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Should I use web templates and themes?

Posted on by Clive Walker in Web Design WordPress

I wrote this post a while back. The content can still be relevant but the information I've linked to may not be available.

One thing that I have been pondering recently is whether to use web templates or (WordPress) themes more regularly in web design projects. Yes, you might view this as a cop-out or some indication of lack of creativity. On the other hand, if you want to jump-start a website design and get straight into the front-end build CSS and HTML, perhaps a theme/template is a good starting point?

Whilst I was thinking on this, imagine my surprise (perhaps surprise is too strong a word but you get the idea) when Sabrina Dent, a designer whose work I have often admired, wrote this blog post called Confessions of a Template Whore where she outlines some of the advantages of using templates. One of the main reasons cited is for clients who don't have a large budget. Hey, I get that all the time!

In my experience, a client is rarely satisfied with a template off-the-shelf and customisation will always be required. However, when a template or theme ticks most of the boxes, customisation becomes easier than starting from scratch. In addition, you can always learn from the way that another designer does things. Just because you always float a specific element does not mean that is the only way of doing it!

Now, I'm not saying you just choose any old template here. The client's objectives, budget, and type of business will all influence your choice of theme. You might decide to spend quite some time at the start of the website design process choosing one or more themes or templates. Although a template can be a quick start for your web design process, don't rush the template selection process. I like to look at a variety of themes and assess which might be best.

So, what's your take on this? Are templates bad for web design or are they a smart way of getting the basic structure and design established quickly, with client customisation to follow?

Related: ThemeForest has some high quality templates and themes.

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  • 02 Mar 2010 09:10:55

    Using templates is a good way to start learning different practices in HTML and CSS, and a good stating point to designing your own site, however using them as packaged is an issue of the client’s budget.

    With so many design templates out there it is easy to use a template off the shelf. However, as stated I don’t think many clients would be satisfied with this. Most jobs require some form of customisation and design specification, therefore resulting in the template being significantly changed.

    I think the best take on this matter is that template can give you an excellent insight into both design and development, being a powerful learning tool. However they are not conducive to making you design your own sites, this step still needs to be taken. A template can be used to illustrate to a potential client what design ideas are possible, but a unique design must then be created using these ideas.

  • 15 Mar 2010 07:48:07

    I have a different take on this.

    If a client or prospective client has a very small budget for their new web design and a template based solution is the only way to meet their budget you end up, as time goes on, forcing more and more into a template that can’t handle it.

    In the current economic climate clients are harder to find, so you may not want to be choosy who you work for, but if you do take time to be selective i.e. turn down clients with budgets that only fit template solutions you end up with a more profitable stable of clients willing to spend that little more on the full web design process.

  • 24 Mar 2010 09:00:28

    I used a couple of free templates for the first time for a client who needed three low-budget sites. It certainly saved a lot of time and money, and looked very good.

    The client chose the templates they wanted based on appearance, and fortunately the HTML and CSS were good enough to validate without much extra effort, but I was lucky. Next time I’ll check out the code before giving them a choice.

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