Your WordPress Choices: Custom Design or Pre-Designed Theme?

Your WordPress Choices: Custom Design or Pre-Designed Theme?

What WordPress Choice Is Best For You?

Huh, what do you mean? And… wait, what? There’s a choice?

Last updated July 10, 2016

choices for WordPress websites

How do you want to present your company online and what should you consider while making your WordPress choices? Is it important that your online identity be uniquely yours and created just for you? Or is that lower on your priority list as long as you get a website up and running?

These are questions that many of you, our clients, face. There is a choice to be made and that’s why we ask the questions. Sometimes, the answer is obvious, but often enough it isn’t clear and that’s when we put our heads together to come up with the appropriate solution that solidly matches the needs of your business.

Article Update:

At the time of the original writing of this post, three years ago, things were different in the world of WordPress custom design and pre-designed themes.

We now have access to themes that we call “pre-programmed” rather than “pre-designed” because that’s just what they are. The design options in a pre-programmed theme are somewhat unlimited.

While there will potentially be situations in which we might find ourselves shoehorned into something we may not have chosen had we been designing from scratch for a custom theme, those instances have been dramatically reduced and are somewhat insignificant. Oftentimes, the benefits far outweigh those types of cons.

There are still themes available that I would consider pre-designs where the design constraints will be many so the following article can still be utilized by someone needing to understand the nuances. We rarely have a need to use those at Fat Eyes anymore. My recommendation is that you work closely with your developer to determine which theme offers you the greatest amount of freedom for your design.

How Do We Solidly Match The Needs of Our Business?

Here we go. You’ve decided it’s time to step into the world of WordPress. We love designing and developing WordPress websites. So, Yippee! In fact, most of the websites we make are WordPress these days. They’ve evolved into a full-fledged CMS (content management system) and sophisticated website platform since the debut in 2003 as a blogging platform. It’s the most popular CMS worldwide and we have found that it’s exactly what the majority of our clients want and need. This is due in part to the user-friendly environment and easy learning curve for novices for maintainence but there are other advantages as well such as functionality, SEO and built in, ready to use blogs.

The Choice To Be Made – WordPress Choices

There are two options for WordPress:

  1. You can choose between utilizing a pre-designed theme with minimal customization (THINK: almost-ready-to-use website-out-of-a-box).
  2. In choosing a sophisticated feature packed, pre-programmed theme there are huge opportunities for customization. The range from simple to more complex customizations that will require additional programming is pretty vast. (THINK: all mine within certain perimeters)
  3. OR you can have your developer/designer create a unique, custom design and program it into WordPress (THINK: all mine).

There are pros and cons to consider with each option. It can prove to be a bit of a nerve wracking choice because while you may find a particular benefit with one that fits your needs, there may also be a drawback on another aspect and vice versa – there are plenty of pros and cons on each side.

With some thoughtful consideration, discovery and uncovering your priorities, we can help guide you to the right decision.

Custom Design

Custom design for WordPress gives you the freedom to explore and produce a unique online presence.  No shoehorning or compromises. The final result will closely fit your needs because they the design will be molded around them.  The end product screams “You”.

A Custom Design will:

  • Serve to create brand awareness and establish a solid identity
  • Precisely fit the image you want to convey
  • Give you the ability to direct the show down to the smallest details that will create your company identity and branding which will, in turn, also set you apart from your competition
  • Allow you to be the boss when it comes to how your website will look and feel. This can make it a wise investment if you have a strong need for branding
  • Allow you to match your other marketing pieces and collateral so that your customers know it’s you
  • Be consistent with all your design
  • Let you target your target audience

While these issues apply to all brands, they are especially critical if your business has anything to do with design, lifestyle, image.

With the plethora of plugins available for WordPress functionality and interactivity, a lot can be accomplished without additional or costly programming.

Pitfalls of custom designs include:

  • Development costs are more expensive
  • Development time is longer
  • Because the custom theme won’t come pre-programmed, it will require additional resources to include certain types of functionalities

Pre-Designed Themes

There are thousands of choices when it comes to WordPress themes and vendors. So there’s no shortage in finding one that fits you. It’s not highly likely that you’ll see yourself coming and going with the theme you pick. Luckily, everyone at the party will not show up wearing the same outfit.

