Responsive Design: Does Your WordPress Site Really Need It?

Responsive Design - A theme that adapts to all devices

Responsive design in WordPress themes is becoming more and more popular these days with the proliferation of mobile devices. Theme designers and web developers alike are getting on the band-wagon and responding (no pun intended) to the demand. As a result, many popular premium theme sellers are increasing their selection of responsive designs. More and more freebies are also offering responsive design.

But, there is question that needs to be answered before you consider installing and using a responsive theme on your WordPress site or blog:

Do you really need a responsive design theme?

More to the point: will a responsive theme, along with its advantages and disadvantages, enhance your users’ experience, entice them to participate in your community, or get you more sign-ups or conversions? Then again, as an alternative to a responsive theme, you may want to consider mobile app(s) for your site instead.

How to determine what’s best for you? Consider the following basic questions:

  • What is your niche market?
  • Who is your target audience?

If you’re a local contractor, and your niche market is domestic landscaping services, you likely don’t need either a responsive theme or a mobile app. Your consumer base will most likely be searching for you from their home computer. That could be their desktop, a laptop or a tablet device. Simply limiting your site’s width to a maximum of 960 pixels should therefore ensure that your content displays just fine for that niche market.

However, if you’re running a community site for a kid’s soccer league, you’re probably targeting the parents. I would imagine they would want to be able to easily share photos of their kid’s exploits on the field. Those pictures will more than likely be taken with their hand-held devices. So, in this scenario, a neat custom-made app allowing the parents to instantly upload and comment on photos would perhaps be a more appropriate option for you.

Another scenario comes to mind where both a responsive theme and mobile apps would seem appropriate: a music festival and/or concert site. Users could surf your site from home, work, the café, a plane or a train to find activities in their area. A responsive theme for tablets and Android devices, and neat apps for geo-location and seat reservation features would be a definite plus.

So, before you too simply jump on the responsive design band-wagon just because “everybody” is doing it, pause and consider your niche market and target audience.

  • Will your choice help make your users’ experience more enjoyable?
  • Will it make using your site’s features easier or more practical?
  • Will it encourage users to come back and use your site again?

To help get you going once you’ve made your decision, here’s a handy list of theme and app providers. If you know of other providers, or want to share some insight into responsive design themes and/or mobile apps, please, get into the discussion below.

Free responsive themes

Here are a couple of great lists for free WordPress themes with responsive designs:
http://premium.wpmudev.org/blog/16-beautiful-and-free-responsive-wordpress-themes/
http://www.splashnology.com/article/20-free-responsive-wordpress-themes/3973/
Plus a couple more from the WordPress repo:
Responsive
Response

Mobile app creators

Native Apps Builder
ShoutEm API
Go ahead and search Google for more. There’s a whole bunch of them out there!

Photo credit: Babushka

Comments (7)

  1. Finally, somebody puts it all into plain English.

    I like to use responsive themes for all my sites, as this allows me to show the site as normal on a desktop/laptop, but also place it within a Facebook page, which is restricted to 800px, and not do any extra work.

    A little sideline story on this now, are we all sitting comfortable? :)

    WooThemes seem to be making all of their themes responsive now, and transferring many of their previous themes to be responsive, the latest of which being the Canvas theme (the latest incarnation being Canvas 5).

    iThemes refuse to make any of their themes responsive, saying there is no need for it at all and they won’t be doing it. This according to a forum response to the question.

    Here are two companies who are considered among the top WP theme companies, but both with opposite thoughts on the subject. Of course, I’ll be continuing my membership at WooThemes and not at iThemes due to this, but others may feel differently.

    I see responsive themes as the way forward. You may have a target audience, but you never know what that audience is going to do. They may be at home the majority of the time, but what about the rest of the time? Also, what about in 12 months time? Surely it is best to go responsive, and be prepared for the changes to your demographic.

    On a final note, it is surprising how many BuddyPress premium themes are using comments such as ‘one of the first responsive themes for BuddyPress’. Of course, they forget to mention that the default BuddyPress theme is responsive, as is the default WordPress theme.

    There, I’ll stop now, as it’s never good when the comment starts to look the size of a post :)

    • @Joe

      You may have a target audience, but you never know what that audience is going to do.

      I wrote this little post simply to provoke reflection on the subject. But I do agree that with the proliferation – and growing popularity – of mobile devices, responsive design is the way to go.

      I find it very odd that iThemes refuse to make available any responsive versions of their current themes. Perhaps their designers are simply not up-to-date on the design principles and don’t want to be bothered. Their refusal to respond to market demand in this area, and customers not renewing their membership, sounds like the first tolling of the bells of their impending doom.

      BTW, there is a brilliant and free responsive theme called iTheme2 by Themify… it has nothing to do with iThemes :o) http://themify.me/themes/itheme2

  2. RUDE CONCLUSION:

    Let me tell you what you actually do with your site when you make it responsive.You make it hard for your readers to find things on your site.You make them search for the stuff which once used to be in your sidebar (as the responsive design dislocates the sidebar) .Users who are already quite bad at finding things on their own leave your site at the very moment, increasing the bounce rate, you start loosing your site’s worth in most cases.This is the reason why most of the sites like NYtimes , etc are not following this latest trend. A user can zoom into your site as this is what he/she has to do in 90% cases while browsing, but when on your site he remains unable to find something he/she thinks that this may be the mobile version of your site with less features ! In turn you start losing those mobile readers too.

    What I do?

    I call myself an Experi-mental :) (I hope some of you will understand what I meant) , so what I do is to experiment things.One of my blogs is responsive all others are not.Still eyeing over the analytics to switch over this new trend or not.In the end of the day decision is yours.

    I wrote about it here =>http://freakify.com/2012/06/responsive-design-yes-or-no-decision-is-yours/

    • @Ahmad
      Thanks for your reply! I was hoping someone would come along and point out one of the disadvantages of responsive themes that I had hinted at in the post.

      You are quite right in stating that users (especially the inexperienced or less tech-savvy) may get discouraged when experiencing differences in layout depending on the devices used. This could lead to loss of current memberships or potential sign-ups. Site owners may also be responding to an increasing number of support tickets or help requests in their forums (if they have them on their sites). Providing a prominent link to some help pages may help to alleviate that.

      It should be noted though that the more experienced users of portable devices would already be aware of these notable differences in layout and, I would suspect, have even come to expect them.

      It must also be pointed out that this type of disadvantage would be a temporary situation, as the trend in web browsing is expanding inevitably more into portability. Consequently, with the current design trends in responsive themes, the inexperienced will be more and more exposed to such differences and will, through trial and error at the very least, learn to adapt.

      One possible solution to this very situation is one I’m experimenting with for my current project: kwitterz.com (an addiction recovery help network). The sidebar contains information that can be deemed “handy” rather than “essential”: logged-in member info, friend connections/suggestions, etc. Having it bumped below the main content area on smaller devices is no biggie. The important stuff (internal messaging and other private content), is accessible at all times via a horizontally sliding panel set to a fixed width that fits even the smallest of popular portables. The placement of important information, and stuff that is used most often, will thus be always the same from device to device; from desktops to phones.

  3. @Ahmad, those are good points and I’d be interested in knowing what you discover from your research.

    Another solution to this, would be to have less information on the home page, so the sidebars won’t appear to far down. Maybe have your latest post on the home page, and then a link to further posts, categories, etc.

    In the end, it comes down to personal choice, as it does with everything. Doing the research makes this personal choice much easier to make.

Participate