Custom web design is not dying – here’s why

A few months ago I came across an interesting article from a Google search entitled 10 Reasons Custom Web Design is DYING. Written by the author back it 2013, it argues:

  • your customers don’t care if you’re website is custom or not.
  • web templates and themes have incredible options nowadays.
  • with templates you can show your client up front what their site will look like, they don’t have to imagine.
  • it’s more cost effective for the client because as a web designer you can cut down on the steps in your process.
  • when you let the client get involved in the design process, you end up with a client from hell.

So if all this is true, then why isn’t custom web design dead 3 years on?

In the web design world over the last 2 years or so we’ve definitely seen a rise in the number of web businesses offering what I like to call, the “£500 website’ – there’s no denying it. And by working with existing themes and templates, these companies are able to offer websites for just £500. Being the founder of a web design company that specialises in custom web design, this topic is something I feel strongly about, so I wanted to write a response to the original article (3 years late, I do apologise!) to explain why I believe custom web design is very much alive and kicking.

What is “custom web design”?

Let’s quickly recap and explain what custom web design is, and what the alternatives are.

A custom designed website is a website that has been created from a blank canvas, specifically to address the needs of the business who’s website it is.

Like most industries, there isn’t just one way of doing things, so alternative “non custom” options include:

  • Website builders – like Wix and SquareSpace, which let you select an overall look and feel and then use a drag and drop interface to create your website.
  • Templates or themes – these can be purchased and installed on content management systems (CMS’s) such as WordPress, which act as a way to get your website up and running very quickly. You then use the CMS to populate your website with content.

custom-web-design-is-not-dying I believe there’s still a very strong space in the business world for custom websites – here’s why.

“Design” is much more than just the way your website looks

To borrow a quote from the one and only Steve Jobs:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs, Apple.

The goal of design is to efficiently solve problems. Design is based on the understanding of how users see the world, how they think and behave. And the toolset of the designer is broader than just colours and font-styles, as it also includes user-research, prototyping, usability testing and more. Unfortunately with an existing theme you aren’t able to consider the user experience or solve problems – it’s all predetermined for you. And what the theme developer thought was right very probably isn’t right for your audience.

Custom web design allows your business the freedom to grow

Going down the DIY route will get you up and running quicker and leave you with more cash in your business bank account – at least in the short term. The problem with DIY solutions is that they’re difficult to extend if you need to add functionality and evolve in the future. Working with professionals usually ensures that the solution they create has room to change and grow with your business.

Collaboration is an important part of the process

One of the points argued in the original article is that when you let the client get involved in the design process, you end up with a client from hell. Themes bypass the design phase of a project, so you eliminate this problem. That’s simply not true. From my own experience, the best projects are the ones where the client is fully involved and engaged in the process. Our recent site for Sunseeker Charters is testament to that.

Custom web design equals brand consistency and brand loyalty

Although the way your site looks probably only counts 25% towards whether it’s going to be effective or not, you can’t deny people still judge a book by its cover. Within a few seconds a potential customer will have formed opinions about your company from your web presence. If you’ve cobbled something together quickly yourself using a web builder, then chances are the user experience isn’t going to be great and the site is going to look homemade. On the other hand if the user experience, the look and feel and your end goals as a business owner have been considered, your website is a highly likely to provide a pleasurable experience for your user and result in them contacting you or purchasing. It’s all about building a consistent brand for your business that breeds loyalty from your customers.

You’ve got the support of an expert

Unfortunately when you go down the “do it yourself” route, there’s no one there to help you if you get stuck. With a custom website you’re backed up by a team of experts with a wealth of knowledge from years and even decades of experience online.

You aren’t wasting your valuable time

Consider investing three weeks of your own time getting your website up and running. What is that time truly worth? Working with an expert means you’ve freed up your time to run your business. And that’s what you should be doing, right? You don’t want to be banging your head against the desk trying to figure out why for the life of you the colour of the buttons on your pre-bought WordPress theme won’t change from blue to green. You’re a business owner – you should be focusing on finding new clients and growing your business. We get lots of phone calls from people who have tried to do it themselves, hit a roadblock and then need assistance.

Modifying an existing WordPress theme can be a nightmare

Speaking from experience, modifying an existing pre-brought WordPress theme can be a headache. Theme developers build themes to appeal to the widest possible audience. Makes sense right? They want to sell as many copies of their theme as possible. That means they throw in every possible feature imaginable, which results in a really bulky, bloated code base for your site, and often a lot of head scratching for you as you try and locate where to disable a particular setting. What happens when you want to add a new feature to your site too? Because you (or your web designer didn’t code it from scratch) you’ve got to make sure what you add doesn’t break anything else. You’ll have a far more streamlined, speedy site if it only includes the features that it needs.

Where do you stand on this?

Despite my obvious bias, I do think web builders and existing themes have their place. If you are a start-up, testing out a new business idea, then it can make sense to go down this route. What frustrates me is when established businesses still do this to try and save a few pounds, not seeing the value in working with professional designers and web developers. Where do you stand on custom web design versus web builders like Wix, and off the shelf WordPress themes? I’d love to find out in the comments below.

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