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Should you use a template?

Published by Chris Coyier

I absolutely think that beginner web designers should use templates. And by templates, I mean something that you might buy off ThemeForest or other template selling service. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Tweaking = learning. Templates need to be changed/altered/tweaked. That's the whole idea of a template. When a beginner designer does those things, they are learning how code works. Tweaking WordPress themes is exactly how I got into web design.
  • Quality. When the site is "done", a beginner will have something they are likely very proud of. Probably more proud than if they started from absolute scratch and ended up with something very basic (or downright ugly). That will provide good momentum for sticking with it.
  • "Real world." Assuming the template is well-coded, the beginner will be looking at a good amount of quality markup and well organized efficient CSS. That is nice head-first dive into real world front end design, as opposed to starting with the kind of markup an intro to HTML book might start you off with.

But what if you aren't a beginner?

If you are a professional designer (as in, a client came to you with web needs and you are going to build a custom site for them, and you are going to charge them more than a few hundred dollars) then using a template is, pardon me, bullshit.

The job of a designer is to carefully consider the needs of the client and the constraints at hand and create a solution. In my opinion, that includes every pixel on that site. If some of those pixels were recycled from somewhere else, then they weren't created with the intention of solving that clients needs. I'm not saying you can't use find/reuse/recycle things you find elsewhere, I'm saying that when you do, you ought to be manipulating them and heavily considering how they integrate into the vision for the site.

What do you think? Am I full of crap?

For you developers out there, do you feel similarly? I think the opposite might be true for developers, where recycling code that has the exact same functionality is probably the right way to go.



In recent related news, I have placed an item on the newly released CodeCanyon CSS category: CSS3 Tabs. I've had some interesting conversations with folks recently about the idea of selling code and designs. The interesting part is how the sale of design templates is largely given the thumbs up while selling code is largely given the thumbs down. I can totally relate to those feelings, but I've decided that if it's cool for designers to get paid to sell their craft, then it should be cool for developers to get paid to sell theirs (licensing issues notwithstanding).


  1. M Anderson
    Permalink to comment#

    I have found that using a template is great for the “I can only pay you $500″ clients. You can pull out a template they like and still make some money for your time.

    This worked for a basketball league site that contacted me – they need a schedule update 3 or 4 times a year and aren’t too picky about style – the site is purely informational for their players.

    • I’m totally on board with this too.

      I also know this is just “words” and who really cares, but I think in this scenario they aren’t hiring a web designer, they are hiring a template installer. And they are (probably) fine with that, they know they aren’t getting a custom solution tailored to their needs, they are getting a off-the-shelf solution that will hopefully be close to their needs.

    • Gavin
      Permalink to comment#

      I get clients who say they just want a site up quick. I show them some templates, they choose one, I create screencasts on how to update them in the future as well as take them through it in person. We get their content up in weeks (could be days if they were ready! lol)

      These clients have been really happy. The site is up in less than a month and they just pay for my time.

      I have also had a client, who once I showed him a template, said he didnt want someone else’s website, he wanted his own. His budget was $600, I just had to explain that for that budget he might not get what he expected. He came back with a bigger budget because he wanted a solution for ‘his company’.

      Templates are amazing for learning! Great for small businesses and quick sites.

      As long as they know they are dealing with a template its fine. Thise who want design, code and development tend to have bigger budgets. If you find the budget early then you know what to pitch.

    • i totally agree with you.

    • Also agree. I think the simplest way to sum all this up is that you do what the job requires. Sometimes that means designing every pixel for the client, sometimes it means grabbing a template. In any case, you are only going to do as much work as the client is willing to pay for.

      I’ve created sites both ways–but as a matter of professionalism, I always tell the client, “Here’s what I can lay out from a template, which is easy to do and very inexpensive but lacks a lot of customization. Here’s what I can give you for x more but it will service your needs to every detail.” Some clients just need the template. Some need more.

    • I do the same thing. If a client can’t afford a $2,000 custom website, then I give them the option to have me add their content into a professional-looking template from ThemeForest for several hundred dollars. They know they aren’t getting any customization, but they still get a great looking website that fits their budget. Win-win.

      And I always make sure the client knows they are getting a template. It is unethical to give a client a “custom” website from a template.

    • Another agreement here… good for begginers to learn and for pros … u simply can’t afford to make custom grafics from scratch for client paying under 500$.

  2. M Anderson is right on the point, templates work great for those types of clients. Any good developer will recycle their scripts or make minor adjustments to fill the application requirements.

  3. As a developer, I’d definitely say it’s the other way round. Any time you spend writing DOM manipulation functions for your client instead of just using something like jQuery is time wasted, so you’re doing your client a service through reuse.

    I’m not sure how far this extends though, in terms of shopping carts, CMSs etc.

    I can understand how as a designer you might feel differently. I think the design equivalent of something like jQuery is probably something like – in that you’re in control of everything, but you’re using a bit of framework assistance to get it done more efficiently.

