How Custom is Your 'Custom' Website Design?
It seems that "custom" is a new buzzword among web design and development companies. “Custom” implies that a website has been created exclusively for a particular client, based on his or her needs. However, often times the meaning of “custom” has been stretched to include every little change made by a web designer, regardless of whether he or she has created the original design and/or application.
For instance, does merely changing a font means that the website is now custom? What about stock photos? Would you consider it “custom design” if we took the exact same layout that we have used for another client in the past, changed the font, uploaded your logo, and threw a few stock photos in the mix? Probably not.
So if you’re looking for someone to create or re-design your website, it’s important to ask just how “custom” your custom design is going to be.
Websites are like restaurants. There’s fast food, then there’s a mid-grade fare (think: decent chain restaurants that aren’t fast food joints), and then there’s fine dining.
Just like every other industry, web design has segments that range from lower-end to high-end options.
Templates: the fast food of web design and development
Just like a burger at a fast food restaurant, a template means a cookie-cutter website that has been previously designed and available for “re-heating.” It’s like fries at a fast-food joint. Who knows how long it’s been since potatoes have been harvested and turned into fries? What’s in those fries? Are there any potatoes in the fries at all?
All jokes aside, we’re not here to pass any judgment. Sometimes all you can afford is fast-food; or you’re simply in a hurry and need a quick bite. Everyone’s been there, done that… As long as you, the client, understand that by choosing a template-based design you’re not getting a website that’s made from scratch exclusively for you, everything is OK and the world is not going to end because of that.
If you really want to understand how it works, here’s a quick summary. In most cases, templates are created for publishing platforms such as Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal and similar. At your request, your web developer picks a template that’s been created by another company or an individual designer. Just Google “Wordpress themes” and you’ll see a ton. The same template can be resold multiple times. In many cases, you can actually see how many times it has already been sold.
A cheap restaurant microwaves your food before serving it. Your discount web designer is going to install a template created by someone else, make some changes in order to accommodate your content, meet your basic branding guidelines, and call it a day.
Frameworks: your typical chain restaurant
When it comes to template-based websites, there’s no separate design stage. If you can stand another analogy, it’s like trying out shoes until you find a pair that: a) you like; b) that fits. No one is designing a custom shoe for you.
Mid-grade web development is different because it involves actually designing a website. Normally, a designer would provide up to three distinct designs with limited revisions, however, there are companies that boast unlimited designs and revisions. Either way, design-wise, your website is going to be unique.
In order for your website to function, its design needs to come to life. This is done by employing programming languages, or coding. Developers turnthe design into a stack of files and databases, which store information, issue various commands (“click the button”,” move the slider”), and make sure your website communicates with your server. The server serves the website to its users via web browsers (like Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Microsoft Edge, to name a few).
At a typical mid-grade restaurant, some ingredients are made from scratch (hello, delicious hash browns!) while others come frozen or from a can (sigh… canned beans). This is exactly how mid-grade web development works. In order to create websites faster and serve more customers, most developers use frameworks, such as Laravel, Phalcon, or Zend.
Before we get too technical, let’s just say that a framework automates some tasks and provides big chunks of code that’s ready to be deployed; so developers don’t have to start from scratch.
The downside is that most frameworks are open source or have some open source elements. To use yet another food analogy, multiple cooks and food processors have messed with the food before your local chain restaurant added his or her two cents and re-heated it for your consumption. Since they didn’t write the code from scratch, they don’t know it as well, which can result in inferior performance of your website.
Also, in case of a software bug, it could take longer to fix it, because--once again--your developer doesn’t know all of the code and its implications. It’s like they’ve started with potato puree and then added milk and salt before serving mashed potatoes to you. They don’t know where the potatoes came from and what was used to process them and make the puree. They didn’t start from scratch, they started somewhere in the middle.
Chef’s meal: true custom web design and development
If you’ve made this far, you are aware of the fact that there are levels to web design and development, just like there are levels of restaurants, ranging from fast food to meals created from scratch by chefs who use organic, locally sourced ingredients. True custom web design and development – sometimes called bespoke web design – is an equivalent of the latter.
It all starts with a custom design that’s unique to your business or non-profit. To be considered truly custom, the same design cannot be sold to anyone else. Secondly, the website is coded using a programming language of choice without a use of an open-source framework. No canned beans or mashed potatoes from a plastic bag!
Custom websites reward business owners and non-profits with the unique look that truly communicates and enhances their brand. Custom websites are free of programming code clutter, therefore, they load faster, perform better, and generally do exactly what they’re intended to do.
Since no templates or frameworks have been used, custom websites require little to no maintenance. No reputable custom web developer would charge you a “maintenance fee” unless they are actually performing some work that’s been agreed on.
In addition, custom websites can be modified easier, so they can grow as your company grows. You would never hear the dreaded “you will need to switch to a different template” in order to accommodate new features.
Just like a dinner created by a skilled chef or a designer handbag or a custom car, true custom websites are not for everyone. They do cost more and take longer to complete. But if you’re one of those people who value quality and tend to think long-term, it’s definitely something to consider.