It’s time to wake up and realize the facts as they are laid out for you every time to visit this site: The current design is going stale. It’s nothing wrong with it, but when you’re looking at the same thing all the time1, even the most exciting things will eventually start to feel boring and mundane. The current design, a somewhat modified version of North by Okay Themes, has been with us for almost two years now. With a design rotation of roughly one year, an overhaul is long overdue.
I’ve been searching the internet for a new WordPress theme for the good part of the last four months, and it’s proven very hard to find the right theme. I’m looking at both free and “premium” themes, and I’ve paid for the two previous themes I used. But the price has been increasing steadily since I purchased North, and a premium theme will now typically set me back somewhere in between $38 and $68. I guess I could sit down and create a theme myself, I’ve done that before, but it usually turns in to a massive time sink. With that in mind, $68 is a relatively small amount to pay for something that will last for at least a year and save me weeks of intense fiddling to get everything to look right in every major browser.
The theme I’m looking for has to be responsive, contain a footer and a right-hand sidebar, or, at least make it easy to move a left-hand sidebar to the right of the main content. But perhaps more important than what the theme has to be, is what it must not be.
Feature lock in
Some designers love to load their work with special features, like theme-specific image sliders. Great stuff if you plan to use the same theme until your site goes offline for good, but a terrible thing if you, like me, enjoy to change it up every now and then. Moving your site to a new theme without the theme-specific feature you might have used on all of your posts may be a pain in the ass. So, designers, if you’re planning something special for your theme, at least make sure it’s available as a stand-alone plugin so it can be used by other themes as well.
Mobile menu in desktop view
I love responsive design. A responsive web site looks more or less the same on any screen, no matter the screen size, and it’s not that much work to make a site responsive either. Before responsive design was a thing, we had to make separate versions of each site for both desktops and mobile devices. It was a nightmare. Now only a few elements are usually changed when you look at a site on a small screen vs a large screen. A wide menu is condensed into a drop-down instead and sidebars are moved down below the main content. Stuff like that. The problem is that some designers now think that UI elements that work well on mobile, also work well on desktop. This is not true. Take the condensed menu, for instance. What’s the point of hiding the menu behind an extra click when we have all the screen estate in the world to play around with? Prollective is a great example on how not to create a desktop menu. The menu button is placed in the top-right corner of the screen. I have to click the menu, then select an option. Why not show the entire menu all the time? There’s plenty of room on my screen for it.
Fuck infinite scrolling. Fuck everything about it. It’s the dumbest idea since the atom bomb. So, I scrolled down that infinite scrolling list of yours for five minutes looking for something, clicked a link, then pressed the back button. And now I’m at the top of your damn infinite scrolling list again. Why not use pagination? It’s been around for ages. Do you know why it’s been around for ages? Because it works. I can click a link can press the back button and return to the same location in the list as I was before I clicked the link. I can also send a friend a link to the a certain page in a paginated list. In short: Infinite scrolling? Bad. Pagination? Good.
Heavy photography focus
Many designers tend to have the impression that everyone who creates anything on the internet is also a professional photographer. While some of them are, most of us are not. Still, many themes are created in such a way that you have to provide a featured image on every post, or the theme completely falls apart visually. There’s nothing wrong with a featured image, but please don’t force me to search the internet for a topical image with the right license every single time I want to post something.
The “loading”-animation is another visual element that works great in some contexts, but it has for some reason found its way out of those contexts and now it’s hurling all over the place. By the “loading”-animation I mean some sort of animation that is telling the user that something is happening. A well known example is the loading spinner. When you want to show the user that a part of a webpage is loading, for instance the images in a gallery, it’s great. But for some moronic reason, the loading spinner and variations of it, is now being used to block user access to a page until the entire page is loaded. This is a bad idea for at least two reasons. First of all, we already have this visual feedback in all modern browsers. The browser will tell you if a page is loading or not with an icon on top of the page’s tab. Second, since the loading spinner is blocking the entire page, the user is unable to interact with any page elements that might be finished loading long before the rest of the page is done and the loading spinner finally disappears. Ithaka is a theme that uses a loading spinner in this way.
So far, my hunt has taken me to pretty much every WordPress theme resource I can find on the internet. Still no luck, but one day I’m sure you’ll be greeted by a brand new design when you visit this site.
Quick update: I just found LUISA, a theme that exemplifies every single one of my points above, except for maybe feature lock in, which I haven’t dug into. It has a mobile menu in desktop view, infinite scrolling, very heavy photography focus, a blocking loading spinner and so much animation you run the risk of having an epileptic seizure. Wow.
I am, without doubt, the one who looks at the site most often. If I redesign when I don’t think it feels fresh anymore, I’ll get a new design online before any of you start to yawn as well. ↩︎