Many people who make websites us the word ‘design’ like it’s some sort of magic. So do people who make clothes, and books, and posters and films. Most of the time they’re hoping their customers don’t know precisely what they mean. Most of the time they’re right.
Design isn’t magic. Nor is it adding in a bunch of features or shiny things that don’t really need to be there. Design is simply getting it right. And in terms of website that means thinking carefully about a few simple elements.
Elements like fonts, spacing, colours and imagery.
There’s no honest way of pointing at one part of one website and saying “that’s design”. It’s good design when it feels right. It’s bad design when the user gets annoyed and goes somewhere else instead.
Like everyone in business I regular look at what my competitors are doing. I look at their websites, and their clients’ websites. And lately I’ve noticed that a lot of web designers aren’t designing anything anymore.
They’re using templates. So the website for a mortgage broker will end up looking a lot like the website for the café next door. The businesses are completely different, but the websites are the same basic structure, only with different photos in front and and a different colour in the background. The difference between the sites is far smaller than the difference between two 3-bed semi detached houses in the same estate.
There’s nothing wrong with a 3-bed semi-detached house in a housing estate. Thousands of us live happily in them. But badly designed estates end up as ghost estates. And if your website ends up feeling like a ghost estate you’ll soon end up owning a ghost business.
Using a template for a website isn’t a crime. Charging people for design work when you’re just flogging templates isn’t either, but it probably should be. So when you hire a web designer make sure you know what you’re getting.
The best way to find out is to ask. “Do you use a template for your website designs or do you design from scratch?” It’s that easy, and it means you won’t end up paying for work your designer didn’t do.
I used to use templates, if that was all that a customer needed. I stopped about three years ago, because I was always disappointed with the result. It never produced anything that matched exactly what my client needed, and it never left me with anything I could add to my portfolio, honestly call a design, or ever feel really happy about.
I want my company to make great sites that make my clients happy. And I don’t want anyone to think they’re paying for something new and unique but getting something stale and bland.
In the end you’re the customer. So you get to decide. But you can only make a fair decision when you know exactly what you’re buying. And no matter what anyone says a template is not a design.