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InfoQ Homepage Articles What’s Wrong With Using Design Templates?

What’s Wrong With Using Design Templates?


Key takeaways

  • Treat templates as a starting point
  • Have a web developer on board!
  • Custom designs enhance user experience
  • Personalized website emphasizes your business points
  • Choose high quality over low costs


There's no denying that website templates dominate the web design scene today. Many businesses jump into this opportunity because they're so affordable and simple to set up. Templates serve as the "good enough" option, helping organizations that deal with limited funds and tight schedules. And they're clearly on their way to dominate the market – already 3 years ago, Moz published this blog post citing all the reasons why custom design is dying.

How popular are design templates? There's no specific research data available on that, but look at some of the top template websites and you'll get the idea about their reach. HubSpot offers over 1,400 website and email templates, and Themeforest a total of 25,000 templates.

But design templates obviously have their limitations as well. Here are 8 good reasons why using a design template is ultimately a bad idea. 

1. They aren't flexible

You can't get creative with a template. Sure, you can add your content like images and text, but that's hardly a customization feature. If you're looking for unique layouts and structures, steer clear of templates – they usually exploit very similar models which aren't easy to customize. A website based on a template will never be unique. Imagine being stuck with this kind of crazy horizontal and vertical navigation mix.

2. They often hide issues under the surface

This is a real problem. Many templates look amazing on the surface, but once you dig a little in their code, you might spot some serious issues. Many of these self-build templates in fact offer to add features and customize the design for additional fees. In the end, people end up paying for features like SEO analytics and marketing, which just isn't fair. Just have a look at premium plans available to WIX users, who evidently have to pay even for connecting the temple to a domain.

3. They're cheap

And this is their main selling point. However, when buying one you should remember that you're getting what you pay for. They're cheap and they look cheap. Since a website basically serves as the first impression to consumers, using a template might trigger negative responses from the online community and affect the image of a brand. Just take a look at this one – it's hard to believe it costs almost $70!

If you'd like to use a template and still build a positive brand image, choose recognized template providers and consider purchasing plans that grant access to more unique designs.

4. Users recognize them

Since providers of these templates use lots of advertising, they also help consumers to learn what website templates look like. Together with their generic titles and badly designed navigation, these features are distinctive enough so visitors instantly know that the brand didn't invest in a custom design and chose an unprofessional solution.

Website templates suggest lack of creativity and laziness – and because of these, brand image can only suffer. Be honest, how many times have you seen this design around the web? It sure looks familiar to any user with good eyesight.

5. They're often not responsive

The situation is changing, but this still holds true for many self-build themes and templates out there. Obviously, building a website which isn't responsive is unforgivable in 2016. Mobile web usage is growing and today it surpasses desktop usage. 80% of internet users own a smartphone today. Using a template, brands risk losing with their competition on the mobile scene.

There exist methods for transforming a non-responsive template or theme into a responsive one. You can try a plugin, for instance Device Theme Switcher. But you can also delve into the code and update the container fix width values – set the width to 100% and then specific a max-width for large screens. You can deal with responsive navigation with a plug as well – Responsive Menu is a good choice.

6. They're not unique

Template companies usually categorize their offer to reflect the need of different industries. The idea is good, but the execution is often lacking. Every industry is characterized by variety. How is one template supposed to work for all the different options? Will it help these businesses to differentiate themselves from others and be really applicable to their needs? Not very likely.

Plus, choosing a popular template, you'll find hundreds if not thousands of websites that look remarkably similar. And that's obviously not a method for standing out on the market. A classic example of this problem is Bootstrap framework which turned out to be too popular for its own good.

7. They resist change

Websites change over time. Technologies are under constant innovation and developers update websites to keep up with the requirements and stay competitive. Building a website on a system created by someone else is a sure way to lock yourself out of these options. Otherwise, you might find yourself having to start rebuilding your website from scratch. By the time you're done, the business might lose to their competitors.

8. SEO might become a problem

Sure, some templates might be designed with SEO in mind, but that's not always the case. In fact, you've got no guarantee whatsoever that the template you're building on will positively impact the website's search rank. Many designers never think about SEO when putting together pre-made templates. And developers working with custom base elements most often know what they're doing when it comes to SEO.

Still if you're using a template there are a few things you can do to boost its SEO. Make sure to personalize your titles, create a custom logo, work on your meta titles and short meta descriptions, label your photos and write content that makes use of the keywords you're targeting.


Templates aren't the most terrible thing that could happen to web design, but they should be treated as a starting point – and nothing more. Considering all the problematic issues that are part of using templates, having a developer on board can easily turn out to be much more cost-effective.

Contrary to templates which are designed for a broad business category, custom designs are built by experts to meet specific business needs. A great website is more than stunning visuals and smart widgets. Custom designs are personalized at a conceptual level, delivering great user experience on desktop or mobile, and engaging users to follow your calls-to-action.

Founded on the business brand, custom web design allows more control over creative elements, helping businesses to forge a meaningful connection with their audiences. With custom design comes customized support of a designer able to perfectly align the look of the website with specific business needs.

If you're opting for a custom design, here are some questions you should ask your web designer:

  • What is included in your website package?
  • Will I be able to edit the website on my own?
  • Do you provide free after care sales and support?
  • Do you offer a website guarantee?
  • Is SEO and internet marketing included in your package?
  • What type of businesses do you usually work for?
  • How well do you know my niche?

If you plan to start your design with a template and want a unique-looking website, here are some questions issues to check before choosing a template:

  • Does it have features you need?
  • Is the source of the template reliable?
  • Does it fit your industry?
  • Does it offer the level of customization you need?
  • Will it support your content?
  • Does it match your brand image?

Find a solid template and customize it to perfectly reflect what your business is about – that' how you stand a chance at keeping the development process swift and cost-effective.


Businesses are enticed by cheap and easily available web design templates. However, templates present a range of problems that make the solution ultimately less cost-effective.

Choosing a web design template, businesses save up on time and cost of developing their website. Templates are often hard to customize and generate a range of other issues that affect the website's performance an negatively impact the brand. Contrary to custom design, templates can only serve as a starting point for creating a web presence.

About the Author

Susanne Loxton is a modern technology enthusiast who combines her interest in all things new with a passion for writing. On a daily basis, Susanne works for Aubiz, a compendium of knowledge about companies in her native Australia. Follow her on Twitter @LoxtonSusanne.

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