The Evolution of the Default WordPress Themes (2003 to 2019)

WordPress has been around for more than a decade and a half now, and a lot has changed since the very beginning in 2003. The platform has seen several User Interface (UI) advancements, and is forging ahead into 2019 with the new Block Editor. We’ve also started seeing the rise of mobile responsiveness as a key feature in the default WordPress themes.

In fact, WordPress has been influenced by a number of design trends throughout the years, as you can see by looking back at past default themes. Although some of them are now dated, there’s still a lot that can be learned about design by examining these pieces of WordPress history.

In this article, we’ll walk you through all of the default WordPress themes, starting at the beginning. We’ll highlight the key features of each, and explain how they all fit in with the history of WordPress development. Let’s get started!

The default WordPress themes: 2003–2019

As of 2019, there have been 11 default WordPress themes. Each includes features that were important to WordPress users at the time of its release, demonstrating how the platform continues to adapt to the needs of users and to changes in website usage trends.

Classic – the one before themes were a thing

classic

Before the release of WordPress 1.5, Classic was the platform’s default theme. For WordPress’ first year, this simple theme supplied bloggers with economical and efficient style and functionality.

In its early days, WordPress was a platform created by bloggers, for bloggers. It was not yet the full-fledged Content Management System (CMS) we know it as today, and the design reflects its intended role as a pure blogging solution.

For example, it relied heavily on the use of a sidebar, a feature that would stick around for many years (and themes) to come. The sidebar contained a blogroll maintained with the Links Manager. This made recent posts easily accessible to readers, which helped bloggers promote their content. Classic also enabled the use of sticky posts, so bloggers could highlight certain content on their sites.

 

Classic in brief

  • First seen in this theme: The sidebar, Links Manager and the blogroll, sticky posts.
  • Primary goals: To improve the blogging experience and make it easier to promote content via the sidebar blogroll.
  • Mobile support: No.
  • Customizable features: None, unless you have coding experience and can make changes manually.
 

Default – the original WordPress theme

the default WordPress theme

There’s no talking about default WordPress themes without mentioning THE theme. Better known as Kubrick, Default was designed by Michael Heilemann and became the default theme in 2005. Sometimes considered the first ‘official’ default theme, it features a memorable and traditional design.

Default’s navigable sidebar and streamlined, sans serif typography remain appealing design elements ten years after its release. Clear direction and clean text are still cornerstones of successful web design, after all.

One of the key motivations for designing Default was to show off WordPress’ brand-new theme system. For the first time, WordPress users had a choice when it came to their sites’ visual foundations. This was also the first theme to use templates, which broke the theme up into sections that could be modified independently. That enabled users to customize features such as headers, footers, and sidebars.

 

Default in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 1.5.
  • First seen in this theme: Template tags, plugin integration, full widget support (WordPress 2.2).
  • Primary goals: To implement a more user-centric design, and showcase the new theme system.
  • Mobile support: No.
  • New customizable features: Template files that enable the customization of headers, footers, and sidebars.
 

Twenty Ten – June 17, 2010

twenty ten

Along with WordPress 3.0, we got Twenty Ten. This theme marked many significant changes for WordPress. It was also the first to implement several of the design features on the front and back ends that are now very familiar to WordPress users.

By the time WordPress 3.0 and Twenty Ten were released, the platform was moving away from a strict focus on blogging and towards becoming a true CMS. We can see this in the changes between Default and Twenty Ten.

For instance, the now-familiar black menu bar was added. This encouraged the use of multiple pages, as opposed to just a simple blog archive. The host of additional customization features also helped users create whatever types of sites they needed, instead of driving them towards blogging.

Plus, the introduction of the visual editor made it easier for users of all skill levels to create a site that worked for them. WordPress users could now see how their posts would look on the front end while editing content.

 

Twenty Ten in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 3.0.
  • First seen in this theme: Custom backgrounds and headers, multiple widget areas, navigation menus, featured images, post formats (WordPress 3.1), the visual editor.
  • Primary goals: To expand user customization capabilities without requiring more coding knowledge, and move WordPress away from its blogging origins and towards becoming a fully-featured CMS.
  • Mobile support: No.
  • New customizable features: Backgrounds, headers, footers, sidebars, six widget areas, menus, images (including header images).
 

Twenty Eleven – July 4, 2011

twenty eleven

Twenty Eleven appeared one year after its predecessor, starting the trend of an annual release for default WordPress themes. Rather than trying to introduce a host of new design features, it focused on improving the features introduced by Twenty Ten, and expanding WordPress’ customization capabilities.

Twenty Eleven retained the black menu bar and enhanced its style with a clean, large, sans serif font. The option to customize colors had already been seen in several other themes at the time, but this was the first default WordPress theme to offer that feature.

