To say that user experience is an important factor in responsive theme design is like saying human safety is important to the production of car seatbelts.
In other words, it’s the very reason it exists and the top concern that should influence every design decision.
Of course, that begins with the fundamentals of responsive design, including grids, breakpoints, and other features that allow themes to rearrange themselves depending on the screen size and orientation of the user’s device.
Yet it also goes much further. After all, a WordPress theme that changes its layout when viewed on a mobile but becomes cluttered or difficult to navigate will only have visitors scrambling for their back button.
In this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into the vital role of user-focused design in responsive website themes.
What is User Experience, and Why Does it Matter?
User Experience (often abbreviated to UX) is a term we use to describe all aspects of a visitor’s interaction and engagement with your website.
Whether you’re running an eCommerce company, generating leads for your service-based business, or simply trying to build an audience for your blog, the ultimate goal of any website is going to be the same:
Make visitors happy so that they feel compelled to take whatever action you want them to take, be it purchasing a product, joining your email list, or requesting further information.
To do that, you need to make sure every interaction is a positive one.
After all, engaging with a website should be an efficient and enjoyable experience that allows visitors to get what they want effortlessly.
Article Continues Below
All this is precisely what UX design aims to achieve.
The Role of UX Design in Responsive Themes
The primary role of UX design in responsive themes is to ensure consistency.
No matter whether a user accesses a site on a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, and no matter whether they view that site in portrait or landscape mode, the theme should be able to adapt to their screen size and still deliver the same flawless experience.
A website visitor accessing the site on a smaller iPhone screen shouldn’t encounter any of the problems that so often occur in poorly designed responsive themes, such as images that hide important text content, interactive elements that don’t work, pages that require excessive scrolling or zooming in and out to find something.
Instead, that iPhone user should still be able to navigate to the information, products, or features they need with the same intuitive ease they’d enjoy while browsing on a desktop device.
User Experience Considerations for Responsive Theme Design
The most effective responsive themes are those that successfully align the goals of the website with the needs of the visitor, achieving the former by meeting the latter.
This all begins with a deep understanding of the industry, business type, and niche that the theme is designed to serve. This includes gathering valuable insights into the site’s intended audience.
After all, business goals and customer needs vary significantly from industry to industry.
For example, a business owner’s primary objective in eCommerce is to sell as many products as possible. They’re in a better position to achieve that objective by providing accessible and enjoyable shopping experiences, finding the exact products they want with no trouble, and breezing their way through the checkout process with zero complications, regardless of the device they’re using.
Those needs are entirely different from the needs of a small business owner visiting the website of a marketing consultant to hire their services.
As such, building any theme has to begin by asking critical questions about the intended end-user.
To put it another way:
Who are these people, and what do they want?
How Visitor Needs Impact Design: An Example
All of this matters more than you might think.
For example, suppose a website is designed to generate leads and new policy sales for a life insurance company. In that case, it’s reasonably safe to assume that a significant percentage of its audience will be more mature in years.
There’s also a reasonable probability that this older audience is more likely to have visual impairments or other issues that impact their ability to use the website, which, in turn, would affect the kind of accessibility decisions made by the designer in terms of color palette, typography, and layout.
Other Fundamental Priorities for Designing Responsive Themes with Good UX
1. Design Consistency
We’ve already said that good UX should deliver consistently intuitive experiences across all devices, but it’s important to note the vast extent to which this applies to building responsive themes.
First, design elements such as color choices, fonts, and visual content should remain consistent on all devices, as this can instill trust and reassurance in visitors.
After all, it’s not uncommon for users to access the sites they regularly use on different devices depending on their current environment, say a desktop computer at work and their Android phone at home in the evening.
If a website’s overall aesthetic is vastly different from one platform to the next, it’s within the realm of possibility that a user could assume they’ve landed in the wrong place or accidentally accessed a fake site set up by scammers.
2. Consistency in Features and Functionality
More important than retaining a consistent aesthetic, responsive themes should ensure that the same features are accessible on all screen sizes and orientations.
If a user can fill in a form, purchase a product, or use a tool on a desktop, they should also be able to do so on a smartphone without overall functionality being compromised.
3. Designing for Touchscreens
Long gone are the days when the only way to interact with a website was to use an awkward-shaped mouse tethered to a desktop computer.
These days, more and more people are using touchscreens on their phones and tablets, which means using their fingers or a stylus to interact with sites.As such, responsive theme design needs to consider this by adding touch-friendly features such as larger targets on the Call to Action buttons.
4. Prioritizing the Most Important Content
Maintaining a consistent content hierarchy is essential for creating optimum user experiences that help businesses to achieve their goals.
The most crucial information or feature of any given page should always load first, with the next most important coming directly afterward, and so on until the user has everything they need from that page.
For an eCommerce product page, for example, that would mean an accurate product title, pricing, a summary of key features and benefits, and an add-to-cart button should always be at the top of the page, with additional supporting content such as customer reviews and expanded product descriptions coming later down the page.
This reduces the time it takes customers to make an informed purchasing decision, providing them with the kind of positive experience that is likely to result in a sale.
The Benefits of Providing Optimum User Experiences in Responsive WordPress Themes
If you’ve read all of the above, you should have a good idea of why quality user experiences are so important to responsive theme design.
When a user lands on a website that looks good and is easy to use, they’re more likely to stick around and even return, developing the kind of long-term loyalty that can lead to higher engagement and more conversions.
This provides a welcome boost to the website owner’s business and, as such, means that they’re likely to trust the developer they bought the theme from and come back to them when it’s time to create a new website.
Still, it’s not just what happens on the screen when a user lands on a website that is impacted by user design. It’s also the very process of getting those users to the website in the first place.
Although it’s an often overlooked factor, usability plays a crucial role in effective Search Engine Optimization.
Google likes websites that offer excellent user experiences on all devices, giving a higher priority to mobile-friendly sites in search results. Google also really likes sites that load quickly, especially on mobile devices. Designing responsive themes using clean, minimalist code, in-built lazy loading, and as few HTTP requests as possible can all improve site performance, leading to satisfied users, lower bounce rates, and the potential for a boost in SERP (Search Engine Result Page) ranking.
The Importance of User Experience and Design in Responsive Themes: Our Final Thoughts
In this guide, you’ve seen how maintaining consistently positive experiences across multiple devices benefits website owners and end users.
You’ve also learned some critical factors to consider in user-focused design, such as prioritizing content hierarchies, designing for touchscreen users, and maintaining consistency in aesthetics and functionality.
If there’s one last thing we’d like you to take away today, it’s this:
Test, test, and test again.
You may have a theme that you’re convinced makes a site easy to navigate and use on all devices, but just because you have no problems with that site doesn’t mean nobody else will.
That’s why testing the responsiveness of your WordPress theme matters, as does inviting others to give it a trial run, noting any hiccups they encounter along the way, and refining that design until it’s flawless.
Don’t just do this once, either.
As new technology emerges and expands the capabilities that themes can offer, and as new devices emerge with different screen sizes, you may find that your once-perfect theme is no longer capable of meeting the needs of modern users.
With that in mind, it pays to stay abreast of any new developments that may affect the usability of your theme and run regular tests to ensure it still provides maximum value to both site owners and users alike.
For examples of WordPress themes that deliver optimum user experiences, see our guide to this year’s best responsive themes.