopify's Dawn theme reversed the approach. Instead of focusing on desktop development first, Shopify started with the mobile design specifications.

As a result, Dawn is effectively engineered with mobile design principles at the forefront of development.

b) Performance optimization

Dawn is significantly faster than Shopify's default, free theme from before (Debut). It's about 35% faster than Debut to be exact.

More than just being a mere annoyance, slow websites can lead to high bounce rates. Data has consistently shown that people don't like waiting long for websites to load.

This means that your site's loading time can directly impact your sales. By improving your site's load time, you're increasing the probability of visitors choosing to continue browsing your site, and thus potentially deciding to purchase more from you.

Dawn's fast load time is primarily attributed to the method that Dawn uses to load templated content onto the webpage. Instead of trying to load all of a webpage's files and content at once, Dawn uses asynchronicity to prioritize loading the most important sections and content first. This asynchronous approach lets the web browser render the webpage much faster overall.

c) Customizable sections

Before Online Store 2.0, merchants only had the option of using sections to customize their website's homepage.

In Online Store 2.0, merchants can now freely customize every single page on their website using sections without any coding.

One of the most notable features of sections is the option for merchants to have cross-selling sections on product pages. These cross-selling sections recommend related products to customers, driving more sales.

d) Accessibility features

Related to design and functionality, Dawn is engineered to provide a better experience for those with visual impairments who use screen readers.

III. Setting up Dawn on your Shopify store

a) Installing the theme

When you create a new store on Shopify, Dawn is automatically installed onto your store's website!

b) Customizing the appearance

To show you how to use Dawn, I'm going to include some screenshots of me working on a test development store through my Shopify Partner account (this is not a live store).

First, log in to your Shopify Admin.

a screen shot of a web page

Next, click "Customize your online store" from the dashboard.

a screenshot of a web page

Then, click "Customize theme"

a screenshot of a webpage

Next, click "Customize"

a screen shot of a web page with a picture of a man sitting on a

Then, in the left sidebar, click the gear icon which opens the "Theme settings"

a screen shot of a web page with a picture of a man sitting on a

From here, you have access to a bunch of customization options for your website's design without any coding necessary.

a screen shot of a web page with an image of a man sitting on a

a screen shot of a web page with an image of a man sitting on a

If none of the built-in design tools help you achieve exactly what you want, you have the option of adding custom CSS code to edit the theme directly.

a screen shot of a web page with a picture of a man and a woman

c) Adding and organizing sections

To add sections to pages, click the sections icon in the left sidebar to navigate to Sections.

a screen shot of a web page with a picture of a man and a woman

Let's say I want to add some custom text to the homepage. I can do so by clicking the "Add section" button in the Template's image banner.

a screenshot of a web page with a picture of a man

As mentioned previously, with Dawn and Online Store 2.0, we can now also add sections to all pages on a Shopify website.

Let's try embedding blog posts to our Contact page.

First, click the Home page dropdown menu in the top bar.

Then, click "Pages"

a screenshot of a person sitting in a boat

Next, click "contact".

a computer screen with a picture of a man sitting in a boat

Then, click "Add section" for the Template.

a screenshot of a contact page with the contact button highlighted

Next, scroll and click the "Blog posts" section.

a screenshot of a web page with a picture of people

Now, I can load embedded blog posts from my business on the Contact page to hopefully lead customers to further support for any issues or inquiries.

a screen shot of a web page with a picture of a sewing machine

IV. Tips for maximizing Dawn's potential

a) Utilizing high-quality images

As always, make sure that you choose to upload images to your website that fit your brand's image.

In addition, make sure to include alt-text HTML tags to all of your images to improve website accessibility and your website's search engine ranking.

Finally, make sure that your image files are not too large so that they load faster, and consider using a content delivery network (CDN) to store and load your website's images to optimize loading speed.

b) Optimizing content for mobile users

As I stated before, Dawn is engineered as a mobile-first theme.

Although, it's up to you to continue to use mobile-friendly design principles when customizing your website.

