Saturday, October 10, 2009

Free open source or Professional Design ?

We can do it for you!

First off, the XHTML/CSS templates that I have released through and on my templates page are not really supposed to look great. They are supposed to work as a solid ground for people who want to get a high-quality website online in a fast and simple way – in the spirit of, the site that got me started with open source template design. But the templates are also made as a tool for other designers who want to start with a working layout and add a great visual appearance along with their content. There is no need to waste time on building core layouts when the web is full of great open source layouts that works great…

The templates are built in a "one-size-fits-all" kind of fashion, which makes them suitable for many different kinds of websites. They are easy to customize, and very simple in code and layout structure. The more generic, the more useful they are so simplicity is an actual feature. The basic layout and details like valid code, accessibility features, low file size, and a simple navigation system are more important than beautiful images and flashy effects. I could of course do very specific and detailed templates, but that would mean that only a few people would find them useful. And usability is what the templates are all about.

Professional site design

Site design, on the other hand, needs to be very specific. Most commercial websites are created for a purpose. The more specific a site is, the better it fits its purpose. When I create a site design, I spend a lot of energy on details that many people will not notice – but that adds to the experience or functionality. While generic templates are never really unique, a commercial design must be something of its own, while people at the same time should be able to identify or relate to the company, the product, the event or whatever the website is promoting. The design must match (and enhance) the company profile and give a lasting impression of the general image. And it needs to be appealing to the target audience, which is normally defined by various demographic categories such as age, nationality, gender and income just to give a few examples. It must be fresh and striking so that it creates a curiosity and an interest for the company or product. If the site fails at any of these points, chances are that it may fail its purpose as well.

Details like valid code and accessibility features are often (sadly) low priorities to the clients, while graphics and cool effects is among the most important parts of the whole site. In order to provide a high-quality website, I need to keep a balance between the purpose and the functionality of the site. After all, web standards and accessibility are still important things even if many clients don't care about it. While I would rather build an accessible website with less features than a website with amazing features that doesn't work for everyone, it is not really my call. Sometimes I must accept that the site I build will not validate, which I would never do for the templates.

CMS – the Content Management System

Content management systems have become more and more popular over the years, and today almost anyone can have their own CMS to power their site. The open source systems are incredibly popular, and blogs become more and more common. The demand for new CMS designs and blog themes is big, and many people use open source web designs on their sites and blogs. In fact, many of the most popular CMS and blog themes were originally posted as free OSWD templates! The templates that I release are easy to convert to blog themes or CMS "skins". My templates have been converted to public themes for WordPress, Etomite CMS, LifeWithChrist, MovableType, Textpattern and sNews just to mention some of the most popular site engines. Some of the templates have also been used for commercial sites and custom CMS solutions, but in those cases they have often been strongly modified.

Whenever I build a commercial site, I often use one of these CMS or blog systems. sNews is my favorite for smaller sites because of its simplicity, while I prefer WordPress for larger websites because I know the system very well – but also for the many great plugins. But the custom-designed themes that I build as a part of a site design could never be released as a public theme. Not only because of the obvious design ownership and purpose reasons but also because the custom designs would not work for other kinds of sites – they are too specific.

Examples of designs

Here are a few examples of design work that I have made for various projects. None of these have been (or will be) available as an open source template, but if any of this gives you an idea for a template, please let me know and I may build it if I like the idea. Please note that some of these images are a lot smaller than the original designs and that there are no full-size screens available.

Artistic01 design screenshot - still available!

Main  header and buttons for Digitally Imported Web Radio

Digital art, based on the photos in the andreas01 template

Hand of God, based on a photo of a statue in Porjus, Sweden

T-shirt print


Open source templates and professional site designs are simply not the same thing. The difference is not only that templates are "ugly" in comparisation with site designs. The two things look different, work different, are made in different ways (where site design take a lot more time to do than templates) and they are made for totally different reasons. Templates are made for functionality, made with no other purpose than to help others. Site designs are made for a defined (and most often commercial) purpose. Designed sites look cooler, have more interesting features and their own "image", while templates are generic and neutral – with space for other people to add whatever "image" they want to.

And that leads to the explaination why I promote my templates rather than my professional services. It is simply because I do webdesign for the fun of it. I really like it, and it is one of my biggest interests. I've even worked professionally with web design (beside music production) for two years now, and I have learned a lot from it. But professional design is so much more than just the design, and all the related work take a lot of focus away from the creativity. There are more conditions (less freedom) and harder deadlines (less time for experiments), and huge expectations in the pro world. And at the end, in the best case scenario, the client is happy with the result. But template design is total freedom! No time limits, no demands, no expectations and most important: Thousands of people use each template – no matter how simple it is! It is encouraging, uplifting and truly inspiring. Template design doesn't give any money (other than your PayPal donations which I appreciate a LOT!), but gives me a lot of happiness…

I hope that this answers the question. Feedback and crazy ideas are welcome, as always.

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