Template designed web sites, and the Pros and Cons

mock-up sketch of a cabinetUsing a template in life

A lot of times when we plan on creating something, we use a template. We like to lean on the blueprints and foundation of those that built before us. Maybe we embark on the adventure of building a tree fort by following examples and plans we find on pinterest. Or possibly we cook up a special batch of gluten-free chocolate walnut cookies with a recipe from a coworker. We might even design a crazy, always on, smart mirror from a raspberry pi and some tinted glass by reading a tutorial online.

Whatever the case is, its common for us to use recipes, instructions or designs from others to make our own thing. We use this provided structure in the form of a template to help us form a plan towards completion. A road map that helps us avoid mistakes, speed up our process, and then share the results with others via instagram. However, is this a good idea when it comes to designing a web site?

APPLYING IT TO YOUR BUSINESS

When it comes to branding and design, setting yourself apart from your competition is critical. You want to be recognized for your unique and original ideas. Your business’s image and reputation hang in the balance of your 8 second first impression. Setting sail with a templated web site seems to go against everything that is sacred, right? It could be a real downer to be jumping links some evening and land on a page selling chinsey figurines that uses the same templated design as your cutting edge spy equipment site. Maybe your site looks a bit different because of your images or logo, but you know deep down inside, its the same site. It almost hurts.

At Phlume Media, we can see both sides of the coin when developing web sites. Lets take a moment to review four key metrics to consider when developing a new web site.

WEB TEMPLATE DEPLOYMENT SPEED

On one hand, the rapid release process of a template is great for launching a site and getting a name out there. Take for example Weebly, Wix, or even WordPress… (these are not the ‘www’ you are looking for). They have built an entire industry around a DIY approach to site design. Start an account, enter data into some easey-peasey forms, select a style, theme, or look and voila. insta-site up and running. To it’s detriment, a custom design takes a lot of time. Rounds of revisions,user interface and experience considerations, custom css development for positions, fonts and colors, custom scripts and code snippets to handle all of the requests for functionality…the list goes on. And because it goes on, so does the development time.

A TEMPLATE’S ORIGINALITY IN DESIGN

Hands down, a custom site takes the blue ribbon here. With all of the time needed for development, every aspect of design could (and should) be considered. From the minutia of spacing between buttons, to the x pixel radius on corners of images. Design considerations are exactly why one would avoid a template. Working with a custom site you can literally do anything. All of the code is scripted for you to accomplish only what you want. Now certainly, i’m not foolish, I recognize that this level of detail and stlyization can be added to any templated site as a supplemental style sheet. Thats missing the point. Out of the box, the average do-it-ur-selfer wont be digging into the guts behind the scenes.

flashy color screenshot of myspace page
Image courtesy of imgur. Origin unknown

They simply slap a nice looking theme onto their site and sell their 39 copies. They peddle their steampunk version of Harry Potter meets The Walking Dead through the default look provided with the theme. Zombies, magic and airships… oh my. AND those that do customize with no design experience, end up bringing us back nearly 15 years. Horrible memories of mySpace circa ’04 and it’s hey-day of customized bad design flood into my memory. Or go back 25 years, a numerous generations for the web, and discover it’s ancient ancesteors Angelfire and Geocities, circa ’95.

FUNCTIONALITY OF A TEMPLATE

Again, if you need a site to do something specific, chances are you hunt for something almost right. Then adjust it a bit to make it work. Or you can hire an expert to program your specific needs for you. I will say, templated design sites do offer a lot of customizeable features if you want to dive in and get a little “dirty”. WordPress has thousands of plugins to do almost anything you need. However, setting the plugins up, customizing their settings, and understanding some of the deeper functionality can be a little tricky. If you were to work with a custom site developer, you could define your needs to them, and work with them to make it work.

COST OF A TEMPLATE

WordPress is free. Wix is free. Weebly is free. Your countless hours spent designing, programming and creating content is also, well, free. Obviously anytime you hire someone, it is going to cost more than if you did it yourself. Yet with that investment comes piece of mind. The freedom to seperate yourself from the time it takes to accomplish said task. The freedom to customize everything as yousee fit. The old “there is no box” mentality…except for the box-model, but I digress

WHAT DO YOU WANT?

In comparisson, it boils down to needs. If you want a custom site, but need it fast, chances are you may be better off choosing a template. However, if you have specific requirements in style, function or usability, you might consider a developer to work with.

Another option, of course, is the hybridization of the two. Hiring a professional to use a templated site as a launch pad to begin with. A seasoned designer/developer can take your “wixblypress” site, use yoru theme, and jazz it up with styles and functionality. You get up and running quickly with the site, and you gain a stylized customization that fits your businesses needs.

Oh and do yourself a favor…do not Google angelfire on the waybackmachine, instead, make the gluten-free walnut chocolate chip cookies.

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