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Template design in creative industries

One of the core ideas of what I do when designing websites is not use templates.

WordPress sites are synonymous with free/cheap templates (or themes) which allow people to setup websites quickly. Which serves a purpose.

I’ll admit a bit of frustration when so called “website designers” are just installing (and in some cases barely customising) themes. I can put together Ikea furniture but I’m no cabinetmaker.

This is not a unique situation to website design, turns out. Episode 229 of one of my favourite podcasts, 99% Invisible, discussed how the fashion industry largely operates off of templates as prepared by trend forecasters.

The most notable of which is WGSN. A website with such a eye-wateringly high paywall I will live the rest of my life in wonder about what is looks like behind the login.

In the episode it is discussed that with so many of their clients operating off the same templates fashion has a tendency towards sameness. WGSN’s founder Marc Worth:

“shoppers complain that everything on the high street looks the same, but is it any wonder? Instead of looking for inspiration, brands are relying on templates, and because everyone uses the same templates, there’s no competitive edge.”

…and templates aren’t unique to websites and fashion, either. This video has been doing the rounds lately exploring the notion that film directors often use soundtracks from other films as placeholders during editing. So then when the final soundtrack is to be recorded they ask for something similar to be created.

So new soundtracks are made by listening to existing soundtracks and new soundtracks are made by listening to existing soundtracks and so on.

In anything creative, everything is a remix. That’s fine. Themes and templates have been a part of the internet for a long time but it is interesting to see how they permeate other creative works too.

When creating anything it’s hard to find the right balance. Speaking of websites…

Be too creative and upset users for distracting from the design’s purpose. Not creative enough and be called boring.

Good design finds the right balance to meet the project’s specific brief. That’s why I don’t use templates. They’re uninteresting. Overly complicated.

Worst of all the only thing they’re designed to do is produce and average websites with high speed and low budgets. And that’s not a great recipe for a successful design.