Anatomy 101: Template Design vs Custom Design

Anatomy 101: Template Design vs Custom Design

When it comes to a Web site, there are many avenues to choosing the right design. We specialize in custom designs unique to each client. In some cases, either due to budgetary constraints or simply because custom design doesn't make sense, we get involved in a project where a pre-made template is purchased and used for the Web site. Each project is handled differently and there is often some confusion on what it means when purchasing a template versus a custom design.

Template Design

Template designs are exactly what you would expect: the same design used on many different Web sites. A template is purchased for a specific platform (i.e. WordPress, Joomla, or Magento) and then installed. There's really not much to it beyond changing a few settings and swapping out the logo.

The primary benefit of a template design is the price. You might pay only $30 to $50 for a decent template, versus $800 to $1,500 for a professionally-designed custom layout unique to your business. It also allows you to get a great looking site (even if it might look like others) quickly since you just have to purchase the template, upload it to your site, make a few minor tweaks and you're ready to go.

The primary drawback with a template is that, once the template is purchased, changing the look beyond some minor tweaks (different logo, changing the site title/business name, and relevant business information) isn't generally part of the pricing offered by a design studio using a template. That's not to say modifications can't be made, only that they may cost extra.

Custom Design

This kind of approach to building your Web presence means you get something completely unique to your business. A custom design results in a template layout that can be installed on your platform the same way a purchased template could, only no one else will have the same design.

A custom design distinguishes your business from your competitors and becomes part of your unique brand. With a custom design, you have complete control over the final product (keeping in mind that every tweak to the design may result in additional costs). At the end of it all, you own the design (though you may want to make sure the designer states that in writing) and you can use the design as a cornerstone for your entire branding and marketing.

Unlike template designs, custom designs are more costly. They often include a single set of revisions to the designers original concept in the price, with additional changes costing extra. A great design from a reputable designer is going to run you $1,500 or more.


At the end of the day, it's the business owner's decision about whether they want to make the investment in their branding. Custom designs often don't make sense for brand new businesses, sometimes not even for established businesses in saturated industries, but they should be considered an investment in your company's future. A template design might get you started, but consider this: if your annual revenue is $100,000 and you budget $1,200 for a new Web site with a template design, you are dedicating a little over 1% of your revenue to your online branding. According to the SBA, businesses with revenue less than $5 million should allocate 7-8% of sales to marketing and splitting that amount between branding (your business identity) and promotion (getting your name out there).

Need some help navigating which approach is right for you? Tell us your goals and we'll help you get there.

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