should i use a template for my website?

October 13, 2015 Website Buying Guides

As web design evolves, our expectations of what a website can do and what we think we should be able to do with it evolves as well.  15 years ago, many people built websites the way that they create documents in editors like Microsoft Word.  10 years ago, content management systems started replacing hand built websites.  And not even 5 years ago, websites started to become flexible allowing them to be viewed on any device.  The list of minimum required features increases by almost the minute.

Why Templates are Good for Web Design

Believe it or not templates ARE a good idea for creating almost any website regardless of what anyone might tell you otherwise.  The best websites follow many, many design patterns that promote usability, ease of use, look nice and have a certain degree of flash to them.  Templates are a great starting point when creating a web site.  A couple high level-benefits of using a template are:

  • You or a developer does not need to start from scratch.
  • The template does about 80% of what your project requirements
  • Low cost (most templates range from $40 – $60)
  • The template looks great in its demo
  • It appears to be easily customizable

These are great reasons and obviously worth considering.  Let’s think of how all cars are made.  If you live in the United States, your steering wheel is more than likely on the left side of the car, you have a rear view mirror, and the breaks and accelerator are under your feet.  This is a template for how a car should be designed under most scenarios.  Even super expensive, high end cars follow this template.  However, as with anything, just one side of the equation.

How A Template Could be Bad

Now that we understand some of the benefits of using a template, let’s talk about potential drawbacks.

  • Code quality is usually terrible
  • Most templates aren’t documented clearly
  • You inherit a templates mistakes
  • The demo usually works better than it does in a real life scenario.

When using a template the idea is to customize it a bit and fill it with YOUR content.  During this process many unforeseen roadblock might occur.  At Cyberpunk we use only a handful of templates from 3rd party providers and have developed our own for internal use.  Our reasoning for this includes the list above but comes down to one major factor: we didn’t develop the template so we can’t guarantee how it will work.  This means that if customizations are requested for a template purchased by a client, that the time it may take to complete the customizations (regardless of how small they appear to be) might require an unrealistic budget.

Taking the time to reverse engineer someone else’s code and fix their mistakes means doing a lot of detective work.  Hunting for bugs or where to make customizations in poorly written or poorly documented code leads to an unnecessary amount of time to be put into completing a task.  This leads us to our next point.

Why YOU Shouldn’t Make The Decision

Being blunt, if you’re not a professional designer or developer you are more times than not, unqualified to make a decision as to which template to buy.  As said before, most templates suffer from many hindering qualities.  In the end templates are usually desirable because of their low initial cost to purchase them.  However, choosing a poorly constructed template and then having your development team fight with it to customize it can lead to incomplete projects, and in almost every situation spending more money than initially anticipated.  A good web developer or agency uses templates so that they can produce faster.  That being said, consult with a developer regarding WHICH template you should be using for your project.  Expect a guarantee with their recommendation too!

Conclusion

Templates provide a good starting point for most web sites.  Even completely custom sites use some sort of template to create.  Twitter for example uses something called Ruby on Rails to power itself.  While technically not a template (but a development framework) this gave their development team a rock solid base for creating all the cool custom functionality that makes Twitter a unique platform.  Bottom line, use a template and let your web developer or agency choose the right one for your project.

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