Confessions of a Template Whore

Recently, I got “busted” in the comments on a blog post for using a template to create a website. The website in question is WordCamp Ireland; the template in question is the suitably named Fun Design Theme.

Except there really isn’t a question. First of all, that theme was specifically credited on the WordCamp site – a credit cleverly hidden in a page on the menu called, you know, Thanks and Credits.

Second of all, I am pretty transparent about the fact that I freaking love templates. While I bill myself as a web designer, the fact of the matter is that clients really hire me to solve a problem. Generally that problem is that they don’t have a website, but sometimes it’s that they don’t have a website and don’t have any budget either.

Solving both of those problems at the the same time is my job. While a client with unlimited imagination, a healthy budget and at least a few weeks in their schedule is the ideal, it is not always the reality for the people I prefer to work with. MarketingWriteNow had 24 hours; they got Concise. Fuchsia Cottage was done as a swap; they got EarthlyTouch. Radisens wanted something blue and efficient; they got BlueLight.

While it is theoretically possible I am the slowest web designer in the universe, I don’t think I am; a new design for a homepage takes about 8 hours, and XHTML and CSS takes about 5, even for fairly simple sites. Then there are all those hours of content bludgeoning, cross-browser tweaking, and custom functionality. It adds up.

But, using a template, I can often get small sites out the door in a single day, at significantly less expense to the nice person paying the bill.

Some designers consider this cheating. I do not, for a few reasons. First of all, I see it as being very similar to buying stock photography or stock vectors, both of which are very standard practice. More importantly, I think there is a skill set in picking templates and stock, and that that skill set has value. Most clients browsing through templates are stuck on the visuals, but choosing the right template for a project is all about the layout. If the structure of the container is right for the content, you can pretty much make it look like anything.

That’s because a good portion of the billed time is usually spent customising the theme’s graphics; The Good Wine Show does not, I like to think, look the same as Prominence, even though the layouts are duplicates. And quite often, even the most perfect templates require at least a few hours of customisation – template makers are obsessed with Java script hover menus, for example, but no hover menu will ever appear on any site I put my name on.

At the same time, I know a lot of designers will never, ever use a template on principle. I completely understand and respect that commitment. But frankly, I also know a lot of designers who bill out considerably more than I do each year. I made a decision a long time ago about the kind of clients I wanted to work with as a freelancer, and that client is most often a small business start-up. While the financial profile of these companies varies, the people behind them are also often broke.

And at my house, even broke people deserve nice websites.