Luckily, it's very easy to preview how your website looks on a mobile screen when customizing your Shopify theme and pages.

In the top bar of the theme editor, there's a button to preview how the website looks on a mobile device.

a screenshot of a contact page with the contact button highlighted

a screen shot of a website page

c) Regularly updating

Shopify is always releasing updates to all of their themes, including Dawn.

Just to give you an idea of how frequently Shopify updates its themes, Dawn was released only a couple of years ago and is already on Version 11 at the time of writing this article!

One important note when updating your theme is to make sure that the theme update didn't negatively effect any of your website's design or functionality, and make any necessary fixes if need be.

d) Contract/hire a Shopify Developer Partner

As a business owner, you may not have time to manage your Shopify website. Even to make customizations that don't require coding, working on your website takes valuable time.

And if you do want to directly edit your theme's code, then it makes even more sense to contract/hire a Shopify Developer Partner.

At the same time, you want to ensure that whoever you hire is not only knowledgeable and dependable, but that they also care about you and your business on a deeper level.

As someone extremely knowledgeable and passionate about web development, and also as someone who values ingenuity, I'm the perfect match for you and your business.

I'm not here to make a quick buck like a lot of other web developers. I do what I do because I find true joy in supporting others to follow/sustain their dreams by applying my skills and knowledge in a field that I'm passionate about.

If you want some more information about what I offer or you feel ready to start discussing a viable solution for your business, then please schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me.

There are absolutely 0 hidden fees and no pressure to sign a contract agreement. Take advantage of a completely risk-free consultation.

I'm here for everyone, no matter what stage of your journey that you're on.

Even if you don't currently own a business or a website, I can assist you during those very beginner stages of turning a concept or idea into a successful business.

V. Comparing Dawn to other Shopify themes

a) Advantages of Dawn

In my opinion, the greatest enhancement of Dawn is its speed. Fast page load times directly correlate with lower bounce rates. As stated before, a slow website can hinder your online sales.

Additionally, it's a great theme for new merchants as it's free and automatically installed in your store. Also, it's not too overcomplicated of a theme for those who are completely brand new to e-commerce as a whole.

Lastly, Dawn's method of loading templated content is incredibly developer-friendly, meaning that store developers can develop your store much faster.

b) Limitations of Dawn

Since Dawn is the current default Shopify theme, it's a "cookie-cutter" design. This means that if you choose to use Dawn, your website's design may not stand out from the crowd.

Additionally, Dawn is a general-purpose theme, meaning that it's not engineered with any specific industry in mind.

c) Considerations for choosing the right theme

When choosing a Shopify theme, there are a few important things to consider:

  • Your experience with e-commerce as a merchant

    • If you're entirely new to Shopify or e-commerce as a whole, then it may be beneficial to start with an easy-to-use theme like Dawn
  • The size of your business

    • If your business is highly profitable, then you may want to choose a theme that continues to drive your profitability by having your brand stick out

    • Alternatively, if you're a smaller business, it might be smarter to not invest as much money into your website's design and stick with a free theme like Dawn

  • The industry your business is in

    • Every industry has its standards and best practices when it comes to website development; for instance, what might be normal and beneficial for a business in the clothing industry may be entirely different from a business in the entertainment industry

VI. Conclusion

I hope that after reading this article, you've gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for Shopify's Online Store 2.0 and Dawn.

We covered the aim of Online Store 2.0, all of the key features and capabilities of Dawn, how to customize your Shopify site with Dawn, and some factors to consider when choosing a theme for your Shopify site.

Also, just as a reminder, if you want more information about the services I offer or you're ready to start discussing a viable solution for your business, make sure to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me.

If you have any lingering questions, then please make sure to drop a comment below.

Lastly, make sure to follow my newsletter so you never miss out on when I post new content!

Sign up for your free trial of Shopify

a woman in a white dress is looking at a cell phone

VII. Additional resources

a) Videos

b) Articles

c) Tools

Did you find this article valuable?

Support Sirus Salari by becoming a sponsor. Any amount is appreciated!