“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” (from the Wizard of Oz)
I once saw some technicians working on an elevator. They’d removed all of the panels and I saw far more of the “guts” of that elevator than I ever wanted to. All I ask of an elevator is to deliver me safely to my floor - I don’t want to see the inner workings. For most of us, when we browse a website or shop online, we probably don’t give a lot of thought to what’s happening behind the scenes. As long as everything works, we’re happy. However, if you’re in the market for a new website or a full redesign of an existing one, you may need to devote a bit of mental energy to what’s going on behind the curtain. Just like everything else in life, building a website involves lots of decisions. Here are a few questions you might be asking yourself (or your web development partner):
Can’t I Just Use a Template?
Website design templates do have a place in the world of web design and development. Some web hosts (like Wix and Squarespace) let you choose a template and build your site all on your own without the involvement of web designers and developers. Of course, there are pros and cons to choosing a template approach for your new site. What is a template, exactly?
Typically, a template is a standardized design and layout that is pre-packaged. You might be able to choose the color scheme, fonts, and other minor design characteristics, but the overall look is set. One major benefit is the cost is usually pretty low. Another is that if your site only needs to be live for a short time (to advertise a one-time event, for example), a template can make that launch quick and easy. One major downside, however, is that your site might end up looking like a thousand other sites.
Stand Out or Step Aside
While a template might be a good choice for a very small business or a new non-profit without a budget for a fully-custom website, most companies and organizations tend to opt for the custom approach. With a custom site, your web design/development partner is building it from the ground up - just for you. Your branding and message will be fully incorporated (which may not be the case with a template).
A few benefits of a custom design:
Your site will be unique. You know, like a snowflake.
You’ll have more control over the end result, and more flexibility along the way.
A custom design is more likely to be compliant with all current web standards, including accessibility.
A well-thought-out custom site will grow with you and not need to be redone in a few months. Browsers change, monitors change, tastes change - you want to make sure you get the most out of your website for as long as possible before another redesign is needed.
There aren’t a lot of cons to building a custom site, except that it might take a bit longer and of course, there is a more significant cost, too.
What about Add-Ons?
Some templates come with a handful of modules that you’ve probably seen on a variety of websites. Some examples would include photo galleries, image sliders, and blogs. If these add-ons are part of a template, odds are that there won’t be a lot of customization options.
If you start with a fully custom site, you’ll have more options when it comes to add-ons and how they can be styled and customized.
Can You Build Me [Insert Pie-in-the-Sky Idea Here]?
In the realm of web design and development, the sky really is the limit. If you have an idea in mind that is possible from a design and programming standpoint, it can be done. You'll probably want to defer to your web design team if they try to talk you out of something (they've seen some stuff!), but for the most part, they will do everything they can to accommodate your creative ideas.
When it comes to choosing a website template or a fully custom design, there are pros and cons of each. It really comes down to what kind of investment you are able to make, what your future plans are, how much flexibility you need, and how quickly you need your new site launched. If you can swing a custom site, it’s generally worth the investment. Plus, instead of fighting a template to get your logo added, you can focus on your business. Leave the behind-the-curtains stuff to a web designer you can trust.