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WordPress Theme Design Trends (2003 to 2019)

Meanwhile, sidebars were less common in business themes, which tended to feature a horizontal and layered design similar to the Zelle theme pictured below. The popularity of sidebars waned as responsive design evolved (sidebars were tricky to display on smaller devices). Sidebar-less designs similar to the default Twenty Thirteen theme were becoming more popular.zelle theme

This was also around the time that minimal, flat designs, such as Flat by Themify, were becoming popular among WordPress theme design trends.

Theme Flatify

Multipurpose themes

By 2015, multipurpose themes were a thing — and ThemeForest was the place to find them. The proliferation of multipurpose themes was undoubtedly due to the popularity of ThemeForest’s vast marketplace, but also independent premium theme shops. ThemeIsle’s popular Neve theme, for example, is hugely customizable and ideal for use on any kind of site thanks to its many built-in templates:


These multipurpose everything-but-the-kitchen-sink themes packed tons of different options into one theme on the backend, while featuring loads of different designs on the front-end.

Similar to theme frameworks, this type of WordPress theme design could be configured for many different purposes. You could use the same theme to create an e-commerce site, a business site or portfolio simply by updating the theme options panel.

For instance, here are just some of BeTheme’s 400+ demos:


Initially, these themes featured all the necessary functionality needed for the theme to work inside the theme itself. But then they started to bundle third-party plugins to handle any additional functionality. Popular bundles would include a premium theme like Avada + Slider Revolution + Visual Composer.

Page building plugins like Visual Composer (now WPBakery Page Builder) were frequently bundled with premium themes, allowing users to customize their themes on the front-end and preview changes live.

Fullscreen and hero headers

By 2016, headers were getting bigger and bolder. At first, they were fullwidth and then they became fullscreen and featured sliding images or videos.

This trend in the wider web design community was reflected in the popular premium WordPress themes of the time, including Avada, X Theme, Bridge, and BeTheme, which all offered fullscreen and hero header designs like the Salient theme below.

Theme Salient

Niche themes

By 2017, ThemeForest and smaller independent premium theme developers were developing niche themes. While multipurpose themes enabled users — often implementers — to create any kind of WordPress site, niche themes serviced specific industries.

Churches, charities, musicians, personal trainers, life coaches, law firms, real estate agents — you name it, there was a niche theme for it.

Theme Eduma

These themes shipped with features that were useful for specific purposes. For example, music players for bands, fund-raising tools for nonprofits, and even points table management for sports clubs.

Theme Splash

Today: page builders and the block editor

And now we’re at themes for builders, and the merging of Gutenberg into WordPress core.

For a time, Visual Composer was the go-to drag-and-drop page building plugin for WordPress theme design — ThemeForest and its theme bundling made sure of that. Divi has been another hugely popular solution for users who want to build websites quickly.

And yes, there have been many other similar page building tools over the years. Beaver Builder and, more recently, Elementor have allowed users and developers alike to create complex sites using drag and drop. And now, you can even download Elementor themes and templates.

New website platforms like Squarespace and Wix challenged WordPress’ dominance as the world’s most popular CMS. The fact is, these competitors offer user friendly drag-and-drop page building that WordPress core simply doesn’t have. Well, it didn’t have until WordPress 5.0.

WordPress 5.0 and the merging of the Gutenberg project into WordPress code is WordPress’ attempt at playing catch up, and so it can appeal to users who now expect page building functionality in website platforms.

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