Templates – some people love them, others loathe them.  I’ve heard stories that some designs were a gift from God (so to speak) and others have sworn they were the work of the devil.  So – let’s take a few minutes to review what they are, and aren’t.

Design Preview

For many, this is a huge plus.  The person needing the website can actually see the design elements of a site!  Keep in mind that elements can be changed, but it may take time and even retooling large portions of the template (depending on what you have to change).

Of course, not all templates will meet all design considerations.  Many folks look at sites they like certain elements of, and then want to combine those elements into their site for additional functionality or a better look and feel.  That is all wonderful, but – as I’ve said many times before – don’t steal the elements!  Purchase them or get permission from the creator or owner of them.

Some may want something that only they can envision.  Taking that from the inside of your mind to the web is where a professional web developer / designer comes in, and I’d recommend finding one that is certified!

Time Savers

Templates can be helpful to the designer because they already have a framework pre-built.  If the designer can offer you something that is 70% or 80% complete (from a design and coding perspective), then it shouldn’t take long to add your content and branding to make the site yours!

And templates are helpful for the owner because they don’t have to pay the designer to build it from scratch (time = $$).  If most of your costs are labor costs, think of the savings in this area!  Better yet, if you locate a template that is designed to let you make many of the changes with minimal skills – the ongoing costs for maintaining your web content were just dramatically decreased.

What’s Your Language

Are you looking for something you can edit?  Let me be real clear here, the language of the web is still HTML (and we’re headed towards XHTML for sure).  Just keep in mind there are many other choices out there, including offerings that either extensively or exclusively use  Flash and XML.  No matter what your choice is, check to ensure the template is coded to the standards for the language.

Why is that even a consideration?  As browsers mature and continue to be revised to render all the information they receive (remember, your web browser is just an application), they need some guidelines on how to render the information and what the correct interpretation of the information it receives is.  That is why coding to standards is a must – so demand it from your template provider.  As standards are changed, it makes it much easier to update the existing template information to conform to the latest standards.

What You See…

Well, that may not be what you get.  If you design to go with a template, look at all the pages (if possible) that come with the template.  If there are many pages that come with it, try out the various design elements.  Review how the design changes from section to section and even from page to page (consistency is a GOOD thing, but elements will change on various pages based on the purpose of the page).

But really, many templates sites only show you the home page, and not everything on that page functions.  So review what comes with the template.  Is it just that home page in HTML format?  Maybe you get a PSD (Photoshop file) image that you can then slice and dice?  If the template is in Flash (or uses Flash elements), do you get the FLA (Flash file) so it can be altered if needed?

It doesn’t take much to see that you may need more than Notepad to manipulate many templates.  Even if you get all the files needed that made up the finished files, in many cases you will need some knowledge and additional software to edit the files to meet your needs.

Read the Fine Print

EULA is short for End User License Agreement, and you normally see that with most software package you purchase or use.  Look for the template usage agreement if you are looking to purchase a template.  Why is that important?  You will need to know if the images need to be changed out or can be used with the purchased template, or if you can use the template on additional sites, or even if you can remove the copyright information from the template and replace it with your own information.

Each company is different here, so I would highly recommend looking at this document closely.  If you choose not to do that, you very well could receive a nastygram from someone with a claim that you violated something you agreed to.  And if your customer gets that notification, rest assured they will come to YOU for remediation, since you were the professional that would have known about proper, agreed up use for the template.

So – Is It Cheating?

I don’t believe it is cheating at all!  The maker of the template certainly deserves to get their requested payment, and the owner of the business and web designer win by having the ‘skeleton’ of the site ready to fill with their information and branding.  Templates certainly have their place, and not all applications will be right for a template.  But they are certainly helpful for those wanting their site up quick – and presented in a way that they can see (or visualize) before actually putting it up live.

Having said that, I do not believe that templates will replace professional web designers.  They are only another tool in the tool box for them.  They can be a real time saver when creating a bare bones site (using the templates that come with Adobe Dreamweaver, CoffeeCup HTML Editor, Microsoft Expression or any other number of web development tools) to current coding standards.

As always, this is not intended to be all comprehensive on the subject of templates, but I hope it is a thought-starter for you.  If you have comments –  feel free to post them.  Take care!