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Templates – Inspiration or Shortcut?

By Char

Raise Your HandRaise your hand if your site is based on a pre-made template. Okay, raise your hand if it is a 100% original concept created from scratch. Which one is better?

Until a year or so ago, when designing sites for clients, I couldn’t bear the thought of using any form of pre-designed template. That was like cheating in my mind. Each and every site was created from scratch – starting with a sketch, then a Fireworks mockup, then I used Dreamweaver and Notepad to churn out the code.

Then I entered the world of blogging. And what does blogging have to do with design? You would be surprised.

It started with my very first Blogger template. I picked one from the dashboard and immediately went about customizing it. As I got more and more into blogging, I discovered the world of WordPress and its themes – there for the taking, tweaking, and making your own. I was hooked. For some reason, I did not see these WordPress themes as cheating – I saw them as inspiration. I saw them as a starting point for something that could be uniquely my own.

In a recent project I discovered the power of templates again. This time it is for a traditional site, but the client just wasn’t real specific on what they wanted. I visited DreamTemplate (I have a subscription) and grabbed screenshots for about a dozen layouts. I sent these off to the client and one really spoke to them. We are in the process of customizing the template to make it uniquely theirs.

So is that cheating? Two years ago I would have said yes. Now, I’d like to think of it as being efficient. What’s your take?

Looking for inspiration? Here are some resources you just might like:

Obviously the free ones are just that, free for the taking, but if you choose a template that is being sold, you need to do the right thing and purchase it. Some of the services offer a subscription fee that allow you to pay one price and get access to the whole collection. If you like multiple designs in their collection, this is the most efficient way to go.

Time to sound off! What are your feelings on using templates? Do you have additional “inspiration” sites you’d like to share with us?

Useful resource: Most of the N10-003 professionals agree to the fact that after 642-812, students seldom see beyond 70-431 or even 350-030 and even fewer think of 220-602 in their entire course.



My theme is all my own! Mainly to prove to myself that I could do it. If I was making loads of designs for many different people, I would certainly appreciate the time saving qualities of a bunch of preprepared themes, but I would also work on producing my own set of base templates that I could build anything out of. The beauty of separating content and style also plays it’s part here, where, with a solid base of semantically marked up content, your style sheets can do the layout and templating work and you needn’t consider the majority of the HTML again.


You have to satisfy your client. That is the only point. If you can do so in using templates – great. That is efficient. I can´t see any problem. It is more like outsourcing.


Hey Char,

I wouldn’t say my template is my own… even though it is like so different from others.

I started with a template I got from the WordPress themes directory – then as I blogged, I tweaked. I took this element out from here, and placed it there. I duplicated the same code on two pages. I separated the template pages to specify different settings for categories and the single page…

But i still originated from that template.

The question is: how much do you call “original”? :P

Anyway, after all the tweaking, I’m more or less done with optimization – now, I just tweak the CSS for each different blog I set up. Its more efficient this way. Its like a template for a template! :)


Phil – that’s a great challenge! I’m not sure I am up for that quite yet.

Ingo – you are right – it ultimately depends on what the client wants.

Kian Ann – It is hard to determine where the magic line is that takes something from being a template to an original. And even when designing from scratch, there is usually some mental template that is used as a base.


My website is my own (and I spent bloomin’ hours on it only to have it look like your standard outdated blah) but I have no clue on php so the blog part is a slightly tweaked version of the wp default one.

I think if I wasn’t having so much fun learning the stuff, i’d go with templates all the way – as it is, I want to be at the stage where I’m the one making templates other people want (and yes they’d be free, i’d do it for love *grin*)


VICS – I am having fun learning all this too. It is fun starting from scratch but sometimes I’d rather not reinvent the wheel. Your site looks great.

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