    • Spot on comparison with the jQuery/960 bit.

    • Permalink to comment#

      As a designer and developer, I agree – about code, and in most cases. I do reach my limit pretty quickly when I have code that “works,” but also does a bunch of other stuff that is not quite what I’m going for, or even totally unneeded. I re-write it, or start from scratch myself.

      When it comes to the design, however, I completely agree with the others.

  4. Chris, I totally agree with BOTH you and M Anderson… if the client agrees to INVEST on the time I need to develop a custom design, I am happy to make a unique work just for him.

    Unfortunately, a lot of clients just want a 400$ job done in 4 days: in that case I suggest them to choose a ready made template from Themeforest or similar marketplaces and then concentrate on content.

    Regarding frameworks, I usually use Codeigniter (PHP), jQuery or mootools and 1kbcss or blueprint css: as said before, I am often in the “hurryhurryhurry” scenario and counting on robust and well proven solutions is a good way to work easily and fast.

  5. Although I am in the “beginner web designer” class, I have been developing desktop software for the past 15 years. Locating appropriate code and reusing it is making the most efficient use of the customer’s money. Providing the customer with the best possible product for the least amount of money (while still making a fair profit for your work) is the objective of both the developer and the customer. Reusing code in the form of templates is one of the best ways to do this.

    Perhaps there are some truly brilliant web developers out there who think creatively every waking hour, but I’m not one of them. I have my share of “inspired” moments where I come up with some truly elegant code, but most of the time it is pretty plain-vanilla stuff. It would be quite arrogant of me to claim that I can come up with a better product by starting from scratch rather than seeing what a host of other developers are presenting as their best work and then using that as a foundation to build from.

    I am all in favor of using templates and code in order to give the customer the best product for the least money. I would love to be such a great developer that everything I do is vastly superior to what anyone else can write – but I’m not. I suspect that applies to most other folks as well.

    • Well you aren’t really designing in this case. You are writing code. If your client knows this ahead of time, then its on them to decide.

      I don’t think you have to be the best in order to get clients. We would all be seriously screwed if that was case.

      If you can equate templating to the print side of things, I think this makes a lot of sense.

      If you can use photoshop, that doesn’t make you a designer. If you just use an MS office template (assuming there were any good ones), you aren’t designing anything. Design is about making content more usable, not about simply publishing.

      With sites like squarespace, I think it’s a little deceiving to tell your client you are building them a site when they are simply using a refashioned template. They could have done that on their own and paid a whole lot less.

      On the case of reusing some code: Unless it is controlling your overall design, then you’ve committed nothing wrong in my eyes.

  6. Money aside, If you have a client with many sites, i believe it to be OK to “Recycle” some aspects of the design. Say for instance you have a franchise that sells a certain product, and you would be doing one site per state. It would NOT be ok to copy the design completely, but recycling the color scheme or a few icons, is perfectly fine, and in some cases encouraged. You just need to make sure the sites look different and can be told apart. But at the same time you can tell they are the same company.

  7. I agree. I find myself in the group of begginers who use templates to tweak and learn and so far I’ve learned a lot.

  8. To clarify, we are talking about fully styled templates and what not right? Because I use an unstyled, skeleton sort of template just to get the same stuff that goes into every wordpress theme out of the way quickly, and editing this if necessary. Then I just go from there to create a completely original design. I see no problem with this.

    • Gavin
      Permalink to comment#

      I would say you are a step past beginner, once I played around with the fully fledged templates, I started to use skeletons to create my own sites. Its the next step in the learning process I think.

      Using these can be a real time saver, even with bespoke designed sites.

    • I’d agree with Gavin – once you’re used to working with / through templates as the foundation to your designs, you start to recognise the elements you can and do reuse all the time and can do so quickly and efficiently.

      I think you’re right in that Chris is talking about bought templates, rather than a template-framework you use as a base for (nearly) every project.

    • yes we are talking about fulyl styled tempaltes … using skeletons is fine but there is stil, the price issu involved (would u use a skeleton on a 200$ website? )

  9. Even though I don’t consider myself a great designer I would never buy a template and resell it to a client – How would I ever improve?

  10. Bryant
    Permalink to comment#

    From a developers point of view, I think it completely depends on your clients expectations. When speaking with clients its usually clear if they want a completely custom website, or if they just want A website. In many cases where someone just wants A website, I’ll suggest to them to just use a template instead of having me custom design something. Usually “clients” who fall into this category are family/friends who I’m doing discounted work for and I really can’t afford to spending X amount of hours working on a design and I just want to get something up for them that satisfies their needs in the quickest amount of time possible.

  11. WC
    Permalink to comment#

    For good templates, you are correct. For the templates you buy from the ‘free template’ sites (that also sell ‘premium’ templates) you are exposing the novice developer to some very, very bad code and design.

