Product Design

July 25, 2014

/ product design

Pros and cons of using ready-made themes for website development

In our work we are frenquently approached by potential clients who ask us to use ready themes for their website.

plusy i minusy

Theme is a set of files with already coded layout, logic and functionality tailored for specific CMS (most often those are Drupal, Wordpress or Joomla). Usually they also include additional modules and/or plugins. Sometimes authors include PSD files with the design, which facilitates changes in the websites look.

Such themes can be divided into two general categories: „multipurpose” („all purpose”) or one serving specific type of website like blog, news portal, portfolio or e-shop. 

Ready-made themes can be found on many websites trhoughout the Internet. The most mentioned and most popular sources are:

 

  1. Themeforest - http://themeforest.net/ 
  2. TemplateMonster - http://www.templatemonster.com/
  3. Elegant themes - http://www.elegantthemes.com/ 
  4. Theme Wordpress - http://theme.wordpress.com/ 

 

As usual in this business, each solution has its pros and cons. Some of them only occur in specific situations or are hard to predict before the development process. I’ve prepared a list of typical problems you may approach that I want to share with you now.

Pros:

  1. Low Price

    Not taking free themes into consideration (these are usually not supported by authors and existing bugs and other problems remain unresolved unless we fix tchem ourselves) the price range vary from few dollars up to around one hundred dollars. If we’re not proficient in setting up the system we want to use an additional sum for hiring a developer or specialized digital agency will be needed. 
  2. Shorter Development Time

    Using a ready-made template should save us a hefty amount of time, since we essentially skip two time-consuming project phases: design and front-end coding (slicing the design and coding it to HTML+CSS+JS templates). If we know exactly what we can do with the chosen theme, we’ve decided how it will look like and work as a final product we only need to install it a configure using predefined elements and functionalities. Before going live we suggest to test the website thoroughly so to make sure everything works just fine. 
  3. Ease of Use

    In theory themes should be created in such way that they can be used pretty easily, so anyone should be able to set up a website without programming knowledge. Many times such products are prepared to be compatible with 3rd party plugins and modules which can extend the base functionality if needed. In those cases it is sensible to take a while and decide if we will be able to make a good looking website ourselves. The more professional we want it to be the more reasonable it will be to hire a developer or a digital agency to help us with such task. 
  4. High Availability

    The number of themes available to buy is already huge. Due to the fact some of the authors were successful in making a living out of it, the number of available themes is rising almost every day. Thanks to that we can find at least few interesting themes which can meet our expectations. And if we find that one does not suit us we can easily find another, possibly an better one. 

 

Cons:

Notice: some problems occur only when we start modifying the theme, it often happens that it is the beginning of numerous obstacles in the development process. Below you will find some of them:

  1. Documentation and configuration issues

    Premium theme developers usually guarantee an extensive suport for their products, therefore it is higly possibly that we’ll find a good documentation to explain how to install the theme properly, what modules or plugins are included and how to set up everything right. But there are cases when documentation does not exist or its poorly written. Sometimes we can even encounter a file that is too extensive and structured in a way that instead of facilitating the whole process only makes it more difficult. 
  2. Low flexibility of the coded elements

    Ready themes are often designed to use what is given out of the box and not to change most of the elements. It shouldn’t be a problem to overwrite CSS code, but it happens that any changes, but especially those in the HTML structure will generate problems. Some of the elements might be coded without flexibility or tied with other elements so when these are being changed errors would occur or the desired effect could not be archived. Another thing is the use of 3rd party plugins can also complicate the process while they can generate conflicts in the code. 
  3. Updates issues

    Undoubtedly updates made by the theme authors are helpful since they often contain fixes to known problems and possible safety issues. But even making updates can make damage to our website. It is necessary to check if proposed update won’t interfere with installed modules or plugins which were not  included in the theme or with our custom changes if such were made. We should make sure that any update will not overwrite our code.

    There are also CMS updates coming from time to time. In this case it is also wise to check if the new version will be compatible with our theme. It’s always good to have a backup copy made before any action, like installing an update. We want to make sure we can restore the website if something goes wrong.

    You can see that making updates will require several additional actions to perform, and not everyone will be able to do them themselves. This might lead to additional costs related with website maintenance. 
  4. Warranty and support

    It is a usual bonus for Premium theme buyers to have access to the support from the authors. Some people make a living on selling themes, therefore they keep the client service on high level and will likely help you whenever you need. Unfortunately it is not always guaranteed that we will be helped. And whenever we find a bug or any other problem we might need to wait for the authors to implement the fix in next updates (it can take days, weeks or sometimes months). Otherwise we may spend our time trying to make a fix, which can be painful when you are working with somebody else’s code. There is also no guarantee  that the authors will decide to cancel the project or suspend it unexpectedly. 
  5. Optimization

    There are many all-purpose themes out there. Such theme contains many types of subpages, addons, plugins, modules and functionalities which we will most certainly not use. As an effect these themes are packed up with excessive code which even written very well can slow our website down, and make administration a nightmare. It’s good to think twice before we use an all-purpose theme and if yes, which of the elements might not be necessary to install (some themes allow us to decide which elements will be installed and which will not). 
  6. Testing and fixing bugs

    Each website should be tested thoroughly before going live. This means checking both the display over various browsers and the functionality. In case of ready-meade themes it may happen that we’ll find bugs in the original code. In this situation we have two ways of proceeding, we can contact the authors and wait for the fix (we never know how long it might take or if it will be fixed), or fix it ourselves. The second option can be problematic, because it requires debugging somebody else’s code which needs time. Therefore additional time and cost would be required. 
  7. Time and cost estimation

    All the problems mentioned above make it harder to estimate time and cost related with such project. It’s good to take the possible administration and update related costs into account.
  8. Originality

    Originality in business and marketing is very important thing. Companies that can’t produce an image standing out of the crowd will likely lose the battle for the consumers’ wallets. Ready themes in many cases are very similar, they use same elements and they lack originality. We then recommend to rethink building your website from scratch and make it tailored to your and your customers’ needs. 

 

Summary

To sum up there is wide spectrum of possibilities related with using themes available on the market. By using them we should be able to save time and money when building a new website, especially when we know exactly what we need and it does not matter if the website would look similar to many others. On the other hand it is not recommended to change such themes too much, this can produce various problems, and in the worst cases we will need to spend more time and money.

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