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Reading Time: 2 minutesCreative Speed Strategy using free plugins and free themes.

Save the Internet from WordPress speed abuse.

 

We built a prototype site for LiveInPalouse.com. The Aldehyde theme was our initial choice – never realizing a problem existed with the responsive, mobile-view for smartphones.

Live_In_Palouse_-Aldehyde
Original LiveInPalouse.com prototype using Aldehyde theme. It has a header-background image and a slider on the home page. Click to enlarge.
Aldehyde on mobile phone. Bad UX! The whole screen is dimmed with a white overlay.
Aldehyde on mobile phone. Bad UX! The whole screen is dimmed with a white overlay.
Aldehyde iPhone fail.
Aldehyde iPhone fail. Ugly.

Aldehyde Theme Failed

Aldehyde has nice features (3000+ installs). In particular, parallax scrolling and a parallax header. Plus a responsive Nivo slider supporting up to ten slides. We wanted these features but they weren’t a required specification. So we searched for alternatives.

To find a new theme, we sifted through 35 theme candidates. Where did these themes come from? All are available as free downloads from the WordPress theme repository. They came to our attention via email newsletters. Some are new and others are older but still popular. (We’ll revisit what we learned from our theme analysis in a later post.)

Here’s the alphabetical list: accelerate, accesspress-basic, activello, amazing-blog, awaken, awesome, bizgrowth, blogim, canape, coral-light, dellow, enigma, faceblog, flatter, futura, grow, hemingway, hueman, kotha, make, nisarg, perfetta, pingraphy, quidus, rams, responsive-brix, revive, simona, sixteen, splendor, tora, tracks, travel-eye, ultrabootstrap, and zerif-lite.

Excel spreadsheet analysis. Download >

While many of these themes are useful for various applications, the ones that caught our attention immediately for further testing were Dellow and Sixteen. Both had home-page, responsive Nivo sliders and parallax header features.

Dellow Theme Better Alternative

Dellow only had about 700 installs on the web. Not very many. Potential for speed is indicated by the theme’s small, download-package size (1.1M). That expands to 1.8M after unzipping the file. About 216k is image fluff, 294k the screenshot for the theme icon, and 100k is a nice PDF document file of how to use the features. Happily, none of those components contribute to page bloat. But sadly, some of the 672k in Fontawsome icon font will. We don’t appreciate it’s inclusion in the theme design since it slows down page loads.

Dellow desktop screen version. Click image to enlarge.
Dellow desktop screen version test. Click image to enlarge.

In spite of being potentially fast, Dellow theme wasn’t very attractive looking. This was a deal killer. After installing it on our test site, we found that the name “Dellow” most likely originates from a contraction of “dark yellow” – the theme’s main mustard color. It clashes with the vibrant greens in the featured slider and background photography. And that’s unpleasant. Fixing the color by recoding will take too much time.

Dellow smartphone screen. Not too good looking.
Dellow smartphone screen. Better. But not too good looking.

Sixteen Theme Best Choice

The other theme candidate is Sixteen, a recent release.  It has about 9,000 installs – a more popular theme already, even with being new. The download file decompresses to 1.9M. In the components, 248k is placeholder image fluff, 253k is the screenshot.  It has the same Nivo slider and parallax header features. And wonderfully, it doesn’t include Fontawesome baggage. But that isn’t the reason this theme is selected. We know how to dequeue that icon weight.

Sixteen theme uses a classic color palette. of black and creme. Much nicer look. Click image to see a larger view.
Sixteen theme uses a classic color palette of black and creme. Much nicer look. Click image to see a larger view. Feature post images aren’t reduced in size for the sidebar like in Dellow.

Sixteen’s color usage is much better and easy on the eye.

Oddly, the number of slides is limited to just 5 in Sixteen. Whereas Dellow allowed 10. Go figure. But 5 is enough for what we want to achieve with the website. So how does, Sixteen look on a smartphone screen. Pretty good.

Sixteen responsive screen. It's resize is working and readable!
Sixteen responsive screen. It’s resize is working and readable!
Sixteen theme in the wild on an iPhone.
Sixteen theme in the wild on an iPhone.

The test site with Sixteen theme installed loaded in about 2.5 seconds. We then installed some plugins to improve things (minification, caching, and others) and got the speed down to 1.7 seconds. We feel this can be further improved with resizing some of the home-page slider images.

live-in-palouse-home
Final version

Sixteen is our recommendation of these three themes.

Pingdom test of Sixteen theme.
Pingdom test of Sixteen theme. 283-millisecond load time. No CDN. No caching. GoDaddy shared hosting!

 

Steve Teare
performance engineer

Creative Speed Strategy using free plugins and free themes.

What others think of us:


"Bloat was out, lean and speedy sites on multiple platforms with easy editing was the new target. Steve hit the bullseye with our new WordPress sites … Give Steve a call if you're serious about a highly effective website for your business or organization." visitpalouse.com Washington, USA

by - Mike Milano