  12. We frequently have clients approach us with only a few thousand dollars to spend on a site so we developed a quick design template that can handle 90% of the low-end requests that come in.

    We usually do the IA for them and then roll it into the template design.

    I like it for a few reasons:
    – It prevents someone from hiring a student to build a crappy, poorly coded, ugly web site
    – It was actually fun to try and build a template that pretty much maintains itself and can be applied to most sites
    – Having the template allows at least some revenue to come into the department
    – These clients rarely complain about billing
    – It gives us more free time to work on interesting projects since we don’t have to deal with talking people into paying way more than they can afford for a site.

    In this case, I do think we use a template in a pretty nice way and it seems to benefit everyone involved. keeps clients happy, and produces some pretty nice sites overall.

    • Blake
      Permalink to comment#

      I completely agree with what you are saying Tim. I think it is a bit arrogant for some to say that using a template is only for beginners, or to say that buying a template means you are going to get crap code – that is a bit insulting to any designer that supplements their income buy selling their work. Templates are just as much as part of any design/development house – beginners or expert – as other tools. Why redesign the wheel if you do not have to. We use template designs as well for those clients needing something quick and cheap… it doesn’t mean we are giving them crap code, it means we are providing a service and keeping revenue coming in so we can all eat and have a roof over our head. It has nothing to do with skimping on quality.

    • woooooo dude …. only a few thousand bucks … with a 1000$ budget u cant be seriosly thinking about templates (except skeletons) …

      i use templates for clients that come in with a few hundred dollars (and i do mean a few) … and i belive most of us here are saying just that … when u use a template tell a client that you’re using it and dont bill over 1000$ for it (except there are advanced features (shop,forums,custom apps) involved

  13. For design, I agree absolutely – a client who pays for a custom design tailored to their specific needs deserves a custom design that’s not based on any template.

    When it comes to implementing that design, though, I think working off pre-made templates or theme frameworks is legitimate and in fact desirable. After all, why pay a developer to reinvent the wheel when you could be paying her to add cool features and functionality?

    On a side note after reading the comments on this post, it’s interesting how often we merge the roles of designer and developer in our thinking. It’s been difficult to get my clients – mostly small businesses or the marketing team of large businesses – to understand those as two different roles. In their minds they hire a “web designer” to “build a website”. As a web developer who tries to work with professional graphic/web designers whenever possible, I find myself having that conversation a lot. Am I alone?

    • Permalink to comment#

      Most of my clients have no idea what goes into building a website, much less that there are different aspects to the job.

    • Jaz
      Permalink to comment#

      As someone who started out designing, I’m the opposite, I’m used to creating designs and collaborating with professional developers. I’m in the process of learning the coding end because of that lack of distinction between the two roles. I’m getting good at it, and charging extra now (you want someone who can do both roles awesomely, you’d better be paying them awesomely). So many jobs in my local area ask for a web designer (and go on to list all the codes they must be experienced with) and they pay less than retail. But I digress.

      I agree that the design should be 100% customised for the clients purposes, but implementing it from a template is legit. I would never recycle my (or someone else’s) graphics and call it original, but if a site structure is built how I need it for the client’s purposes, then why not use it as a starting point?

  14. I don’t think I would recommend to beginners that they should use templates. Not everyone can learn by tweaking things that are already built. I think it could lead to a lot of copy and pasting, not actual learning.

    • al
      Permalink to comment#

      Dunno about that. The way I initially learnt was using the actual copy/paste/insert/point and click methods you got from Frontpage back in the 20th century. Obviously it worked alright back then but not now.

      When I was learning how to do “proper” coding for sites I learnt just about everything from finding some good examples and then studying how they worked.

      Even now when I see a feature or layout that looks a bit different I take a look at the source code and CSS of whatever site it is to see how it works. In this sense, (good) templates are very useful for people.

      Problems are the fact that every person designs and codes in a different manner. Often I’ve looked at the code of templates and thought “WTF” because the way it’s been done is pretty different from how I do it. In some cases it’s almost unintelligible because of strange naming conventions and the like.

      The other issue with templates currently is that they often tend to try to be “all things to all people” and are usually jam packed with “features” that are thrown in for the sake of it just so it looks “funky” enough to get by whatever criteria the reviewer is using. Often this leads to over complex templates and also tends to towards mediocrity.

      By this I mean most templates on themeforest for example are a selection of layouts filled with lightboxes, sliders and strange jquery that the beginner has no hope of modifying in any meaningful sense without basically breaking it.

  15. you’re talking about the front end, not the stuff behind the template, right? hows abouts child themes, for instance, using wordpress and thematic?

  16. I think there is also a monumental difference between using a template that you have built and scouring a template site and changing the logo. As has been said already it really comes down to the clients expectations and being open an honest about what it is you are giving them.

  17. “Templates need to be changed/altered/tweaked. That’s the whole idea of a template. When a beginner designer does those things, they are learning how code works.”

