Templates and Themes: 5 reasons why you should use a template or theme when creating a website

5 reasons why you should use a template or theme when creating a website

5 reasons why you should use a template or theme when creating a website

I had a disagreement the other day with another designer friend of mine who took issue with my use of themes & templates and didn’t understand why I always start out with a theme or template.

He argued that my work wasn’t really unique and that the web was being diluted with carbon copy sites all using the same template.

While I can agree that sometimes I see sites that just installed the template and didn’t change one thing (but hey these templates are meant to be used as is, too), I don’t agree that it’s always bad to use a theme and I certainly don’t agree with building each site from scratch for each project.

If you look, WordPress even has a whole section on it’s site where you can find themes. They can’t be all bad.

Below is a list of 5 reasons I came up with for why you and pretty much all designers/developers should start with a template.

1. Quick Client Mock-ups

Sometimes you don’t need the whole site done and completely polished or customized for the client. Many times all you need is a quick working site up so you can give a client a quick idea of how a site is going to look, or you might just need an intranet for your company or even a temporary site for a specific event.

For these situations there’s just no point in starting from scratch, there are so many free templates not only for our favorite CMS’s (Joomla, WordPress, Drupal), but also for Dreamweaver and static sites as well.

Using those templates you can usually plug in whatever info you need to place on the site, and have a site up and going in just a small amount of time.

A few places to get some great themes:

http://themeforest.net -even though the themes here are commercial, ThemeForest features a monthly free download. You might just get lucky and snag that premium theme you had your eye on.

http://www.joomlashack.com – don’t let the name fool you. Along with the Joomla themes, JoomlaShack has WordPress and Drupal themes, too. There’s a large selection of free Joomla themes (I’ve used many of these for mock-up Joomla sites), while it looks like they are now converting their archive over to work with WordPress and Drupal.

http://sixrevisions.com – a great web design/development site. Six Revisions regularly features round-ups of free & commercial themes and templates for WordPress & some for the bother big three CMS’s.

http://www.smashingmagazine.comSmashing Magazine is another big web design/development site that posts round-ups of free & commercial themes and templates for the big three CMS’s. There’s a ton of posts with free WordPress themes here. This very site is using the Smashing Magazine ‘Magazeen’ theme.

http://www.bestofjoomla.comBest of Joomla is a really good place to start when searching for a Joomla theme. You can choose your criteria and only view free templates or ones with specific licenses and such. Many times there are comments on the template as to its quality. A very nice resource to have.

2. Great learning tool

If you really want to design your own themes, checking out professional, already crafted themes is a great way to get your feet wet. I personally love examining the code and inspecting exactly how the designer accomplished certain aspects of the template.

Sometime I don’t agree with the choice (that’s what template overrides are for, lol), but it never hurts to dive into a theme and learn from someone who’s already done it.

Once you get comfortable picking apart the nuts and bolts of a few pro themes, you’ll be more than ready to start building your own.

3. Specific template/theme options

Sometimes you want a site pre-built with certain options. The Thesis theme for WordPress boasts many SEO advantages right out of the box.

Many times you might want a site that’s built for News, or Video or Gaming. Looking for a theme for a specific genre can put you in the game much faster and at the very least give you an idea of how your content *should* be structured.

A lot of the bigger theme/template sites will give you a search option. I like to type in something like “news”and just see what it comes back with. Even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for sometimes with a decent knowledge of html/css you can “mix and match” a couple of template features together and come up with something new.

4. Support for paid themes/unpaid support -misery loves company

The great thing about using a theme is that someone else has most likely used it, too. While this counts as a detriment to some, the great thing is that if you need help, someone has probably solved the problem for you already.

Obviously with a decent paid theme from a reputable source you’ll receive some sort of tech support with the theme. That right there is worth the money when you have a client breathing down your neck.

Even if you’re using a free theme, though, if it’s fairly popular you can bet someone has run into your problem before. A little judicious Google/Bing searching and you’ll probably come right up with the answer.

The point is you’re hardly alone in it, and if the theme itself doesn’t have a forum, posing your question in design forums will probably land you a few suggestions and lead you to the fix.

5. Save a boat load of time

Finally, there’s just no beating the amount of time saved by customizing a template rather than going it alone and starting from scratch.

The truth is that most clients simply could not afford the cost that would be incurred by having a designer start from square one with that first line of html code. Or if you undertook the project underestimating the amount of work it takes to do this then you might end up losing your shirt on it.

