Top Five Responsive Starter Themes for WordPress

I’ve used many different starter themes for WordPress, starting with Chris Coyier’s BLANK Theme back in the day, which is what this theme was originally built around. The BLANK theme is now over three years old, with deprecated functions and old tags, so it was time for me to move on. I tried many different starter themes, but the five below are the ones that I liked the best and used the most.

Give them a try and see what you think for yourself.

5. Minimable – by Fedeweb

This isn’t so much a starter theme as it is a theme that’s good to start with and rip apart to suit your needs. It’s a one-page theme, so there are a lot of options and content editors to customize. While there’s no parallax, it does have the standard click and auto-scroll functionality a lot of folks are using these days. Another thing to note…it’s built on Bootstrap.

Pros – Great for tossing up a responsive one-page site, plug and play allows for quickly getting a site up, and nice animations.

Cons – Have to rip out things you don’t want if it doesn’t quite suit you, not all that flexible in templating (from what I saw), they are releasing a “premium” version, so the free version may fall to the wayside when it comes to support.


4. Skeleton – by Simple Themes

This is a theme that has definitely improved over the years. The initial commit was in 2011 and things have improved greatly since then. With shortcodes for ALL THE THINGS and a solid base with the Skeleton boilerplate, it is essentially a light-weight Bootstrap without the whole “customization” process. Easy to tweak to meet your needs.

Skeleton2 is in the works, so this may be one to keep in mind, but not get to thrilled about quite yet. No specs quite yet on v2, but I’d look for it to be fairly different.

Pros – Awesome for using shortcodes to help create extra responsiveness inside posts and pages, well-kept, JigoShop-ready, based off of the awesome HTML5 boilerplate, hooks for theming.

Cons – Skeleton2 is on the horizon, so support may be limited, forum is currently closed because of an influx of spam, can go a bit crazy with the shortcodes.


3. Bootstrap-based – by @mdo and @fat

It’s one of the more famous frameworks out there because it has so many options. Currently on v2.3.2, the Bootstrap guys have really put together some great stuff, but how much is too much? Thankfully for you, if you’re basing your new theme of of just Bootstrap, you can customize to your hearts content. Be warned it is styled with LESS. It takes a tiny bit of setup to make it a WordPress theme, but with all the capabilities that you are then given, you may find that it is worth it. Either that or you can attempt to wade through the themes that are out there built on Bootstrap. Those include:

Pros – Lots of options, while the starter themes may not have documentation on it, the Bootstrap site itself gives a lot of support on working with Bootstrap.

Cons – No really good “starter” all leave something to be desired, or do things in a way you don’t necessarily need. Generally easier to create your own, although there are claimed to be over 50 readily available Bootstrap Themes.


2. Foundation-based – by Zurb

The popular Foundation framework is at the center of this type of starter. Running with a solid base that is mobile-first, with options on options to choose from, this is my favorite overall framework and I feel at least several people would agree. I like it because it is one of the few frameworks built using SCSS, which is what I use (nothing against LESS, just like Sass better). Another great feature is all of the pre-built HTML templates in the “Add-ons” section. Using the pre-made templates, you could quickly see the value in converting Foundation to a WordPress theme. For more on Foundation and WordPress, there is a great post by WPMU with some different themes to check out.

Pros – quick templating, rapid prototyping capabilities, easy documentation, responsive table functionality, and Sass.

Cons – not really anything bad to say other than watch out for the blue monster on the home page, but new-comers may be overwhelmed by all the options. Need a fairly good working knowledge of boilerplates for it to go well.


1. Bones – by Themble

Now we get to my favorite, and not just because of the fun animation on the homepage. Bones is the coup de gras for all other starters. It’s flexible in that you can use LESS or Sass, it’s based off the HTML5 Boilerplate, there are built in Custom Post Types that allow for maximum customization, and mobile-first. While those things are all great, it’s not even the main reason I like it. I love Bones because of the comments in the code. They are humorous at times, but overall, I’ve learned a lot from just going through each of the parts of Bones and testing out what they do. To Mr. Eddie Machado, I say thank you sir. You are a scholar and a gentleman for releasing that theme.

Pros – All around solid, great for both n00bs and l33t alike, responsiveness of 320 & Up or Rock Hammer as it’s now called. Also, the favicon is a skull.

Cons – The CSS files contain a lot of CSS (that sounds dumb to say), so you may have to do some tidying up.

The End

That concludes my list. If you’re just starting out I’d attempt to build off of an already created WordPress theme, like Bones or any of the others, but if you’re ready for some fun, grab Foundation and make it your own. Remember, Github is a huge repository library with an insane amount of starters, so be sure to check there too. Happy theming!

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John Hartley is a Director of Product Engineering at Beam Dental in Columbus, OH. With 5+ years of leadership experience he has worked in startups, agencies, and began his career as a freelance Front End Developer. Always looking to iterate, this blog is a place for him to share his knowledge as well as hone his craft, challenge assumptions, and build a strong base of leadership and management knowledge. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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