Once upon a time (about 10 or so years ago) the concept of templates or themes didn’t yet exist in the world of web design and development.
Every website was designed from scratch, and usually built in static HTML so that every time you wanted to change text on the page, you had to go back to your web developer (or learn HTML yourself.)
The websites didn’t really look that cool unless they were built in Flash, which was the darling of agency designers and meant you could do a lot of fun things that couldn’t be done on a normal website – but Google couldn’t see anything on the site, so they were terrible for SEO.
Then came the in-house Content Management Systems (CMS) which for the first time enabled clients to log in and edit the content on their own sites.
Most of them had fairly difficult to use interfaces, but at least you could change your address details or update other time sensitive content without putting in a call to your web company (unless of course you broke the site in the process and had to call them to fix it anyway.)
In-house systems usually meant that if you fell out of love with your web company, you pretty much had to start from scratch again with another developer, since they would not be able to work with your platform.
Then came the arrival of open source CMS – which made it possible for clients to get their site built in something like Joomla, WordPress, Drupal or Umbraco (for example) and if they wanted to move on to another development company, all they had to do was find another web company that also could develop in that platform.
With the arrival and rapid uptake of open source CMS, also came the beginning of the template or theme marketplace, where web designers created and built template sites that could be purchased for a fairly small sum and used as a starting point for a myriad of websites.
What did that mean for the web design market?
Once the range of options became large enough and attractive enough, it meant that clients could get a website built at a lower cost if they were happy to start with a template instead of having a completely designed from scratch site.
Designers still play a role of course, in helping to select a suitable template, choosing the variations that are appropriate for each client, and determining how all the various elements of colour, imagery, brand and content should be applied.
The more budget a client has, the more the designer can apply custom changes to the base template.
If a budget is fairly small, then the client may be happy with only the most essential changes to the existing template, but should realise the time taken to find a design template that is the best fit can also be an investment in itself.
What about development?
Of course once a template has been found that is a good design fit, it also needs to be reviewed from a development perspective, which can’t be done until the template has been purchased and downloaded.
Unfortunately all templates are definitely not made equal, and some of those cool features you really like on the homepage are created using the worst possible web development practices.
So we either need to try and change the code (which no developer likes to do), or simply accept that piece of the template works in a particular way (which for example might mean that areas that would normally be easy for a client to edit, require a developer to make any changes), or alternatively, choose a different template.
Some developers might even choose to use the template purely for the design elements, and build the site from scratch in the back end.
In the best of scenarios, the template code will be functional and editable and will deliver exactly what the client (and the designer) are looking for.
How much will it save me?
The answer to this question depends on the variables mentioned above. Please don’t think that you have found a fabulous template you can buy and download for US$100 so therefore the website build shouldn’t cost much more. If only life was so simple!
But on average, if you are prepared to stick quite closely to the template design and don’t require a lot of customisation, starting from a template can definitely save you money.
Your alternative is a fully custom designed site, on the most appropriate platform for your business, which gives the developer maximum flexibility – and minimum frustration of working with other people’s code. Often, this means while the design is more expensive, the development time may be similar or even less than working with a difficult template.
So if you are not sure which is the best fit for your budget, give us a call and find out. We are happy to provide you with a quote, or give you some insights into what might be the best approach for your requirements.