Reader survey: what do you look for in a WordPress theme?

I’ve been thinking about changing the theme of this blog.  But I realize that I have very little knowledge about blog design.  Some things I thought I might like:

  • A serif text font instead of the sans serif I use now;
  • A wider design that keeps the sidebar a little farther from the main text;
  • Something whose quote format doesn’t involve a giganto quotation mark.

But you are the people reading this, so your opinions matter more than mine!  Are serif fonts indeed more reasonable?  Is wider better or worse?  (I keep the browser window very wide, like a screen, but for all I know, maybe people use the aspect ratio of a piece of paper.)  Am I right that it’s completely unacceptable for only excerpts from the post to appear on the front page?

Feel free to suggest specific themes or general design principles.  I just want to be presentable!

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9 thoughts on “Reader survey: what do you look for in a WordPress theme?

  1. Width is one of my bugaboos – I don’t want to ever have to my head from side to side while reading down a given column of text. The width of the text in a random trade paperback or hardcover you pull off the shelf seems like a plausible guideline to me. (So, in particular, I’m a proponent of having the main column be fixed width instead of a percentage of the browser window.)

    My other bugaboo is font size – I have 41-year-old eyes, and I’ve been wearing glasses since I was approximately five years old, so occasionally young web designers will produce web pages that I find actively painful to read. Also, every once in a while people get the idea that white text on a dark background is a good idea; that’s even more likely to hurt my eyes (as in: cause actual physical pain). I don’t expect you to do either of those, though. (Though your current font size is at the small end of the range that doesn’t cause me problems, so please don’t make it any smaller.)

    A wider design overall sounds fine to me, though – I like margins, so having a bit more space on either side of the body would be great. But I like your current design just fine, too – it’s clean, it’s easy to read. (Though for width, it would would be nice if it continued to fit within the iPad’s native browser width in portrait mode, which I think is 768px? You fit there now with some amount of margin to spare, but there’s not a vast amount of space to play with.)

  2. Wider overall is fine, though for the main column of text here’s a typographic rule that says it shouldn’t have more than 70-80 characters.

    Some of the WordPress themes have a variable width main column, where its width is tied to width of the browser window, like the one that’s use here: This give the user some flexibility when reading; with the standard fixed width column the reader can’t view the page with both a large font size and a narrow browser window.

  3. Richard Séguin says:

    I find it tiring to read long articles or blog posts presented with a sans serif typeface, and it’s even much worse, as David noted, with white type on a black or colored background. There are serif typefaces specifically designed to work nicely with the low resolution of typical flat panels, but I don’t know what WordPress supports and I don’t know how well it would mix with inserted LaTeX code.

    Gowers’s Weblog uses a point size that is uncomfortably small for my eyes if the text is substantial in length, and I have to use an option on my browser for larger text.

    I do like the entire post to appear on the front page unless it is very long. I find Google+ to be especially irritating since I’m finding myself constantly clicking on “expand this post.”

    Recent comments should be expanded from 5 to 10. The Mathbabe website has no recent comments at all and that makes it difficult to visit the blog and follow the recent comment activity and probably hastens the end of discussion on recent posts as new ones come out.

  4. jenfns says:

    I like the new theme. I find the selection on WordPress to be a little overwhelming, to be honest, so nice job!

  5. rmb says:

    I think you have too much white space to the left. I also think the “Recent comments” box should be in a more convenient place (where it was before).

    But my main opinion about blog design is that comments should not be threaded (as threaded comments encourage fragmentation of the conversation). Though I suppose it doesn’t matter much when most posts get under 20 comments total…

  6. JSE says:

    I think rmb has a good point about threading; it’s sort of a default setting, but the blogs whose comment sections I like best don’t use it. So I’ve turned it off and let’s see how it goes!

  7. Nothing like Oswald to refresh one’s appreciation for Helvetica. Blech!

  8. Dhruv Patel says:

    So have you changed the theme yet or not? Anyway, this theme is great now. You just need to make your font bigger so that it will be more easily readable.

  9. JSE says:

    Yep, this is the new theme. I agree the default text size is too small; I can’t change the default, but you can change it in your browser and the preference will stick when you return to the site.

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