    Not necessarily. They can just be cutting/pasting code around and maybe it works in browser A, but breaks in browser B (If they’re even checking in browser B, they are beginners, after all.

    “When the site is “done”, a beginner will have something they are likely very proud of. Probably more proud than if they started from absolute scratch and ended up with something very basic (or downright ugly).”

    But they might not have done any real work other than copy/paste in some content, changed some nav items, uploaded some photos. There’s no ownership, they’re just monkey.

    “Assuming the template is well-coded, the beginner will be looking at a good amount of quality markup and well organized efficient CSS.”

    Possibly a big assumption. And would they even know they’re looking at quality code?

    What beginners need, IMO, is a mentor. Someone who can help them along when they get stuck and offer code reviews. More employers should be fostering this type of employee relationship.

    • Yes, I agreed with you. Most of the beginners don’t know what really they are doing. It can be even seen, when someone was rushing him in a tight deadlines.

      Thanks Chris for this post. All your highlights in this post are really happening between us.

  18. Pedro
    Permalink to comment#

    Templates are great to quicly “build” a design solution to work and if you are a developer is fantastic…

    To develop a custom soluction you must have a client with money.

    More, a template for me is the base and then i change it all….

  19. You know, we just started out in the ‘Design’ world. I have been a developer for many years. (mostly inside huge corporations) I have NEVER considered myself a designer.
    My wife is the artistic/creative one. She is learning the code, while leaning on me for how to make her elements ‘work’ on/in a site we build. I have pointed her to templates to learn, and she has ended up taking them completely apart, and only recycling the ‘concept’. (with a few exceptions) I concur on the design aspect its almost imperative that you learn from templates. But to blatantly rip them off, and charge FULL price as if YOU did the work. Absurd. If you used it, post the credit.
    For development code, heh its a catch 22 there. Most source is hidden behind the server. This is a matter of good will and faith. I personally don’t use someone elses code as it lacks my level of desired security.

  20. Daniel
    Permalink to comment#

    What I have done is use templates for structure and then reskin it. Saves me some time

  21. Well, I did the first one… Get a template, tweak and learn what’s inside the template :P But I do have a friend, who think of himself as professional tweak template for client :lol: All I do is slap my forehead…

  22. Permalink to comment#

    I just don’t think there’s a hard fast rule on this. If a pro designer has a template that suits a client’s needs, what difference does it make if it wasn’t built from the ground up with that client in mind? Plenty of clients have common needs (why else would there be so many web frameworks), why duplicate effort on principle?

    That said, the underlying template shouldn’t be recognizable if you’re being paid any kind of money.

    For beginners, I would actually discourage too much template use. If you don’t put in the time learning build this stuff from the ground up, you’re going to stay a beginner. You might be great at modifying templates, but without having the skillset to build a web app from scratch, you’re never going to take that next step.

  23. Willson
    Permalink to comment#

    I agree. If you’re throwing together a new site for you and especially if you’re a beginner, have at it. But, if you are being paid to design and develop a website, you better design and develop it.

    • Anon
      Permalink to comment#

      “But, if you are being paid to design and develop a website, you better design and develop it.”

      Or else what?

  24. If you are a designer that can identify a good template, or you know that this corporate makes very well coded +/- perfomaced pages and offers templates it could be a good idea to use one.

    Templates are not fix. You can pimp and modify things like self written things.

  25. For many years, I learned the rough way, by testing codes and languages like PHP.

    I built what I believe being some kind of template which I may use for most requests for web development.

    I consider myself as a permanent learner but would never deliver a code I did not fully test myself.

    I also consider as a must, the analysis process that should precede any development, and the project and the project definition approval by the client.

  26. Templates are just for learning experiences. I find hand coding things from scratch (once I knew how) to be far more fun and engaging.

    Plus, it seems to take me even more time to hack up someone else’s work than to simply do it my way from the ground up anyway.

  27. I am a total beginner and for me, I started my current website with a basic blogger template. I make tweaks see if what I think is going to happen, happens. Its been great learning for me. Doing this really helped with my understanding of CSS.

    My site is pretty blah right now but I figure as I grow in experience the quality of my site will improve as well.

  28. Hey Chris, totally agree with your points about templates. I’m in that category of using templates from ThemeForest and the like to learn from – many of the WordPress themes are really well out together, not to mention the fact that I get to learn some jQuery from the plugins and things included with many of the templates.

    As far as selling code goes? I say why the hell not?! You’re right: if designers can sell designs, why can’t developers sell code snippets that are reusable, robust and most importantly helpful?

  29. Dev Null
    Permalink to comment#

    A “few hundred dollars” doesn’t usually warrant a “from-scratch” anything if you ask me, especially when a functional live web site needs to go up for that much.

    Chris, how do you feel about starting from a theme like EmptyCanvas?

