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Designing responsive themes is surprisingly challenging the first time you try, but it does get easier once you get used to thinking in responsive terms. I think this has a lot to do with how we are used to design web sites. In the past, the only constraint we needed to think about was how wide the smallest computer screen was going to be, and generally, if you landed somewhere around the 960 mark, you were fine. So we were safe in designing sites that were always fixed width to 960 pixels, and they are also very easy to design.
But now that we have all these different sizes of screens, we have to rejig how we think about the design approach to get to where we need to be. What you're seeing here is the original design concept for the Anaximander theme. This is what I made in Photoshop. And what I did was I started with the smallest possible screen, the cell phone screen, and then I decided to scale it up from there. There are many reasons why you want to go this route, starting with mobile first, but the primary one is that by starting with mobile first, you end up paring down the site to only what really matters.
You'll notice that there are no sidebars here. There are no ads. There's no extra clutter. All you see is the main information. This layout is the front page and as you can see, it has an index where each of the stories are contained inside a box. So you see here is one box, you have a Read More button, and then you have the Next Box. And in each story you start off with an image and then the text. I did this because I know from experience that on index pages people really like to click on the images, so I want the image to be upfront.
When you go to the single view of the story, you see that the layout is slightly different. There's a larger header text and the meta-content and the header text appears before the featured image, so the featured image is down here, along with the context. Once I had a clear idea of what the site was going to look like on a mobile device, I could scale my design up to fit larger screens. So what I did was I took this design and I simply changed the width of the total area.
What I ended up with, after some work, was this. This, again, is the index page, and as you can see, one of the things I did was move the menu from under here, to up here on the right, simply to fill out the space, so it didn't look so empty. I also included a masonry layout for the index page so that each of the stories is stacking next to one another. That way I'd have room for more stories on a single page than you would if you stack them horizontally. And I would also solve that problem of the sidebar, because normally you would fill in the space with a sidebar because otherwise, your text lines will be too long.
But I didn't want to have a sidebar, because then I'd have to hide it for the mobile side, so I ended up replacing the sidebar with the masonry layout instead. When you go to the single view, you see that I solved the same problem by moving the title and meta information to the left and then leaving the content itself on the right. This isn't the design I really came up with. I've seen this a lot in books that are printed on large pages. To make sure that the single lines of text aren't too long and have too many words in them, the layout person and the publisher has chosen to leave a very large gutter on either the left or the right side, and then they often put something like the title for the chapter in that gutter to take up the space.
This allows me to provide both the title and all the meta information and the content on the same line and takes the way they need to scroll immediately after landing on the page. Once I have these two different layouts-- the small screen and the large screen-- it was very easy to figure out what I was going to do with the middle cases, the in-between screens. Because now that I have a style guide to go with which says the title either goes on the left or on the top, I could simply say that once the screen gets too small to fit these side by side, I'll simply shift all these information on the top, and it will look just like the phone.
And this is what it ended up looking like. This is the live version of Anaximander running on my blog. And as you can see, it looks almost identical to my mockup. That's not because the mockup is a screen grab of what you're seeing here, but because I was able to match the site almost perfectly to the mockups, by using the mockups as a blueprint. This is the front page with the index, and I can see here we have the masonry index with the Read More buttons on the bottom, and the stories line up next to one another so we get lots of stories on a very small page.
And if I go to a single post, you see that here we have the title on the left and the content on the right. And as you can see, just when you land on the page, you can already start reading or ingesting what's here without having to scroll much. And if we scale this window down, you'll see that once we reach that point where the content is bigger than the window, instead of flexibly altering the size, I decided a new breakpoint, so it jumps into a new breakpoint.
And then when we scale pass that breakpoint, the content is realigned and we now have the mobile layout, although it's much bigger. So we can continue scaling it down until we hit that mobile point. The result of this preparation where I first design for mobile, then for the full-size screen, and then figured out how to handle all the content is that I now have a site that's consistently attractive and easy to ingest.
No matter what screen size people use or what window size they use or what device they use, they'll always get straight to the content and get what they're looking for. Designing responsive themes has more to do with how you think than how you design. Once you get into the habit of thinking content first and designing for the smaller screens first and taking away all the extra clutter you would normally put into your site, you end up with a much better layout that's easier to ingest for the people who visit your site, and that communicates the message better.
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