If I had a client that was really willing to pay what I would charge for my time to develop from scratch a completely unique website then that would be great. Somehow I don’t see that happening.

Many times on sites like Template Monster (I honestly don’t care for this site, which is why I didn’t list it above) you’ll see that not only is there a “Regular Price” for the template, but there’s also a “Unique Price”, and it’s pretty damn expensive.

That’s because you have to pay for uniqueness. It costs time and money, and it’s just not cost-efficient (usually) to make that happen.

So anyway, think about this: would you rather be holed up in the office or at home working out the CSS inconsistencies between browsers, dealing with IE6 issues or trying to find that one JQuery video slider, or would you rather be out there on the links playing golf or spending time with your family or just wasting time reading comics -all things you can do if you pick the right template and just customize that sucker.

And for those who decry templates because “they all look the same”. Well, yeah, they all start out that way, but the real design pros will step in at this point and start customizing, dressing up the template and modifying it for their client’s or their own needs.

I used to start from scratch back in the day. Man was I always frustrated trying to wrangle that CSS. On the one hand, I’m really good with CSS now :), but on the other hand I certainly wasted a lot of unnecessarily wasted time that I can’t get back now that I could have used for something else.

Now I always start from a pro template, knowing that the CSS kinks and other crap are for the most part worked out already. I can just spend my energy doing design and customization, the stuff I really enjoy, then I can get busy putting in the content I want.

Anyway, so that’s my take on it. If you feel the same (or differently) just let me know in the comments, or share any other template tips/stories you might have.

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27 thoughts on “Templates and Themes: 5 reasons why you should use a template or theme when creating a website

  1. I agree with you completely here. Even though I always customize themes, I tend to start with a template. There’s another really good reason for it, and that is that user-interface design is critical to website success. Many templates are created by designers who understand how the eye works down a page. Venturing out into your own thing, or hiring someone who doesn’t understand how to design for the web is risky.

  2. Yeah Tia, that’s one thing I forgot to touch on, but is really important. I agree and that’s why there’s no need to re-invent the wheel!

  3. Pingback: Templates and Themes: 5 reasons why you should use a template or … | www.kotihost.com
  4. Number 5 is the best reason unless you are Bill Gates or the like. But I think even he would try saving some time and just find a theme to tweak out ;)

  5. You’re right Caleb, Bill Gates didn’t get to where he is today by wasting time, that’s for sure.

    I read an article a few years back about how to calculate the true worth of your time. Using Bill Gates as an example they calculated that if he were walking down the street and saw a $100 bill on the ground, it wouldn’t be worth his time to bend over and pick it up.

    Now THAT’s valuable time!

  6. Excellent post JG. The use of templates has gotten some bad press, mainly due I think, to some website designers who perpetuate the idea to clients that using a template will just render a cookie cutter result. As you know, this is far from the truth. I am a strong advocate of starting with a template or theme, and then modifying it to render a unique site design.

    As a bare minimum, even for a site I design “from scratch”, I still start with a basic layout template defining header, footer, columns, body etc.

    Using a template greatly reduces the cost of site development, which is usually the primary concern of a client. With the the tens of thousands of templates out there to choose from, then doing some modifications to the one you choose, you can be pretty certain your site will be unique.

  7. I’ve been seeing a lot of really good themes up lately. Everyone seems ga-ga over Thesis. Unfortunately, for us lowly, poor blog owners who are limited to free, I’m still impressed with some that WordPress offers for their free blogs.

    It also makes things really easy. I’ve had to create blogs from a blank WordPad page. It sucked.

    A lot.

    1. Hey Delena!

      Wow you were hardcore writing from WordPad, lol.

      A lot of free templates for WordPress are pretty mind-boggling considering the level of quality on offer.

      I often wonder “How can they afford to give this stuff away for free?” …as I download the template…

      I ponied up for Thesis for an upcoming site I’m working on, but I haven’t truly dived in yet. I set up a couple of Genesis sites, too. Great stuff, but the free options are so good you really don’t *need* those pay options.

      Thanks for dropping in!

      1. One of the best free WP templates that I have seen is the Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha. It is distributed on the WordPress.org website and also on the author’s website at http://www.aquoid.com/news/themes/suffusion/

        This theme is loaded with customizable features, which are listed on the site.

        I am using it to set up a new site at http://www.thegdireview.com

        Check it out!

