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Custom Design Vs Template Modification

When designing websites there are two main approaches that can be taken in the design phase. These are “Custom Design” and “Template Modification”.

Website Theme 101

A website’s appearance and structure is dictated by the website “theme”. A theme is collection of files and code that makes up a number of unique “page templates”. For each page that is published on a website, a page template is assigned. The page template gives each page its structure and also its look and feel.

On a Magento eCommerce website, the core page templates include:

  • Home
  • Category
  • Product Detail
  • Cart
  • Checkout
  • CMS Page

On a WordPress business website, we might have unique page templates for pages such as:

  • Home
  • Services
  • News/Blog Archive
  • News/Blog Post
  • Contact Us

The obvious point to make regarding a website theme is that it takes considerable time to wireframe, design and code them up.

Custom Design

A custom design process begins with wireframe process to layout the structure of the pages. Then the visual design is applied and Photoshop files (PSD’s) are created, typically one for each page template. Those PSD’s are then used by a developer to code of the theme on the respective CMS’s codebase.

This process affords extreme flexibility in how your web pages look and function. It is however time consuming and therefore costly.

Template Modification

An alternative to a custom design is to use a purchased template (a pre built theme) sold from online shops like this one. Although these themes have their default layout and styles, they can be modified.

In particular the colours and fonts are what we will focus on to convey your company’s branding. These “styles” are defined by the “style sheet”, which includes things likes the font family and sizes, colours, link and menu styles etc.

The essence of template modification is to keep it simple, and really takes much of the design onus off the client, which is more so at the discretion of Curata as the designers/developers. It’s a KIS scenario for sure!

Pro’s and Cons

The pro’s and cons are pretty obvious, but here’s a summary of the main points.

Development Considerations
Custom Design
UX Flexibility: Unlimited Options Limited by the template
Additional Features/Modules: Generally easier to implement Potentially more difficult and $$$ to implement
Future Customisation & Optimisation: Generally easier to implement Potentially more difficult and $$$ to implement
Development Time: Longer Quicker
Branding and Visual Design: Excellent Good to Very Good
Cost: $$$ $


There is no right or wrong approach here, it is a business decision based around timeline and budget. Each approach is valid but we always advise our client’s to keep in mind the limitations of a template modification design approach.

About Steve Richard-Preston
Steve Richard-Preston

I’m Steve Richard-Preston, Digital Producer & Project Manager here at Curata. I love technology, particularly where it meets with business and their customers – online. I have a special interest in business and eCommerce web design, content strategy, digital marketing, project management and usability. Having worked with Magento and WordPress for 8+ years both client and agency side, I focus on content and functional design.