Remember when computer displays were limited to 1024 by 768 pixels, and you were happy to have it? Back in those days, designing websites was fairly straightforward, because there were so few tools – and so little space – available for readers. By default, fonts had to be enormous, because there were so few pixels per square inch. Nowadays, web designers still have to contend with those smaller resolutions on mobile devices, while simultaneously creating for much higher resolutions.
Traditionally, websites have used different layouts and stylesheets for different displays – one for desktop or laptop monitors, and the other for mobile devices. However, in recent years, the lines between these two displays have been blurred. Smartphones and iPods have higher resolutions, and with the increasing popularity of tablets, web designers have been faced with a plethora of design demands. The days of one or two standard screen sizes are over.
One way to accommodate these new technologies is to create different stylesheets for a variety of different displays. This is a great way to turn a webmaster’s hair prematurely grey. Another approach is to ignore the problem and assume that your readers will labour to read your website, by zooming in and out and panning around. In other words, don’t count on being able to reach the mobile market.
Recently, a number of web designers have responded to the problem by creating a third way – WordPress themes that are “responsive,” because they respond to different screen sizes. These themes are built to resize, realign, and collapse certain components to accommodate different screen sizes. Responsive WordPress themes are often elegant and minimalist – unlike their more ornate, non-responsive cousins – but they make up in functionality what they lack in ornamentation.
Should your website use a responsive theme? It depends on your audience and the purpose of your website. Here are some important questions that you should ask when thinking about responsive themes for WordPress:
- Are people likely to browse your website using a cell phone or tablet?
- Does your website privilege text over images?
- Is your current site layout unable to accommodate lower resolutions?
If the answer to these questions is yes, then a responsive theme for WordPress will make it easier for your readers to access your content. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of excellent responsive designs for WordPress. These include:
My personal favourite is the simply named Responsive Theme for WordPress, which is extremely flexible and easy to customize. There’s a good reason why it’s the third most-downloaded theme from the WordPress.org Themes Directory. How can you tell what these themes will look like on a mobile device? Easy – just resize the window on your computer to different sizes.