        This is definitely one of those JG, where you ask , “How can they afford to give this away for free?”

        1. Downloading that mofo right now, Tom :)

          Looks pretty awesome, I might have a use for this in the near future, too. Can’t wait to play around with this one.

          Thanks for the comment and the link!

  8. Hi John,

    I agree with Caleb – #5 (to save time) is the biggest reason I use templates or themes when designing a website. Especially for smaller projects, it is simply not worth the time it takes to develop an entire theme from scratch. I always customize the themes a ton anyways, so they are not even close to what they started out as. And, like I said, I think that it is really only practical in some situations (i.e. for smaller projects) to start with a template.

    For bigger, more complex projects, I think sometimes it is actually easier to start from scratch though. Although, like Tom said, even when I develop a theme from scratch, I usually start with the basic files that I already wrote and just customize it from there.

    So, I guess that, for me, it comes down to what is the most efficient and practical way to get the particular site I am working on designed.

    That’s all I have to say…other than – great post!! :)

    1. Hey Libby!

      Yeah if a client has a need (and the willingness to pay) for a proprietary system then I see no problem with that.

      I agree with the bigger clients. You might actually waste more time trying to shoehorn there needs into an existing template or store. I just think those types of clients are few and far between for most of us. The types of clients I’ve had were definitely not the “money is no object” type -although I wish they were!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Hi John,

    Yeah, I’m in the same boat as you – the majority of my clients could care less whether or not their site is built from scratch or from a template. The biggest things most of them are concerned with are how much it will cost, how soon I can have it done, and how it will help their business. To be honest, I don’t even know what I’d do with a client who said money was not an object!! :)

  10. Wonderful to read and I must appreciate it that you shared so handy article with the readers . Greta share pal!

  11. @… argued that my work wasn’t really unique and that the web was being diluted with carbon copy sites all using the same template.

    Uniqueness is a relative notion and I don’t think that your friend is always “unique”. So, don’t jusgde and you won’t be judge. I love what you do and, please, go on doing it!

    1. Hi Katty, I agree. I just don’t see how anyone can always be unique when you’re designing a site for a business and certain conventions need to be adhered to.

      Unfortunately convention somewhat precludes the possibility of uniqueness. We should definitely make these site as as fresh as possible but we can’t just throw out the last 15 years of usability evidence just to come up with a “different” design.

      Thanks for the compliment and the comment!

  12. Hi John,
    As a client and definitely not any kind of designer, I’d say there’s nothing wrong with using templates, and I wouldn’t necessarily go for the free ones. Even the ones you pay for are cheap at the price.
    There’s a big web world out there and what’s the chance that one business is going to find their site identical to another? By the time you’ve added content, colour and style, nothing quite looks the same anyway. As designers you’re going to care much more than the average person and how much more satisfying to deal with the frills than with the basic stuff.
    When it comes to convenience and time saving, I’d say go for a good template and tweak it. What I liked about using a template service (Elegant Themes) was that I could review about 30 of them, choose the oneI preferred and still have the opportunity to change it if it didn’t work out. Which is exactly what has happened after 6 months experience.
    Your post is full of good common sense advice and a client will always trust someone who speaks plainly. Thanks for the education. I enjoyed reading the post and the comments.

  13. Exactly, Julia. If you spend just a little time adjusting colors and adding a few extra backgrounds you’ve already differentiated it from most of the competition.

    I’ve never tried Elegant Themes but I’ve heard great things about them from others so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

    Thanks for commenting!

  14. Hi JG,
    I use custom themes in my wordpress blogs by adjustiong the fonts and colors according to my requirements.
    Making the theme customize is the first thing I do on my blogs to attract customers. Then comes the content.
    Themes are also as important as content.

  15. I use a custom theme on my WP blog with minimum changes. Most changes that I have done are limited to CSS. After trying a couple of themes, I have realised that its important to pick a theme that most users like rather than going by one’s personal choice. I then worked with fresh unique content and SEO.

  16. Most of my sites powered by joomla. For me premium templates helps a lot. Most of them are programmed well and have a great design.
    It is also help me to design my site because I am not good at website design.

    So, for me they are an essential part of my website creation.

    1. Hi Medence, yes the higher end Joomla templates are usually beautifully crafted.

      They take a lot of the grunt work off of you so that’s why I always suggest starting out with one. Thanks for commenting!

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