  30. Michael Short
    Permalink to comment#

    I agree Chris, when i started I was dead set on doing everything from scratch and learning that way. and sometimes I wish I had started learning by tweeking templates.

  31. Tim
    Permalink to comment#

    I think templates are a great start for people learning. I started (pre-templates) by deconstructing sites. As for using a template for a client, I guess I kind of do every time. I use the same frameworks for every site. The designs are different, but the backend is almost always identical.

  32. Josh
    Permalink to comment#

    I agree with the first few comments made.

    I think that often times, people have a really whacked out idea of what web design really costs. So, in some cases I’ve used the template approach for those clients who maintain that it shouldn’t cost more than $1000 to custom make anything. I show them what they can get and then have a real world example of why it costs more to develop a really unique site.

    But I totally agree that a client that comes to me and is adamant that they have only $750 to spent and it HAS to be in a power CMS like WP, then I will totally outsource that sucker to a template and give them several choices.

  33. Joey
    Permalink to comment#

    I am a beginner at this and have to admit I have been tweaking templates as a way to learn. I’ve done a bunch of work for non-profits, sports clubs, etc. – some of which I never charged for. For jobs that I have charged for I have always told the client “you can have it quick/cheap or you can have it custom/expensive – but not cheap/custom”

    Having said that I have to agree with the general feedback here:

    Using templates is OK provided 1) your clients budget does not stretch to something custom and specific for them and 2) you tell the client upfront that what they are getting may look ‘similar’ to other sites and is based on a template.

    Being successful in this business is based on positive client feedback and their recommendations to other potential clients. If you try and screw them your reputation will quickly disappear and no one will want to work with you.

    Be honest, be upfront – tell them exactly what they are getting for their money and dont try and scam them, it will come back to bite you.


  34. tuma
    Permalink to comment#

    The risk for a begnner is to do something cool without the basic knowledge of the code!

  35. This has been good reading for me. I’ve been a graphic designer for many, many years and recently a few friends/associates with small businesses and blogs have been asking me to do sites for them. I’ve agreed, letting them know up front that I’m just beginning at this. Moving from the printed space to the digital space has been a bit challenging to say the least, but I know it must be done.

    I’m working on a site using Dreamweaver + a design I created in Photoshop (no template) and it’s kicking my butt. LOL! But I feel I’m learning the program. For a few other folks, I will totally use a template like Thesis and customize it for their needs–but they know this up front. I feel it fits their small budgets and I get the experience. I would never sell a templated site as my own.

  36. 98% of my work is custom design and custom themes. However I recently did two sites that use existing templates that my client’s were fully aware that they were existing templates (one was free and the other a paid WP e-commerce theme from Theme Forest), and they were customized for the client. Both clients had very small budgets and yet are pleased beyond belief with their websites.

    I recently heard of one company using a theme from Theme Forest and they charged their unsuspecting client $20,000.

    • Gavin
      Permalink to comment#

      Its the ‘unsuspecting’ part that is bad, not the $20,000

      Web development is not just about the design. I have used a fully loaded web template, shown it to my client, customised it, made sure it met all the clients needs and walked them through using WP, created documentation and screencasts.

      I invoiced for my time only, and made a nice some of money, even better.. that client passed my details on to their friend and I did the same again.

      As long as everyone knows what they are being charged for, no one will feel hard done by.

  37. As a web designer, I think you should have 99% of your work with custom, hand-coded templates.

    The only acceptable time I use pre-made templates is when I am burned out and I cannot come up with a template to save my life. Even then, I always carefully select templates based on the client’s needs and their target audience. I never blindly choose templates because I know if I pick the wrong template, the client won’t get the most out of their website.

    Nonetheless, if you’re going to do the route I did, tell them it’s a pre-made template or at least do not take credit for it.

  38. Very nice discussion going on here. I was using mobify earlier to convert one of my sites to mobile format but found it very cumbersome tool. I would like to see a screencast exactly how you achieved your mobile interface for step by step to enlightem us all.
    Thank you.

    P.S. I finally resorted to using wp-touch instead. check it out on your iphone.

  39. Ant
    Permalink to comment#

    Problems with templates is that they are «Kitchen sink». There are often too many options that are not really needed on site (but most inexpierenced designers keeping them; things like calendar or news block on non-news site).

    But it’s better to modify already working solution than reinventing wheel every time from scratch. I like minimal themes like Thematic for that.

  40. Jim
    Permalink to comment#

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree on this one, Chris. I’m a huge fan of your blog and your philosophy regarding everything web…But this one is a particularly interesting debate.

    Over the years, I’ve built many websites right from scratch…with great results. However, in more recent years, I’ve been using ThemeForest templates as a starting point for nearly all projects — regardless of the price tag. I feel that every time I build sites this way, I save my clients both time and money, and still yield a premium product that is right on strategy.

