Is a Theme Really the Right Solution for Your Web Site?

Lou Kotsinis Lou Kotsinis wrote this on Feb 07, 2014

Lou Kotsinis co-founded BCS Interactive in 2011; he writes about digital marketing, user experience, business topics and client management. Follow him @bcsinteractive or @loukotsinis.

We’re currently in the midst of a major Web site re-design for a medical practice. The process – and the relationship with the client – has been terrific. They get us, we get them; we’re passionate about doing a great job, they’re serious about giving their patients the right user experience. So far, so good.

When it comes to Web design, physicians’ practices (and law firms, for that matter) rarely deviate from the classic trappings of their profession – think lab coats, stethoscopes and overly happy doctors. Accordingly, we wanted to convince the client of the benefits of creating a unique web experience.

So, prior to even broaching the topic of design, we typed “medical Web sites” into Google, and then showed the client this:

Notice anything similar here? We did. Stereotypical colors, uninspired stock imagery and, perhaps most tellingly, generic, cookie-cutter layouts. The client got the point and gave us the green light. We’re now in the process of delivering to them a great custom design and we’re confident the site’s going to be a success.

The battle was won, but in looking at those lousy designs over and over again I couldn’t help but consider the lack of forethought invested in most Web sites and specifically, the proliferation and misuse of theme-based designs on the Web.

Let’s face it, themes have come a long way. Sites like Squarespace and Theme Forest offer some pretty nice templates. They’re quick to install, relatively easy to manipulate and there are a growing variety to choose from.

My issue with themes becomes the wholesale promotion of them as a viable “plug-and- play” option for Web design. It’s my belief that a template in and of itself will never comprehensively address the needs of a business – if that business is serious about using their Web presence to grow.

At BCS Interactive, we advocate custom design based on careful consideration of audience, user experience needs and financial objectives. But, should a client not have the time or resources to go this route, and instead rely on a template, we advise that they hire a qualified designer who can assist them with the following:

User Experience

A template cannot - by definition – fully address user experience. Why? Because it’s a template. A business is a living, breathing entity. It has a unique audience, with specific user requirements - needs that can’t be met through a pre-packaged design that doesn’t have specific bearing to the organization in question. To that end, the business should work with their designer to understand how its audience will be using the site, and then adjust the theme accordingly.

Content

Is the selected theme appropriately structured to present strong, relevant content in the proper locations to the target audience? Out of the box, probably not. A good designer who understands the role of content in conveying the story of the business can help ensure that the theme meets these needs.

And yes, Design.

Great design not only helps to drive sales, it creates a more pleasant and memorable user experience and shows care on the part of the business. Assuming the selected theme is well-designed to begin with, an experienced designer can then assess typography, colors, layout and other factors to help marry that design to the organization’s brand and create something unique (or, as unique as a template will allow).

In the end, a Web site is a key component of a company’s on-line presence and if executed properly, a mechanism for growth. It’s worth it to do it right, be that with a theme or otherwise.

Tags: design, development

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