Today I want to briefly make the case for custom web design because it’s something a lot of client’s don’t understand.
I work on large (6 figure) digital positioning and web branding projects for clients. During the pitches for these projects, it’s not uncommon to be asked a question like “why don’t we just buy a WordPress theme and customize it?”
To be fair, it’s not a bad question but it does show that a lot of clients really don’t understand how this whole web thing works.
A little history lesson
Back in the day, web pages were actually hand coded with HTML from top to bottom and the sites looked (and felt) crude, basic and rudimentary. BUT this was early in the cycle and it was just amazing to see a web page and we accepted that.
Next, WordPress came along and made content management sexy and super easy. It allowed content creators to manage the content more efficiently and even add skins (themes) to their websites.
As WordPress evolved and became more powerful, the amount and types of sites you could create grew almost exponentially. In addition, the quality of the themes that you can now find on sites like Themeforest is amazing.
Naturally, when clients see these amazing themes (often sold for less than $70), they wonder why companies like mine would charge them thousands of dollars to build an online brand.
The answer is simple – content should always drive design.
The case for custom web design
A long time ago when I was trying to figure out how to build online businesses, I would use themes and then try to retrofit content and it was always a mess.
It was a mess because doing it that way is executing online business steps in the wrong order.
Figuring out what a client is trying to articulate with their web presence should naturally generate a design brief that has the requirements for just the right website for that client. It probably won’t be a retail WordPress theme.
As a business, you need a custom design for your website because quite frankly, generic sites are boring. You can tell when you see a website that comes from a retail theme.
The navigation and look and feel looks similar to 1000 other sites. Unimpressive.
I believe that websites should be organic, living, breathing, digital objects that reflect their owners brand and personality.
A circus website (done properly) should be fun, bouncy, light and free. A legal website should be serious and conservatively designed.
It’s important to spend time and money designing your website from scratch because it’s the only way to fully articulate the essence of your business.
A fresh unique design is also a really good way to create a memorable experience for your customers because everyone else is using the same old recycled themes.
So who are off the shelf themes for?
Retail WordPress themes work well for bloggers or very small businesses or startups who have very little money for digital transformation. They work only when there is no time or budget for a custom site.
Let me be clear, nothing is wrong with using a retail WordPress theme if that is all you can afford but don’t kid yourself, for a serious business, it is NEVER optimal.
I have made 6 figures with simple WordPress themes before so I am not knocking them but always remember, in general, content should always drive design and never the other way around.