A love-hate relationship with commercial template

April 27, 20158 Minutes

Most front-end developers have this love / hate feeling to make own templates or themes by doing it their own way. From reviewing the design mock-ups, planning the html structure, choosing the better framework to use (optional), and integrating it with your favorite CMS (Joomla, WordPress, Drupal, etc), website development is quite a long process. Though not a smooth one, the end result gives a sense of fulfillment – both professionally and personally.

However, because we are not living in a perfect world, there are some situations / clients that require / force you to use a purchased theme – which there are pros and cons.

Save money, time and effort
The usual reason for buying a template is that it speeds up development time – thus eliminating further cost and effort. Designing a mock-up would help but definitely not a must. You don’t need to plan the website structure, learn HTML, CSS or get your hands dirty with Javascript. As the more practical way, a web developer would only need to install the theme and presto! A new website is born.

Extra goodies and more!
With a purchased template, extra goodies like plugins and extensions are included. That means developers do not have to install third party application or to create own slideshow because the plugin is already there, and applying the content is only needed. One downside of installing multiple plugins, components, or widgets is the fear of conflicting scripts to each other – which either something has to give or figure it out how to make them co-exist.

(A virtual friend) Somebody to lean on
The good part of a purchased template is the support. If the going gets tough, the developer won’t shoulder all the burden. Instead, your friendly theme support staff is available and can be asked for any theme-related customizations or errors. Most of the theme support guys I reached with are reliable and straight to the point in answering questions.

Fast and (it makes me) furious (just a little bit)
While reading other blogs, I found one that summarizes what I feel towards using purchased themes / templates. Please visit this blog: http://millo.co/is-it-okay-to-use-templates-and-themes-as-a-freelance-designer. According to the author, the flip sides of buying created one are:

  • They are harder to customize.
  • They are less original.
  • They are less tailored to your client’s specific needs.
  • They can be hard to understand quickly.
  • They make you look like a less-capable designer to some people.

And may I add this: You miss the chance of learning and having the challenge.

I would like to share you my thoughts about the disadvantages:

Harder to customize
When clients asked something that is beyond the features of the theme, some developers more likely feel some jitters and uneasiness. Others might thought “I won’t spend a lot of time figuring out how to work things around here!”. One option could be considered though is to send the customized requirements to theme author and brace for additional cost.

They are less original
With a purchased template/theme, the idea of having an all-original, brand new concept can be thrown out of the window. Ideally, a designer or developer would like to have a site that is all-original, but in reality, it may be rare to find a site design that is original in all sense. In one way or another, from header to footer, similarities among web sites can be found. Chances of having your site the same with others are high.

They are less tailored to your client’s specific needs
Some clients want a unique or different way of showcasing their products / services online. It could be a unique layout of the home page, a seldom-seen-before content of the landing pages or simply something out of a box. These factors might give developers a difficulty matching in a design provided with an already built template.

They can be hard to understand quickly
For some developers, understanding the structure and function of the codes created by another may take a longer learning curve – which doesn’t sit well with them. There is a thinking that “I could have done this based on my idea and preferences, but have to adjust to what was given”.

They make you look like a less-capable designer to some people
It’s like you want to express and execute the idea in a creative way but you can’t anymore. A template had been purchased, and the layout, hue, and overall look and feel are already established. There is a feeling that your creativity was not unleashed. It is like someone took that away from you.

You miss the chance of learning and improving
The purchased template/theme is advertised as the best solution to have your site built quickly. Business-wise, it is practical – which is a great thing. A haven for HTML newbies (or to those know nothing at all), commercial templates will save you from HTML and CSS difficulties. To make it short, almost everything is spoon-fed. However, as a developer that is asked to use a commercially available one, it hinders the opportunity to expand your knowledge and test the skills. It gives no opportunity to use, practice (and get mesmerized) one’s own jQuery code which was studied for weeks or months. It holds back the chance to explore the beauty of CSS that can bring to your site, the chance to ‘feel’ the power of Javascript to animate and manipulate the objects of the pages, the chance to realize the stability of HTML frameworks, and the chance to appreciate the great features of different CMS platforms like WordPress and Joomla.

To conclude, I think it boils down to the budget and requirement. As a developer we could only wish that every single project we will take has enough time and budget, but that’s not always the case. In the real business world, practicality (and profit) goes first. However great things are not done in an instant. Learning and improving takes no shortcut.

Photo credit from https://www.sktthemes.org/wordpress-themes/digital-marketplace-wordpress-themes/