Sample page in Twenty Eleven:
twenty eleven page
 

Twenty Eleven in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 3.2.
  • First seen in this theme: Custom colors, randomized headers.
  • Primary goals: To expand upon the advancements made in Twenty Ten.
  • Mobile support: Can be adapted for mobile, but not recommended as-is.
  • New customizable features: Custom colors and randomized headers.
 

Twenty Twelve – December 11, 2012

twenty twelve

The next default WordPress theme acknowledged the rise of mobile internet usage. Twenty Twelve was the first default theme to include (basic) mobile responsiveness as a feature. The design reflects this.

To accommodate the focus on mobile usage, Twenty Twelve scaled back on design, recalling the simplicity of earlier themes. It featured sans serif typography and a minimalist design. The header image that stood out so prominently in Twenty Ten and Twenty Eleven became an optional feature, with the default settings leaving it turned off.

Additionally, this theme made further strides towards developing WordPress as a CMS. It included a static home page template, moving WordPress users away from a focus on blog posts and towards a more traditional website setup. The sidebar – once a key WordPress design feature – was also optional, and the blogroll was hidden by default.

The Customizer was first released in 2012 as well, making it easier for users to create unique sites. Users could now preview changes to color schemes, custom headers and backgrounds, and other features before pushing them live.

Sample page in Twenty Twelve:
twenty twelve page
 

Twenty Twelve in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 3.5.
  • First seen in this theme: Mobile responsiveness, home page template, the Customizer.
  • Primary goals: To introduce mobile responsiveness to WordPress default themes, and continue improving WordPress as a CMS.
  • Mobile support: Yes.
  • New customizable features: A static home page template and the option to remove the sidebar.
 

Twenty Thirteen – August 1, 2013

twenty thirteen

After the minimalist style of Twenty Twelve, Twenty Thirteen was either a breath of fresh air or a punch in the face. When it comes to design, Twenty Thirteen replaced the clean lines of earlier themes with a default serif font and a more intricate color scheme. This gave the theme an overall more fun appearance – something new compared to the other default WordPress themes.

Extensive customization options offered users more flexibility when building their sites using this theme, and when adapting WordPress to their needs. The primary widget area also moved from the sidebar to the footer.

Perhaps most importantly, this theme managed to offer advanced customization options without sacrificing mobile responsiveness. This was an improvement over Twenty Twelve, which relied on its simplicity to remain accessible on mobile devices.

Despite these major shifts in design aesthetic, Twenty Thirteen returned to WordPress’ roots and brought blogging back into the spotlight. Post format integration was a major focus of the new theme, giving users more options for content creation.

Sample page in Twenty Thirteen:
twenty thirteen page
 

Twenty Thirteen in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 3.6.
  • First seen in this theme: Improved post formats.
  • Primary goals: To return to a focus on blogging, and improve post format integration.
  • Mobile support: Yes.
  • New customizable features: Additional post formats.
 

Twenty Fourteen – December 12, 2013

twenty fourteen

WordPress continued its dissociation with single-author blogging with Twenty Fourteen. This was the first default theme to formally advertise itself as something other than a generic blog theme. Its ‘magazine-style’ layout emphasized featured images, and offered additional display options with content grids and sliders.

Twenty Fourteen is another example of how WordPress has kept pace with changes in the role and use of websites. As blogs evolved into multi-author platforms, WordPress adapted its default theme to reflect how people were really using the software.

Twenty Fourteen’s typography and color scheme focused on readability and ease of browsing. Additionally, the optional sidebar widgets provided easy navigation to the latest posts, recent comments, blog post archives, and post categories, recalling WordPress’ original sidebar.

Sample page in Twenty Fourteen:
twenty fourteen page
 

Twenty Fourteen in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 3.8.
  • First seen in this theme: Content grids and sliders, collapsible menus and movable sidebars for mobile, Contributors page template, Authors widget, featured content.
  • Primary goals: To make general enhancements and provide additional features, and to demonstrate WordPress’ capacity as a multi-author platform.
  • Mobile support: Yes.
  • New customizable features: A Contributors page, an Authors widget, featured content, accent colors.
 

Twenty Fifteen – December 18, 2014

twenty fifteen

Takashi Irie designed Twenty Fifteen with simplicity in mind, returning to the minimalist style of the earlier default WordPress themes. It offered several color scheme options, which users could easily access via the Customizer.

Twenty Fifteen may lean towards minimalism, but it’s certainly not plain. It offers a default font that brings a little more to the table than the sans serif font of Twenty Fourteen did, adding visual interest to the clean layout. It also adapts well to any alphabet, improving the theme’s translation capabilities.

This theme also acknowledges social media’s relationship to blogs and other sites. Twenty Fifteen enables users to easily add social icons to their menus. That way, they can link different aspects of their brands together, and make it easy to direct visitors to their social accounts.