    Because I am more advanced (and not a beginner) I am able to manipulate well-built templates with ease, and flexing them without having to worry too much about cross-browser issues….After all, the template was tested in all browsers before I even bought it. So there is a whole new layer of quality control that comes with a template, and then benefit gets passed on to the client. Where else can you get code that has already been thoroughly tested, at nearly no cost?

    My rational comes down to this:
    I try to get my clients the best price, based on the amount of time I need to complete a project. When I need to spend 10-20 extra hours on a website, making it work in IE6, that is a cost incurred by the client. BUT…If I use a template that already works in ALL browsers (including IE6) right off the shelf, I instantly save the client many hours of IE fixes…If nothing else, I’ve always looked at themeforest templates as mini html/css ‘frameworks’… A starting point to save both myself and my clients money.

    In terms of design, its come to the point where nearly any design I come up with can be adapted to an existing template framework. Some just require more modification than others.

    • all i can say is … word :)

    • Permalink to comment#

      My thoughts/philosophy in a nutshell – as someone also said earlier you cannot be a creative genius every hour of every day – themeforest templates can give you the base to build on – and once modX is mastered can be easily made into a full CMS for client

  41. Unless a beginner is expecting to look like a pro in a week of tweaking, I think starting from scratch and learning every step along the way can be rewarding. I suppose it depends on the learner. Some people can be happy and proud making every step on their own every step of the way.

    But for professional designers, I do think it is pretty bullshit if they’re using templates bought from other designers. It’s like having a job to do without actually doing it. Granted, it sounds awesome but it’s unfair to the paying parties that are thinking it’s customized just for them.

    • well it depends… how much do you charge for your websites … is it still bullshit if your client has 300$ budget… and they are told that what they’re getting is a modified template that will still make a nice website… (or do you simply turn such clients away) ?

  42. I will happily back-up what you said here. I just into web design properly in the same way. I have now abandoned my templates and I shall never go back.

    I love being free.

  43. As a beginner I am curious to know what you seasoned guys think about 960 Grid system? Seems like it would be a good from to do completely custom work from. Any of you ever used it?

    • Ant
      Permalink to comment#

      I use it almost for every design.

    • Anon
      Permalink to comment#

      That is an awesome link, thanks so much! I hardly ever do web design but you bet I will be using this site when I do.

    • Well I am glad you like it get most of css principles my only real problem now is trying to remember the “verbiage” when writing the code…constantly going back to w3schools

      I am just not seeing how it is helpful, but seems like its popular and well received from some of the looking around I have done. I just to want to get caught up in some gimmicky tool. I like learning to do it from “scratch” so to speak.

  44. Anon
    Permalink to comment#

    I am a designer first, developer goes pretty far down on the list. However, I am the type of person who learns a hell of a lot faster tweaking good code than butting my head against the wall trying to build from scratch. I do take the time to research the who, what, where, when, why of everything I tweak because my goal is to make a great website, both front and back. The design is usually almost completely changed though. I have no problem doing it because hey, I do this to earn a living and I’d like to actually make some money, and also there is very little any of us is doing from scratch. Unless you developed the code itself (none of you did, I’d bet) you’re just using a language someone else created and copying/pasting or retyping what you’ve memorized. Most of us don’t make our own fonts either but no one gives that a second thought. That doesn’t make our work any less valid, less well constructed, or less valuable. It is just taking our egos out of the equation and putting everything into perspective.

    There is very little that can be truly marked as original today. With billions of people CURRENTLY existing in the world, not even counting the generations passed, what makes you think you are doing anything original, lol?! It takes a lot of balls or a lot of ignorance to say your work is actually original or from scratch.

  45. Hmm.
    Its an interesting topic. Im a designer/animator who worked in the games industry for years and just this past year started learning web dev and code.
    Thats just how I learned…buying templates and ripping them apart. Ive found a couple of templates which are highly customisable(?) if thats a word…for me, its about having the layout I want and the custom bit for me is in the logo/artwork/backgrounds which I always do from scratch.
    I have bought a couple of themes only to find they were so customised with all the bells and whistles it was almost impossible to change anything.
    All artists learn by copying first, and then improv.
    Im very grateful to the online community which is very supportive.
    I have to say, the ethics are in listening to and giving the client what they want.

  46. i think you are totally right. When it comes to designing along with money. Thats is how you know you have to work harder. Giving the satisfaction at hand. And not just a lazy ass, coding a bit. then send it to client. It’s a total disgrace to the world of arts.

  47. Drakke
    Permalink to comment#

    How many clients need a custom website designed from scratch?

    Maybe customers like the NY Met, popular musical bands, larger charities etc.?

    In my opinion all others can do well with a template and some level of customization. You can take a template and add enough customization to completely change the look to the point that it is almost completely unrecognizable.

