Templates Aren’t Bad, But Here’s Why We Love Bespoke Design
Website themes and templates are not all bad; they have their virtues.
We could have chosen to create and sell website templates, or provide the service of installing and customising them for clients, or even leverage templates behind the scenes to deliver a low-cost, high volume web design service. We considered all of the above services and markets, just as you may be contemplating using them for your business.
In this article, we’ll expand upon our reasons for rejecting these ideas and embracing bespoke. We hope that our thoughts will help you to make your own decisions about which option is right for your business.
When MSGD began offering website development and design services, we soon discovered that many of the business owners who approached us were doing so with a sense of frustration or defeat, after having tried for a long time to avoid contacting a design agency.
These budding entrepreneurs, or seasoned business people new to Internet commerce, often came to us with small requests to tweak this or that element that was refusing to do what they wanted. Their expectations of being able to grow a profitable business, or new sales channel, with little capital and much ease had not matched reality. They had often persevered for a long time, trying to avoid having to accept that they had wasted time and money, and stunted the growth of their business.
We felt for these people, struggling to overcome the baffling complexities behind even the simplest of websites, and as we listened to their tales of woe, we began to see patterns emerging.
The Template Story
The story usually begins with a client, or maybe an emerging website designer, having some general ideas about what a website needs to do and also the perception that they should be able to get it to do those things for very little money. The search for a cheap or free template begins, and one is found that appears to do the job.
After the initial tediums and pleasures of personalising colour schemes and changing options (ignoring those with opaque or intimidating names), the real work of making business happen begins.
There’s very little on the site at this point, so the various chunks of code in the template that aren’t being used are not noticeably affecting performance. Although this is the first problem that’s been created, the first one that’s encountered is usually something functional. Maybe the business model needs email subscriptions, but the template doesn’t have a form for that. Maybe there’s a need to provide downloads, but the template doesn’t offer that feature. Maybe the site looks awful on an iPhone screen, but the template’s documentation doesn’t even mention mobile.
Not to worry though, there’s an easy solution at hand; free plugins.
Plug-ins are small utilities that can be added to a Content Management System, much like aftermarket sat nav or hands-free kits can be added to cars. There’s a natural market for plug-ins because templates don’t meet everyone’s needs.
A smaller cycle of installation, configuration and tweaking then ensues, until the plug-in begins to serve its purpose. There’s now another mass of code doing nothing, and something else that needs updates and security patches, but the obstacle has been overcome, and business can continue.
Unfortunately, the story usually fails to develop much of a plot from this point and instead begins to repeat itself. As new requirements are identified, and new limitations are discovered, new plugins are installed. The administrative burden grows, the site slows down, and the business owner becomes more frustrated. Every solution seems to bring further problems, whether immediately or just far enough into the future that the link between each change and each issue becomes obscure and perplexing.
Eventually, the website becomes too much to handle. Business operations and growth are being hindered, and patience has run dry. It’s time to call for help.
Naturally, as a new business keen to help, we tried to serve our first clients in the exact way that they asked. We configured and replaced plug-ins, and waded through template code to find and fix the specific problems they were having.
It wasn’t long before we realised that we were merely hacking at the branches when we should have been striking at the root. In other words, we were expending much time and effort to fix issues which were only going to appear again due to the underlying problems that were causing them.
We realised that although templates and plugins offered speed at little expense, the long-term results for our clients were delays that caused great cost.
It wasn’t long before we decided that, although it would take us much longer to learn, we would only be able to serve our clients well once we were able to provide what they needed with precision. They needed solutions that were exact, lean fast-loading sites, flexibility, stability and someone else to manage the technical administration while they operate their business.
Since those enlightening experiences, we’ve written a new story.
The Bespoke Story
The story usually begins with a client having some general ideas about what a website needs to do and also the perception that the more they invest in this new asset, the more fruit it will bear. The search for a skilled and business-focused website design company begins, and one is found that appears capable of doing the job.
After an insightful stage of discussing requirements, the client returns their attention to other aspects of their business while the design company begins to build the new website.
During the development period, the client receives regular contact from the designer as they present designs and functionality to ensure that they’re delivering precisely the required results.
Once approved and tested, the site goes live, and the work of making business happen online begins. The client can manage business processes quickly and efficiently, with all of the control over content and configuration that they need – and nothing more to worry about. The client’s customers find the site responsive, attractive and easy to use. All security concerns, software updates and administration tasks are handled, and any tweaks and tuning needed are dealt with by a phone call instead of hours of playing with plug-ins.
The plot of the story can now develop and expand. The platform for growth is in place.
The markets for templates, CMS themes and plugins are enormous. People must be downloading them in droves. Perhaps the demand is evidence of the success to be had from promising a fast and cheap way to get started online, rather than proof of the results they deliver. Maybe they do produce positive results for many small businesses. Our experiences are of course going to be limited because nobody is going to contact a website design company just to explain how their template and assortment of plug-ins are serving them well.
However, we do know for sure that our business wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a real need felt by enough people. We’re thriving because we’ve listened to our clients and responded to their difficulties. We’ve steadily developed our services to fulfil the requirements of businesses, perhaps much like yours, that are not served by a DIY assembly of templates and plugins.
We love bespoke design because it has enabled us to deliver value far beyond the scope of any template-based services. Our clients have told us how much they appreciate the improvements to their businesses and lives that our work has created. We’re sure that we made the right choice, and we hope that you do too.
If you have a website that’s in need of some attention, or if you have a new project that you’d like to get off the ground, get in touch with a member of our team who would be happy to discuss your requirements.