What’s the most important design element when choosing a WordPress theme?

This is an open question about web design: what is the most important thing for you when choosing a WordPress theme or a new design template for your website?

I was recently faced with having to choose a new WordPress theme for an online education project I was involved in. My task was to select a theme that would put content centre stage and allow viewers to get straight into the site.

As with most education projects, our budget was fairly minimal so we opted for a WordPress solution. I then set about trawling through premium WordPress themes. I must say, it’s quite a daunting task these days.

One of the consequences of an ever-increasing array of themes and options is that it becomes more difficult to find a correct fit. I like to think of this paradox as ‘the embarrassment of choice’.

To cut a long story short, the upshot of it all was that I ended up going with something very simple. In fact, the theme I chose is closer to an old school blog than anything else. The theme is called The Standard Theme and it was created by a company called 8bit.

The reason I went for this one really boils down to one thing: simplicity. What about you? What do you look for as standard features in WordPress themes? Let me know in the comments below.

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About the Author: Will Ellington

Originally from the UK, I currently live in Osaka, Japan, where I work in higher education. I’ve been a WordPress user since 2004 and have developed numerous projects with it over the years. Wpliving is a place to share things i've learnt along the way, and to explore innovations in WordPress too.


  1. Ok since nobody wants to bite, I’ll kick this off by saying that I buy a lot of premium WordPress themes for client work and as part of the spec process with clients I use a questionnaire (like most web designers). As part of that questionnaire, I always ask them to provide examples of existing websites that they’d like their design to aspire to.

    What I’ve noticed over time is that the majority of my clients tend to reference sites with a lot of white space and clear font treatment. I’m based in the UK by the way. The Guardian newspaper is a site that a lot of people refer to for example.

    I rarely see references to sites that are graphic intensive or designs that use elaborate animations (think jquery effects). So similar to your point that you found yourself falling back on simplicity and a design that’s tried and tested, I’d say that’s a general trend.

    Part of the reason behind that, I think, is that “general users” don’t have confidence in or don’t have experience with more feature rich designs. Also, there’s a sense and this usually comes up in the budget planning section of my questionnaire, that elaborate designs are going to cost the earth and take a lot longer to develop.

    So there are several things behind this fall back on “simplicity”: time, cost, efficiency and the sense that simple design is safe design.

    While I don’t necessarily agree with this, I do think it’s part of the economy of web design. It’s part of a system that perpetuates this model. It’s a repetition that designers and users buy into.

    The most fulfilling work for me are those projects that demand thinking outside the box. Projects that require research and experimentation. But those tend to come around once in a blue moon and when they do, it’s usually because the client has the financial wherewithal that allows for it.

    As for me, when I wouldn’t be able to reduce my choice to a single element of design. I think design is always a meeting point of multiple elements – structural; aesthetic; referential and experiential. Great design operates well on all those levels and others besides, at least that’s what I think. I’d be interested to hear what others think.

    Cool blog by the way. Good to see someone creating the time and space for reflection on this mad business.

    1. Wow! Thanks for such a thoughtful comment Craig. I really appreciate the insight. I think you’re absolutely right that it’s almost impossible to reduce design to a single element, but I suppose I was thinking in terms of tendencies.

      I asked the question precisely because I felt that there’s a tendency to fall back on simplicity, and I think you explain the reasons behind that tendency beautifully. So thanks again.

      Like you, I’d love to hear from other people too. Anyone else want to chime in on this? Feel free!

  2. WPLiving is one of my filters. Thanks for translating and pulling down and sharing your perspective out of the noise!

  3. I first noticed the Standard Theme some time ago on http://michaelhyatt.com/ and admired its clean design. That’s cool it’s responsive now.

    In my opinion the one design element I fall back on is minimalism. The web and our lives is so full of information, I believe the future demands minimalism. So in that light, here are my minimalist web design questions for approaching a new site:

    – What’s the largest font I can get away with here?
    – How can I use video to save space and increase engagement while getting the same message across?
    – Where are elements redundant? (Does every page need social media links, opt-in form, footer copyright, etc…)?
    – How can I say the same thing with 75% less words?
    – Can my graphics and art be minimized?
    – Is my site easily read on the phone?

    Functionality is the most important part of minimalism. Think about the design of the world’s 25th most popular website. Craigslist. It’s got white space and a limited feature set, but boy is it useful. That’s good design too.

    Think about #2 YouTube. It’s design is OK at best, but a video sharing platform like that is of immeasurable value to both the producer and content consumer.

    Good Design = Functionality/Minimalism

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