  48. mssbee
    Permalink to comment#

    How much is your work per hour worth? Can you design and code a custom website in 20 hours? That is how $1000 breaks down at $50 per hour. As an experienced professional designer/developer isn’t your time worth that? How do you support the industry pay scale if you charge less than that?

    I have been in the design business for years and would like to pass along a tip. If you make a bid and your customer asks for a reduced price, never come down in price for the same design. Less money means less design or features, this is where items like templates come in. Never sell a “Neiman Marcus” website for a “Wal-Mart” price.

  49. cram
    Permalink to comment#

    Use the best tool for the job. If a template fits into that equation, so be it. Someone who is passing off a template as their own work is doing something wrong that has nothing to do with the template.

  50. sean
    Permalink to comment#

    Intresting topic.

    I’m also a beginner – and I am wondering about custom websites vs. templates.

    how customizable can you make a themed template with beginner level of coding experience?

    I am looking at Headways and Thesis… anyone familiar with these that they can guide me. thanks.

  51. JP
    Permalink to comment#

    I regularly charge clients $1000+ for websites, using templates from Themeforest. I don’t see a problem IF YOU MODIFY THE LOOK/FEEL enough to make it somewhat unique. Of course I would never go with what is standard in the template download, and regularly spend 20-30 hours tweaking, testing and adding other features. From a billing perspective, this works out to be in the $40-$50/hour range – quite reasonable I think.

    I work full time designing and supplement my income doing sites for small businesses after hours from home.

    Honestly I think all these ‘designers’ saying you shouldn’t do it are just trying to act like the good guy… Time to get off your high pedestal and look at the reality of the industry we work in. Times have changed and having a totally unique website in today’s world is not as important as it was 10 years ago.

    More than the design, the functionality for today’s client is a more important feature. And when you think of how fast people’s tastes change in the world today, it is ridiculous for small-medium businesses to spend a huge amount of money on having a totally unique looking site without any recycled / templated code or designs.

    Sure… if Nike is paying you $15,000 to create a site, you would need a good slap in the face if you used a template – but for small-medium businesses who are only targeting a small part of the population, templates are the way to go.

    Sure.. there will still be room in the industry for the totally unique design agency that won’t go near a template. But that’s not where 90% of us freelancers base our business model.

    On another note… if you are designing a full site for a client for $400, then your standards are set too low… AND you are bringing down the price expectations for all other web designers out there.

    The good thing about using templates is:

    The client gets a good quality site that has been modified to their colors, look/feel, images, etc..

    I get my $50/hour which I feel is standard.

    Plus the client gets their site in a timely manner and I can move onto other projects.

    Instead of worrying about setting up the structure of a site, I can concentrate more on the functionality.

    It’s a win win situation for everyone.

    So get off your high horses and embrace the REALITY of the industry today!

    • Dev Null
      Permalink to comment#

      Nike paying a mere $15k (for them) should get a template too.

  52. Don’t forget that coded templates have 2 elements, layout and style. A template can give you a good head start on the former without needing to look anything like the original once you;re done restyling.

    We base loads of our newsletters on the ones provided by Campaignmonitor and the end result is unrecogniseable.

    It also gives you the opportunity to give the client an idea of the end product much earlier. Definitely a good thing as most clients don’t really know what they want until they see it.

  53. 100% with you on this Chris.

    Templates for learning, custom designs and builds for paid work.

  54. Mike
    Permalink to comment#

    I agree that templates are great learning tools, I also think if you are touting yourself as a web developer/designer and then selling pre-made “themes” you should let the client know. I have made quick sites for clients where the budget isn’t much and a “theme” serves the purpose well enough. However, I have never made a site for any client where they think they are getting a custom built website and I sell them a theme. This would open me up to alot of risk if the client ever found out that they could have bought a wordpress theme and hooked it up themselves.

    This brings me to another point. Sometimes I have found it best to simply charge a “consulting fee” and instruct the client on how to set up their own wordpress site, with a theme from theme forest. I give them advice on hosting and setup and welcome them to call me if they run into trouble or have questions. This is often less costly and time consuming on my part and it turns out to be “fun” for the client! I have actually been referred to new business this way, because I think there is a level of honesty here the client appreciates.

    We as web developers and designers can speak our own language if we choose. We can tell clients things are more complex and costly than they really are. Often times, we are the only ones who understand the situation. This is where morality becomes important, ultimately, I’ve found it’s best to offer real solutions to clients needs. This will benefit the client and yourself in the long run. In the end I think most people get a gut feeling of whether or not they trust you anyway. Keep it simple, be honest.

  55. Aside from the top 10% of clients (which typically end up being web-applications, rather than web-sites) I use templates for all of my sites. They all go through a full customization phase with new artwork, colors, backgrounds and additional capabilities and animations – but they are all templates down at the low level.

    I do have a problem with people touting template artwork as their own, but if the client knows up front that their project will be built on existing code then all is well in IMHO.