Benefits of using pre-designed and pre-programmed themes can include:

  • Great “Starter” website option
  • Less costly choice if your budget is restricted
  • Great option if you don’t need to dictate every small design decision for your company brand
  • The price of the theme itself is included in your development cost
  • Economy of scale: pre-designs and pre-programmed themes come with a lot of features and functionality
  • Pre-design: Skips the design and basic programming phases
  • Pre-programmed: Skips some of they basic design phase and the majority of the programming phase
  • Pre-programmed themes still offer a tremendous amount of look and feel opportunity
  • The development process is faster. Functional design can begin immediately
  • Plugins can always be utilized

Potential pitfalls of pre-designed themes include:

  • Generic design that may scream “pre-design”
    >  Can give the impression that you were not willing to invest in your website
    >  Look and feel that won’t foster or support your company’s unique identity or branding
    >  Makes it more challenging to standout from your competitors
  • Customization is limited with pre-designs, less so with pre-programmed
  • You need to accept the limitations and constraints it comes with
  • Design or functionality customization will increase development costs
  • The chance of receiving broken code
  • Lack of technical support or assistance with potential implementation issues
  • If you do customize your pre-design with additional programming changes and it’s one that the developers update on a regular basis, customizing will inhibit your future ability to update your theme, thus creating costly maintenance issues

Extra Cautions

Critical Design Drawbacks

It’s important to keep in mind that pre-designs are crafted to fit a multitude of anonymous, unknown businesses, business cultures or personalities. That being the case, they can have an empty or bland feel lacking the sometimes necessary, endearing detail that makes you and your audience love your website and this generic feel can end up being hard to overcome. The designers who create them are intentionally making them to be visually open-ended in terms of the look and feel so they can be as widely purchased and used as possible. They need to sell them in large quantity because of the low price point.

Pre-programmed themes allow for so much visual customization that this is much less of an issue.

Buyer Beware

While pre-designed themes have their advantages, it’s important to buy them only from the right vendors. This is true for all purchased themes. Some designs that may look great on the outside can have problems under the hood. They may have broken code that causes serious issues or even renders them useless. And to top that off, if you aren’t careful, there may not be adequate technical support to help you to troubleshoot or fix the problem. Therefore, it’s important to choose a vendor wisely. Choose only themes that come from top vendors and designers. We’ve found that Theme Forest  Elegantthemes  themify  woothemes  mojo-themes are all very safe bets and have narrowed it down to mainly only purchasing themes from them. If you work with Fat Eyes on your project, we will guide you in the choice of a theme, go over the features and issues with you while making the purchase from only the most reputable companies.

Don’t Try This At Home

Even though the design already exists, and it comes pre-programmed, it is still important to let a professional take care of the development of your website.  There is a lot to know and a lot of labor involved to turn even a pre-design into a living, breathing, functional, launch-able website.

Unless you are the kind of person who enjoys spending a lot of time researching, training yourself and appreciates learning challenges, this isn’t something to attempt on your own. Often, the documentation is not as detailed as needed and requires a professional who knows their way around WordPress. You may also find yourself with a live, unfinished and unedited site that the world can see. Your developer will work on the site at a private address on a development server until it is completely tweaked and ready to launch.


There is often no immediate answer when you’re trying to decide between a pre-designed theme or a customized theme. It depends examining several factors such as your current priorities, overall goals, how well-established your business is and your budget. But no worries, we will help you through the decision-making maze.

Additionally, with the rise of Mobile, there are more design conventions being used that are necessary and effect even custom designs. So in the end, you may not be compromising much if anything by choosing a pre-programmed theme.

photo credit: pawpaw67 via photopin cc

  • author's avatar

    By: Gina Fiedel

    Gina Fiedel is the co-founder/owner of Fat Eyes Web Development. After a successful career as an artist and transitioning into electronic media in the early 90’s, she then founded Fat Eyes in 1998 to bring those skills to the web with her husband, Doug Anderson. Being engaged in business has created gratifying opportunities for communication and new inroads towards making a contribution that counts. You can learn more about Gina on the Fat Eyes Who Are We? page and Gina Fiedel Story.

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  1. […] If you’ve ever wondered about the difference (or need) for a custom WordPress theme versus a pre-designed, ‘out-of-the-box’ theme, Gina Fiedel of Fat Eyes Web Development and Design weighs the pros and cons for you in this article. […]

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