In designing and developing a website, one of the first questions to ask is whether or not to use a template. While there is no simple answer that works for every case, there are some basic pros and cons to consider.
As with any commercial design exercise, user interface design should always take into account the standards or guidelines of the brand in question. Some companies have strict brand standards, sometimes exemplified by 100+ page guideline documents, whereas other companies have no brand standards at all. Therefore, any final design must adhere to the baseline already established.
For those companies with well-defined standards, it is often effective to pursue a custom design for two major reasons. Firstly, a designer will have your brand standards to use as a springboard, cutting down the time needed for exploration and discovery. Secondly, a designer will be able to easily reflect the brand standards in producing the interface design – something a template will probably not do by default.
For those companies with basic brand standards, or none at all, then the right choice may come down to a series of other considerations.
Templates often have impressively low price tags, ranging from $25 to $150 depending on the CMS. Despite the attractive price, it is important to keep in mind the time & cost of modifying the templates with brand colours, typography, photography, iconography and copy – most of which are never actually included in a template purchase. A typical estimate range for modifying the average template is between $1,000 and $2,000.
Keep in mind – only utilize a template if you plan to keep modifications to a minimum. Over the years, we’ve come across companies who have spent more money & time on modifying a template than it would have cost to simply create the website from scratch.
In custom web design and development, prices can range from less than $5,000 to more than $50,000 depending on the project scope and CMS.
As a brand, how do you envision your customer’s experience? And, furthermore, how much are you willing to invest in your customer’s experience? There are many excellent templates available online, and many work great for many companies. However, what even the best-designed template lacks in is originality. A strong user experience is often successful in straddling the line between creative uniqueness and usability adherence – that is, delivering a highly unique design that is still familiar and easy to use for all users.
If an exclusive user experience is not an important focus for your organization, then a template may well be your best choice. However, don’t be surprised if one day you come across the same template used for another company’s website.
Features & Functions
Before answering the question of template vs. custom, it is vital to define your scope. What pages, content, and features does your website need to incorporate? How do you plan to grow, scale or modify your website in the future?
Templates can range from the simple to the feature-rich, so keep this in mind when reviewing the options. Though some templates can support quite intensive functionality, it is often more scalable and effective to explore a custom solution when dealing with user accounts, complex eCommerce or immersive content experiences.
Although there is no right answer here – and we could talk about the differences for days – the above considerations are among the most central for most companies. And after many years as a web development firm, we’ve seen almost every situation imaginable.
In general, if a tighter budget, simpler scope, and relaxed brand standards are applicable, then a template is probably the best option on the table. On the other hand, if a decent budget, tighter brand standards, design originality, or heavier functionality are present, it may be worth exploring a custom solution. After all, even custom projects can still incorporate existing platforms, features or code libraries to ensure fast, scalable and cost-effective deliverables.