  56. lisa
    Permalink to comment#

    i have spent this year learning how to build websites and I have found one of the most cost effective ways is to buy a template and take it apart.

    Taking stuff out and seeing what it does; putting stuff in and see what it does. All great learning and at a good price. A lot cheaper than most courses I have looked at and the zillions of books i could have bought (and a few I have bought!!)

    P.S. I have found this site really useful in my learning journey. Which is truly enlightening but some days as frustrating as hell ….

  57. I couldn’t agree more about the use of templates.

    However, the REAL beginners fall into a big trap if they fail to modify anything on the template. That’s when you get a plethora of copycat websites which really does nothing good for anybody.

    I haven’t designed a single template myself, though, but I do enough change so it’s not completely duplicate.

    Good post!

  58. i also agree for initial web designers tweaking is much more fun than to start from scratch

  59. I believe templates can be a great thing for many reasons:

    1. Some people simply want just a template to get them started on the web

    2. You can learn a ton by reverse engineering the code (like you said)

    3. You can build your own template to start up the design process – think snippets!

    However, there are also some drawbacks:

    1. If you get too comfortable, you’ll just keep using templates and thus your skills don’t expand.

    2. Delivering a clearly visible template could upset clients that think they’re getting a full design

    Overall though, it can be a great way to get a lot of work done when you’re doing a mix between clients that just want something up until they’re putting together a full site – you may be able to later work with them again when you do the full design.

  60. Saffron
    Permalink to comment#

    If a beginner is just taking a template and smacking the client’s logo on it, that is just an affront to what we do in general. Tweaking it and learning how to code (with the assumption – and it can be a big one – that they test it) is a good thing though. They do learn, but sometimes I think it may also stunt their growth a little.

    There’s nothing for experience like designing and coding a site by hand … but even then what designer doesn’t have a bookmark folder full of jquery scripts? That’s pre-fab isn’t it?

    Once you enter Developer territory and start using a CMS though, I think templates only as wireframes are an indispensable tool. I’m not talking something bought off CodeMonster for $60 though. If I were to have to write a WHOLE back-end for a 100+ page TechCom site and then design and then code every single page, and then write all the dynamic scripting on my own, I’d be charging some small business $50-60K+ for my time … and then I wouldn’t be, cos I wouldn’t get that contract.

    It also depends on the CMS. WordPress is simple enough you can write a custom template for it. Joomla or Drupal on the other hand, forget it. It’ll still take you a good 40+hours even with a wireframe/template if you actually design it/customize the CSS/create custom graphics etc.

  61. I work in a professional web development studio and have a few times lately needed to tweak and adapt WordPress templates.

    Some of these were for very small clients with very few needs. One was for a bigger client with very few needs. The idea with the bigger client was that he was going with a tweaked template for the moment, and in a few months when he has gained more recognition and business he was going to come back for a custom designed and built system to replace it. He just wanted to get his content up asap.

    My WordPress work is split 70/30 between building custom templates and tweaking existing templates.

    I do agree though that tweaking templates is a great learning experience. I only started with WordPress 3 or 4 months ago and most of what I know is from being thrown in head first.

    I am always a little disappointed when we start talking about a project around the office, and then the boss mentions sourcing a template. I would much prefer to get in there from the ground up.

  62. Permalink to comment#

    i am a .net developer i am new to the whole web designing and developing .
    i need to create a website for myself to post my latest projects free downloads and toutorials but my designs look awful should i learn designing or use a template but i refused to hire a designer because i am going to change the website style a lot so this is going to cost me a fortune .

  63. Bob
    Permalink to comment#

    I am into webdesign for 1 year now. I have most of the css & html skills learned by myself. It was hard, recources on the internet are awesome, but only or the most are in english. i must read it learn it and translate some of the tec. Words. Anyway- question that i like to ask is to the developers: what you think about when i use a blank theme? Its only that wordpress php stuff that i dont know at this time (others too but not essential to make a customers website). And for learning issues i like to go further now with real world projects. So i have done a responsive website thats html code and all css code is written by myself.( sure there was some css resets on the blank theme and other cool stuff that i am not use anyway). Is using a template or a blank theme like the one i use, somehow the same?

  64. Gabriela
    Permalink to comment#

    I ve been learning from joomla since 1998, im not a pro designer, either im not a pro programmer, but using templates let me provide very nice and professional solutions for some small business and individuals and they appreciate my customization very much… i think that pro programmers and pro designers would be provide solutions for pro and large companies. Im very honest with people, and they choose the template for customization….

  65. What about developers? Should a beginner developer use WordPress to “learn” and then develop your own CMS from scratch? I don’t get the idea behind this argument for designers using templates. If you can use WordPress for a professional blog, why can’t you use a professional theme, saving your time. I think the same is valid for your personal projects or your clients that know that you are using a template (a good one), so with this argument you shouldn’t be using WordPress code, you have to develop all your blog code with PHP (or other server-side language) from scrath.

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