6 Important Design Characteristics of a WordPress Theme

If you are new to WordPress, it’s hard to know what you should be looking for in a theme. This post will explain which design characteristics you should prioritize for the best fit.

1). Site Title and Tagline Size

Some themes have giant, centered site titles with a lot of empty space around them or a huge image behind them that may take up your whole screen. Other themes have a tiny site title in a top corner with smaller text than the blog post titles. Your site title is an important part of your branding, so think about how visible you want it to be.

Most themes have an option to show or hide the tagline, but some themes don’t show it at all, so watch out for that if showing your tagline is important to you.

If you like everything else about a theme, you can usually replace the text site title and tagline with a header image that includes them as part of a picture. However, this image will be shrunk to device width on smaller screens (such as phones), so the image alternative works best for sites with short names, and header images with large type.

2). Menu Location

Themes will have one or more navigation menu locations built-in. Some typical locations are horizontal bars at the very top of your site (topbar), or below the header image, or a vertical menu in the footer. You can create one or more navigation menus and assign them to these locations.

If it isn’t obvious what your site is about from the title, it may be important to have your menu immediately visible when visitors land on your home page. If you have a large menu with many items, you may want to avoid themes that place the menu next to the site title, as this arrangement often looks awkward if the menu wraps to a second line.

However, everything doesn’t have to be on the same menu. Even if your theme only has one menu location, you can always put a custom menu widget into a sidebar or footer.

If you have submenu items, check how the submenus look before you commit to a theme. Some themes handle submenus more gracefully than others.

3). Layout

Layout can be one of the most confusing elements when looking at themes. The screenshot of the theme in the WordPress repository is often of a special front page template which you may or may not want to use on your website, so it can be really hard to judge a theme from that single image.

Think about whether where you want your menu(s) located, how large you want your header area to be, how many sidebars you want, which side you want them on, whether you want them fixed, and whether you want footer widgets. It is easiest to work with a theme that already offers the underlying structure you are looking for. Watch out for “lite” themes that offer the layout options you want only in the “pro” version.

4). Fonts

New WordPress users often expect fonts on their website to work like fonts in a word processor document – just highlight the text, and choose a font. HTML works in a very different way, however, and can be much more complex to customize. Font customization plugins may only allow you to change the text in certain areas of your site.

If selecting your own fonts is important to you, it is best to choose a theme that has this option built in. Check it out thoroughly. Many themes that advertise font options may have a very limited set of fonts available, or only allow you to change the fonts of one or two sections, such as body or heading text.

5). Ignore the Photos!

Theme screenshots often include gorgeous images. Visual people are especially susceptible to being so wowed by these images that they think they want that theme (when really, they just want that image). Try to ignore the images and look at the characteristics already discussed above.

6). Responsiveness

Last, but perhaps most importantly, you should only consider “responsive” themes, which automatically detect the dimensions and orientation of a viewer’s device, and rearrange your content to look good.

These tips will help you to identify themes that match your design vision for your website. However, appearance is only one aspect of theme choice. Be sure to read Is This the Right WordPress Theme for Me? for more tips on how to choose a well-built, secure theme with good support and longevity.

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