Sample page in Twenty Fifteen:
twenty fifteen page
 

Twenty Fifteen in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 4.1.
  • First seen in this theme: Social icons.
  • Primary goals: To improve WordPress’ internationalization, to maximize core customization capabilities, and to provide a mobile-first design.
  • Mobile support: Yes.
  • New customizable features: Additional color scheme options, social icons.
 

Twenty Sixteen – December 8, 2015

twenty sixteen

The next of the default WordPress themes made efforts to improve on the changes introduced the year before. Twenty Sixteen offers flexibility to WordPress users, providing features that are useful for both bloggers and other site owners.

The theme’s optional sidebar offers additional navigation to those who need it. Users can also add easily-accessible social icons to pages and posts. For those who wish to keep the focus on their content, stripping this theme down to the basics by removing the sidebar is quick and easy.

Twenty Sixteen also offers ‘Content Bottom’ widget areas and pull quotes. These enable users to add supplementary content to their posts. Once again, we see WordPress responding to changes in web design trends and users’ needs.

Sample page in Twenty Sixteen:
twenty sixteen page
 

Twenty Sixteen in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 4.4.
  • First seen in this theme: Content Bottom widget areas, post intros (also known as ‘Excerpts’), pull quotes.
  • Primary goals: To improve on and modernize the traditional blog site and post design.
  • Mobile support: Yes.
  • New customizable features: Content Bottom widget areas, excerpts, pull quotes.
 

Twenty Seventeen – December 6, 2016

twenty seventeen

In late 2016, WordPress released a default theme geared towards sites that weren’t blogs. While plenty of the other default WordPress themes offered flexibility in layout and could be adapted to various purposes, content creation had always remained a central focus.

Twenty Seventeen, on the other hand, was marketed as a business site theme. The layout and features it provides fully support this focus, and while it still displays content beautifully, it’s clear that the theme has other priorities.

To start with, it includes an impossible-to-ignore header image for optimal site branding. Users can also replace that image with a video, to better engage and captivate visitors. In addition, by adding both a video and an image, you can guarantee that desktop and mobile users are able to view your media.

Twenty Seventeen’s front page enables businesses to give users a quick summary of their brand, by pulling content from different pages on the site. You can easily choose which pages to feature, and change how many sections the front page includes in the Customizer.

Another important development for business sites was Twenty Seventeen’s typography. Like Twenty Fifteen, it offers several font options that display clearly in a variety of languages. That way, international businesses can ensure that their sites are readable for all customers and clients, regardless of location.

Sample page in Twenty Seventeen:
twenty seventeen page
 

Twenty Seventeen in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 4.7.
  • First seen in this theme: Business-centric layout, header videos, site logo, improved child theme functionality.
  • Primary goals: To show WordPress’ progress in becoming a full-fledged CMS, optimal for more than just blogging.
  • Mobile support: Yes.
  • New customizable features: Unique front page creation, header image and video options, personalized logo.
 

Twenty Nineteen – December 6, 2018

twenty nineteen

Finally, we come to the latest default WordPress theme: Twenty Nineteen. With the introduction of the new Block Editor, it’s no surprise that WordPress took a turn back to minimalism and renewed its focus on content creation.

The primary focus of this theme is flexibility. Featuring full Block Editor integration, Twenty Nineteen offers more customization options than ever before. While the default settings focus on offering streamlined typography, the new editor enables users to make their sites their own.

Additionally, Twenty Nineteen capitalizes on many features that have been developed for WordPress default themes over the years, including social icons, widgets, and multi-language support. When combined with the Block Editor, it can adapt for use with just about any kind of website. Of course, the theme is also fully responsive for modern browsing.

Sample page in Twenty Nineteen:
twenty nineteen page
 

Twenty Nineteen in brief

  • Default in WordPress version: 5.0.
  • First seen in this theme: Block Editor integration 🎊.
  • Primary goals: To work with the Block Editor to create a highly visual publishing experience, and to emphasize the Block Editor’s functionality.
  • Mobile support: Yes.
  • New customizable features: Custom default blocks.
 

Conclusion

There’s always something we can learn from looking back. However, it’s just as important that we remember to keep pushing forward to adapt to users’ needs. Noting the strengths of past default WordPress themes and applying them in future innovations can help WordPress continue to grow and improve as a platform.

From the simple and flexible Classic, to the Block Editor-centric Twenty Nineteen, WordPress has come a long way! It’s now easier than ever to make your WordPress site exactly what you need, and mobile responsive themes enable visitors to enjoy your site using their preferred devices.

What’s your favorite default WordPress theme? Tell us in the comments section below!

Don’t forget to join our crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%:

 

Layout and presentation by Karol K.