Why Templates Are a Bad Idea

When creating a website, templates can be seen as a knight in shining armour – saving us time and effort on the website design and development. Using a template is an easy solution to creating a website. It’s basically a premade website that is just missing pictures and custom content. There are many different free or paid templates available with a wide variety of predesigned layouts, colors, and widgets.

Templates are especially useful for people like me, who don’t know how to code, but want to create a great looking website. They are even helpful for companies like OAK Computing, who specializes in software development. However, from our experience using templates we have formed a different point of view. Let me tell you why we think Templates are a bad idea.


1. All templates need customization

After install, no template is 100% ready to go. The main perception of templates is that they are like a turnkey – download, install, add custom content then all of sudden your site is fully functional and looks amazing! Not the case at all, everything needs to be customized including the color, pictures, widgets, and plugins.

Templates work very well for certain cases, but in general are quite difficult to scale. If your website requires more functionality, it will take heavy customization to make the template scale. Not just with the frontend appearance of the template, but also the backend, meaning working with someone else’s code.


 2. Templates are not as customizable as you think

Here’s the catch. You buy a template because you love the demo and visualize how great it will look with your website. Often people love the ‘idea’ of the concept, but want to make it fully customized to their brand and website needs. So you think, “I’ll just move that box over there, delete that row, change the color here… why can’t I change the background to a picture?!”. Then you’re frustrated. And when you try to move around too much in the template it won’t work properly or look good.

From our point of view as software developers premade templates can be very restricting. We have an idea of what we want, or the client gave us a template they want us to work with, but we are limited to the concept the designer created.


 3. “One Size Fits All”: A solution to someone else’s problem

Templates are designed specifically to solve a pain, someone else’s pain. Very rarely will they completely satisfy your needs. “One T-shirt Fits All” is a good strategy to have when you are working with something general, it will solve your overall problem. In time, you may either grow out of this solution or realize it’s just not serving all of your needs. Whereas a tailor made suit is designed specifically for YOU, your needs, your measurements – no one else. Just like a custom made website will serve your needs and requirements specifically.

And that’s how we feel about templates. They do serve their purpose, but they have their fallbacks. You may eventually grow out of your original template, and like I said before – it’s hard to make them scale (growth is never a bad thing, it’s a good thing- unless its in your waistline!). Or your needs may be very direct and specific, where a template just simply won’t do.


 4. Bugs

Each backhand of a template works differently and each one has a number of bugs. Overcoming these bugs can slow down design and development time substantially. There are three main types of bugs: logical, functional or design.


There will always be bugs. The main problem is actually finding the bugs and fixing them in the code. Account for this time during development, and remember it never hurts to know a WordPress expert! Working with someone else’s code can be very time consuming and challenging – it is like going into their brain. Designers have their own mind space and logic, which they use in building their template. When fixing bugs you have to first figure out how they coded the template, and second how to fix it.

For example, we recently developed a website for a conference and used an event template. The frustration came when it wouldn’t list the events like we needed, or allow us to change the time and date on the agenda. Originally, you think you are saving x amount of time. But in actuality, x/2-50% – that’s the amount of time you are saving. Yeah, we worked out a formula.


Another issue with templates is that you don’t know how it will react to 3rd party plugins or updates. You can’t predict how the template will change. For example, a template that comes with a Twitter widget installed will need to be completely updated if Twitter changes its API. With this update, you may risk loosing your customization, which could be days of work lost.

As well, with many templates you download, you assume they will have a nice interface that will be easy to work with. Wrong again. In order to use some templates functionally you have to go into the code and make some changes. This gets increasingly difficult when having to train clients to make these specific changes. Hidden code is also a source of frustration. Some templates, especially free ones have encrypted code. You have no control over the security and the code is not searchable. Maybe the designers are playing a game of “find the hidden code” … you never know.


Don’t be fooled by the template demo. Most of them show really cool site examples that are difficult to replicate. Templates are not plug and play. In order to replicate the demo you do have to change the code so it is customized to your content. Often the templates don’t come with the icons or the jquery (animation) that makes the demo look so cool. This results in another step, installing similar plugins and doing some coding to try to get the same look and feel as the demo.


So considering all these problems, why do we still use them?

I know what you are thinking, after all of those frustrations and constraints, why do we still use templates? There are two main reasons why we use templates. First, because if you are not a developer, it’s easy to visualize what the end project will look like by using templates. Second, despite the bugs, in the end templates do save time for developers. It’s the difference between choosing to live with 50% versus 0% of the requirements already completed. It’s like a seesaw for most developers, either way half of the design or development time can be saved by using a template.


Have you had any battles with templates? If so, share your stories in the comments.

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