David Morgan

WordPress Theme Designer & Developer, Brand Builder, Surfer Dude

Is A Responsive WordPress Theme Necessary?

Responsive is the latest buzz word in the web world, and most people using the word have no clue what it means. It’s being perpetuated as the next great thing in web design. While responsive layouts have their place, I’m not convinced it’s a great solution for every WordPress theme. The trend might last a couple years, a better solution will evolve, and people will decide they don’t want 5 different layouts for the same site.

For those that don’t know, a responsive site and/or WordPress theme uses CSS3 media queries to scale and/or change the layout for a variety of screen resolutions — typically used for mobile devices such as tablets and phones. If you still don’t understand, it’s probably because you don’t need a responsive layout. In fact, most people don’t. Any typical WordPress theme can already be viewed on mobile devices. So, why make it responsive? Basically, to save viewers the extreme hassle of zooming in with their fingers. That’s great, but here are my concerns:

Development Is A Pain In The Ass

Creating a responsive WordPress theme requires triple the work to develop. It’s like designing several sites in one. Each new layout presents a new set of problems.

It’s Not Worth It

I’m not opposed to more work if it significantly improves the design and functionality of a theme. However, once most people realize that a responsive theme changes layout for smaller screen sizes, they don’t want the feature. They just want their site to appear “normally” on their phone or tablet.

It Decreases Site Functionality

Responsive layouts often don’t allow users to view the sidebar, full navigation and additional content areas. Many responsive layouts disable the ability to zoom using mobile devices.

There’s No Easy Kill Switch

Responsive layouts usually aren’t easily disabled from the user end. It requires manually deleting code. This poses an issue when creating a responsive theme for the masses. Requiring customers to edit code to remove an unwanted feature is less than ideal.

Mobile Devices Are Getting Better

In a couple years mobile devices may have evolved past the need for responsive layouts. Look at the new iPad — there’s no reason to create a responsive web layout for the latest version of the iPad.

The Tools Are Still Evolving

As the devices evolve, so will the tools. Currently, there are no standards for creating a responsive layout. The best tools available still aren’t quite up to par. Responsive layouts make sense to implement on an individual level for the sites and people that want a mobile solution, but I don’t think it’s ready for masses.

So, where does that leave us?

Responsive layouts have their place. I’m not opposed to having websites adapt to mobile devices. It’s a great feature for some WordPress themes and websites. As devices and the tools for creating responsive websites evolve, it may become a more viable solution for WordPress themes on a mass scale, but in it’s current state it still presents problems. In my opinion, adding responsive layouts to a site or theme is more appropriate for independent contractors, freelancers and theme customizers for the cases in which a responsive layout is truly necessary or desired.

That being said, I have designed and developed several responsive WordPress themes; the Structure Theme, Verbage Theme, Business Theme and Shop Theme. My position comes from the abundance of theme customers I have encountered that wish to have the responsive capabilities removed. I think the people waving the responsive flag are still outnumbered by the people that just want their website to display “normally” on a mobile device because a responsive layout does not offer them any real benefit.

2 Comments on “Is A Responsive WordPress Theme Necessary?”

  1. Thanks! I agree. I always thought Mobile friendly sites meant that it worked on mobile phones. I don’t really see a need to develop an entire new site just so users don’t have to zoom in on their smart phones.

  2. This is one of the few articles to take a contrary view on the topic of responsive themes. For those like me that use a theme, but don’t want to spend a lot of time on the topic, one is often lead to believe that your site must have a responsive theme or your site will be left out in the cold. However, while some sites probably live or die on being responsive — say Google Maps, most others do not. Secondly, phone screens are getting bigger, and that reduces the need for responsiveness.

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