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Beware of Website Themers: The difference between Designing and Theming

We’ve all heard about it. Trusting clients pay exorbitant amounts of money to self-proclaimed web designers, and they receive a pre-designed theme used by hundreds of other websites. It upsets me because hard working design professionals are being undercut and devalued. It isn’t fair or ethical.

… The job of a designer is to carefully consider the needs of the client and the constraints at hand and create a solution. – Chris Coyier – Seen Here

All I can do is offer my own opinion here.

So, what’s the difference between theming and designing?

Website Theming is when an individual acquires a pre-designed theme from a third-party and adapts it to fit your style, mainly by just changing some colors and applying your logo in the header.

Website Design is when a talented individual will build your website from scratch, or almost from scratch, giving it the custom look and functionality you want.

So what’s the problem?

If you are a professional designer (as in, a client came to you with web needs and you are going to build a custom site for them, and you are going to charge them more than a few hundred dollars) then using a template is, pardon me, bullshit. – Chris Coyier – Seen Here

There isn’t a problem with using themes unless a “designer” opts to use a pre-made theme and pass it to the client as an original design, along with potentially charging them a couple thousand dollars for something that most likely exists and is used on hundreds of other sites. It’s misleading, and unfortunately, I know a ton of people that do it.

You should never be working from a theme if the client believes that you are creating a professional bespoke website. – Shane Hudson – Seen Here

If you are going to use a theme for a client and just change some colors and place their logo in the header, just let the client know your intention, and when you’re discussing projects with ‘colleagues’, please refrain from two things:

  1. Claiming that you designed it.
  2. Claiming that it was ‘custom’.

Rami, you’re sounding kind of jaded…

Well, of course I am. I put in countless hours of reading up on design, acquiring assets, doing mockups, performing research, solving problems, submitting ideas, listening actively, marking up and styling code, refactoring, testing, responding to emails, making phone calls, and preparing packages to make sure custom configured solutions are displayed correctly and meet clients’ desires.

Rami, maybe you should just learn how to “work smarter, not harder”.

Totally characteristic response of the lazy, but it’s true. I do need to work smarter, and in my mind and ethic, working smarter is working harder and vice versa. This shouldn’t be a reason to excuse myself from my profession, and I won’t let it be.

There are valid circumstances to use a pre-designed theme. However, it really seems as though the profitability crutch is being used as a means of justification for misleading clients, and I don’t agree with it.

So what’s the big deal anyways?

Let me make something clear. There is no big deal about using a theme whatsoever. Theme’s save time and money. It becomes a big deal though, when they’re own purpose is defeated, i.e. charging clients custom made prices for applying a pre-made theme to their CMS installation and claiming it as a custom job.

If any principle of work ethic was present in the person, they would let their client know their intention and charge fairly. There is a time and place for custom design and for theme utilization.

When is it appropriate to use a theme?

There are many arguments around this topic between web designers. In my opinion, I believe themes are great to use under two conditions: 1) under a limited budget, and 2) under a limited timeframe. Themes are meant to save time and money, so they are perfect for low budget projects, personal websites and blogs, and for those that want to learn more about clean markup and code.

Pros Of Theme Utilization

  1. Its inexpensive (unless looking to outright buy the exclusive use of a theme, in which case you may as well just start custom)
  2. It’s quick (if you have the content ready, you can have your website up and ready in a couple hours)

Cons Of Theme Utilization

  1. It’s hard to work from others’ code (a certain amount of time must be taken in reverse engineering the setup to understand what’s happening)
  2. It’s bulky (themes are often packaged as general as possible and will include a lot of unnecessary code and functionality, leading to increased load times and inflated bandwidth)
  3. You have to work from inside the theme and adding function to it will probably be harder than first anticipated
  4. Hundreds if not thousands of websites across the internet can potentially look just like yours.

In conclusion, as a client you should weigh your options, your needs, and your resources. If you don’t have a huge budget (less than $1000 for website creation) nor a lot of time and technical know-how, then perhaps a pre-made theme is your best option. They look good and they work.

If you want something more custom and polished, contract an actual designer and a front-end web developer. Make certain that they are providing you with what you want and that you understand what methods they are using in order to achieve your goal.

If your looking for either a custom website or a modified theme, I’ll deliver you quality and value that will meet any budget. Contact me today!

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