Pros & Cons of Custom vs Pre-Designed WordPress Themes

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When building a successful website, your theme is one of the most important decisions to make. The theme is primarily responsible for not only a website’s style and design, but much of its functionality as well.

A WordPress site is great choice and allows you to design and develop your own theme, or use a pre-designed theme. Themes simply plug in to WordPress and define your website’s style. While a pre-designed theme may only cost $200, a custom designed theme can cost over $25,000.

With this in mind, the choice of using a pre-designed theme is often chosen when the development costs are under pressure to be within a given budget. Does this sound familiar?

What does custom and pre-designed mean?

I often try to explain the difference by comparing it to buying a house.

You can go to a display village and see a selection of houses to pick from. The supplier has spent a great deal of time and money designing each house, but you pay only a fraction of that design cost since they intend on selling many homes with that design.

When you buy a display home there are various aspects you can change, such as the style of bricks, the interior colour and the taps and fittings. You can’t, however, ask for an extra room to be added or to change the ceiling height. If you have a certain house style in mind and want a specific ceiling height then you need to involve a designer and architect. You can get exactly what you want but it will take longer to build and it will cost more.

How does this apply to WordPress themes?

WordPress uses “themes” which determine the style of a website. Themes are plugged in and can be designed from scratch. You can install a pre-designed theme or a combination of both. So there are essentially three options to choose from:

  • Custom Designed Theme
  • Pre-Designed Theme
  • Pre-Designed Theme with Customisation

Custom WordPress Theme

Do you have specific requirements for the site layout, style sheets, fonts, logo placement, header, footer, sidebars, widgets, colours and behaviour? If so, then a custom WordPress theme may be the right choice. Developing a custom WordPress Theme adds an extra layer in the development process and requires a mix of resources including graphic designers, project managers and software developers. They will need to work with your marketing or branding team to draw up the design specification from a visual concept.

Its a complex process as the specification needs to deliver Wireframes for every type of page required, homepage, contact page, blog pages or portfolios etc. In addition to this, there needs to be a separate Wireframe for each terminal device such as desktop PC’s, notebooks, tablets, phablets and phones.

It isn’t unusual for the entire process to take up-to 6 months on medium-large scale projects.

The benefit is that you will have a site that meets 100% of your design requirements. It will also contain all of the functions you have specified. If you have specific requirements and a strong brand that needs to be preserved, this option may be the right one for you.

Typical costs for the design component can be anywhere from $10,000 – $25,000+. Themes are software, so there is a recurring cost to allow for support, updates and bugs.

Pre-designed WordPress Theme

There are many highly skilled designers who build themes for a living. They need to sell many themes in order to recover the cost of design. Pre-designed themes are typically sold for under $200/year, including updates and support.

Many developers sell their themes on market places such as Themeforest. Just like houses, some are made better than others. There are terrific developers who use high-quality code but there are also many themes that are poorly written. Poorly written themes still may look good aesthetically but it may be a ticking time bomb if not examined correctly, so if you do find a theme that you like make sure that it ticks all the right boxes. Look at the comments and the support forums for the Author and chosen theme. It will give you a good indication of how well the author responds to support and what others think about the theme.

If the theme does tick all the right boxes for you, looks good in all responsive modes, then you stand to save a lot of money, by not having a theme custom designed for you.

Pre-Designed Theme with Customisation

Many clients find themselves in this realm. They don’t have the budget for a custom designed theme, and have selected a pre-designed theme. Then when it comes to development, they realise that they want to make some changes, only to find that those changes are not supported by the pre-designed theme. So the changes requested can only be implemented by making custom changes to the pre-designed theme.

While a good designer and developer can make almost any changes required, it’s important to understand that these type of changes are often complex and take more time to implement. What may appear to be a simple cosmetic change, can translate to many hours of design and development work. Two or three changes, not supported by the themes configuration may add up to an extra 10 hours of work. Many changes and the costs may come close to the cost of getting a custom designed theme, so try to keep some control, and only request what is absolutely necessary.

Steven Lutrov
Steven Lutrov
Steven is a software engineer, managed services specialist and a part time musician living in Melbourne. Educated at RMIT Steven has worked extensively in the telecommunications and IT industry for over 25 years. Today Steven works for Net Solutions as CEO and does not mind getting his hands dirty.

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