The common practice of using predesigned WordPress Themes and other website templates has turned the web design industry on its head in just a few short years. Websites are easier to build and more affordable than ever. But it’s not all good news for clients. Here’s why.
Don’t Make Me Think (Strategically)
Ten years ago, if you wanted a professionally-designed website for your small business, you really had to think hard about what you were doing and why you were going to do it– otherwise, you could easily burn through $10,000 to $20,000 worth of design and development fees before you had your first visitor.
If you wanted a website with a content management system similar to WordPress, you could expect to pay another $10,000 to $20,000 in additional development fees.
Yes, WordPress changed all of this, and that’s a good thing for small businesses. Sort of.
As a rule, I used to carefully walk each of my clients through Discovery, Ideation, and Design Phases (prior to the final Production Phase), to:
- Help them clarify their business objectives and marketing strategy;
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors’ websites;
- Empathize with the target audience (i.e., “walk a mile in their shoes”) via use-case scenarios; and
- Present several design concepts to consider the best way to communicate what the brand stood for…
… all before I created a wireframe, mockup, or wrote a single line of code.
Then, all of this knowledge was incorporated into multiple iterations of interaction flow charts and eventually worked its way into multiple iterations of the design… to help visitors accomplish their tasks with far less resistance, and to help my clients accomplish their business objectives.
However, I could no longer do this profitably.
Redesigning My Design Process
About 5 years ago, I realized that more and more web developers (and some designers?) were slightly modifying $50 WordPress Themes and reselling them for a few thousand dollars. At that point, I knew I had to streamline my design process for all but my most sophisticated clients if I were to remain competitive. And so I did, reluctantly.
I whittled down my process to a simple questionnaire; cut way back on wireframes and mockups; and merged my design and development processes.
While I still insist on creating custom WordPress Themes and websites, I start with what web developers call a “framework” or “skeleton” theme— one that I created to suit my method of working and to give me a head start on each new website project.
Why Not Start With a Predesigned Theme?
The biggest problem with predesigned Themes is what happens before the Theme is purchased (generically designed), and after the Theme is purchased (poorly implemented and maintained).
Keep in mind that the WordPress community is dominated by web developers (coders). Consequently, you rarely hear from web designers who can help you communicate more effectively.
For example, I began my career many years ago as a print designer and illustrator. Through my art education I learned about the finer points of visual communication, and through my employment by some of the best graphic design firms in the industry, I learned why an obsession with “little things” associated with: developing a creative concept; laying out a page; creating a color palette; selecting and using a typeface; creating illustration; art directing photographers (and illustrators); and hiring the right copywriters are so important.
In other words, professionally speaking, that gorgeous predesigned Theme you just paid $50 (or thousands of dollars) for, will, more than likely, turn into a visitor’s nightmare and possibly a failure (depending on how you initially defined success).
A Rebirth… Thanks to Google?!
Low cost content management systems like WordPress, and social networks, have made us all potential publishers of information. Forget about the printing press. Who needs good designers, developers, writers, photographers, or illustrators, with such an abundance of (nearly) free and powerful tools at our disposal? Right? Wrong!
Google’s algorithm is constantly getting better at recognizing the difference between a good and bad website (and black hat SEO techniques).
Most online marketers and SEO experts will advise you to produce “great content” on a regular basis. Magazine publishers have been publishing great content for years, and there is something to be learned from them— even though they no longer have a monopoly on the printing press and distribution channels. That is, the most successful publications have consistently hired the best editors, creative directors, art directors, designers, writers, illustrators, and photographers money could buy. And why? To produce great content. To increase circulation. To sell more ads. And yes, to increase profits.
But if pleasing Google isn’t your cup of tea, what do you intend to do in a world with millions of publishers and countless messages pouring out of hundreds of channels per second?
Produce “better content”!