Custom Website Design: Is it worth investing in?

Websites are a necessity for any business. Whether custom website designs are a necessity for any business is debatable. What actually defines a custom website is debatable too.
screen shots of working files in Adobe XD, Wordpress and a developer tool

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Websites are a necessity for any business. Whether custom website designs are a necessity for any business is debatable. What actually defines a custom website is debatable too. Some designers and developers say only a truly, built from scratch website is custom. Others believe websites built on a CMS like WordPress, but custom-designed and tweaked, are custom websites too. Everyone agrees websites built on site builders are not custom websites.

There are arguments that truly custom websites are painful for business owners and users and kind of pointless. Other designers argue that custom CMS websites are cheap and lazy. They say the rise in templates means every business’ website is the same. There are a lot of arguments on each side of the debate – the truth is, it depends on what your website is for, what your budget is, and who you are.

Custom web design

Custom-custom web design. Truly custom designed websites are websites that have been designed and built from scratch. A web developer writes all of the code, from start to finish to create a unique website. This is the most expensive route simply because of the time it takes. Writing code from scratch can be a really lengthy process and there’ll be added back and forth between the designer and developer to create it.

A truly custom website is only really necessary for unique projects. A really unique, online business with an extensive list of specific usability requirements and features. Businesses like lending companies with specific mortgage calculators or complex ecommerce stores with a super complex concept for packaging items together could benefit from a custom designed and coded website. Businesses like hairdressers, normal retail online stores, or common businesses wouldn’t really benefit from a custom website design.

The biggest problem with truly custom websites is that they’re based entirely upon this unique code, written by an experienced web developer. This means you can’t edit, update, or change your own content or upload new content without hiring a web developer to do it for you. Companies with the scope and budget to create and use a truly custom website design typically have an in-house developer on hand.

Custom WordPress & CMS web design

A custom CMS website is a website that’s built on a CMS. A CMS is a Content Management System, think WordPress, Magento. The most common CMS is WordPress but there are a heap of others in the market. To build the website on a CMS, you find a theme that works as a template. Which sounds really easy and kind of dodgy. But the designer then works to make it unique and individual adding and changing elements, designing the shapes, colours, and layout of the website to make it its own. Then a web developer changes the coding of the theme to change the website – so it is still custom.

One of the biggest arguments against custom CMS websites is that they all look the same. A good web design agency will create you a website that has enough unique design assets that that’s not likely at all. They’ll change up the theme and customise it to suit you and your users. You will find a lot of websites that look similar in their layout. They’ll have the page buttons up on the top right and normally read “Home, About Us, Products/Services, Contact” or something to that effect. These websites will have the company’s logo in the top left hand corner, in the bottom left hand corner you’ll find a small ‘about us’ section. The reason these websites look so similar? Good User Experience (UX).

The reason these websites share such similar layouts is because users expect to find those assets there. Users aren’t really willing to mess around looking for the menu if it’s hidden in a too-unique little floating symbol. So especially for informational websites, a custom WordPress website offers your users a pleasant experience and offers you a website with no fuss.

Template: a dirty word in web design?

Like we touched on before, a template is just something to start with. A template is a WordPress theme, it’s like a skeleton to kick things off with. Template definitely used to be a dirty word in the web design world. But it was also implicit that using a template meant picking out a theme, installing the template, and just replacing images. Copy and paste in that copy, change the colour, and voila – a website. That’s not what a custom CMS website or custom WordPress website is anymore though.

These days the new dirty word is site builder. Site builders are WordPress and Wix. They’re not custom designed or tweaked and without the ability for the code to be manually edited. You simply create your own website by creating an account and replacing the images. This wouldn’t be done by a web designer (we really hope).

What about DIY websites?

We touched on it just before, but a DIY website is (typically) a website built on a site builder, like WordPress or Wix. These websites’ capabilities are pretty short, there’s not a lot you can customise, and it’s pretty hard to disguise that you’ve used a site builder. It’s not a professional option for a website and there’s a reason it’s the new dirty word in web design.

Update 23/01/20: Site builders have grown their capabilities so much since this post was published. Have a read about how visual site builders fit into the industry today.

The Verdict

We’ve looked at each option from a few different angles. To sum it up, DIY websites or site builders should only be used for personal use. Using a site builder for your business or company’s website is tacky and unprofessional. Truly custom websites, built from scratch are for websites with complex concepts and ideas. If you have a unique concept and you need these complicated and niche usability requirements on the website, then a truly custom designed and built website is for you. If you’re a business owner or need a website for commercial use, but the kind of website you need is pretty common and it’s just to get the information out there… Of course use a custom CMS website. They’re easy to update, easy to edit, they don’t take forever to create, and they don’t leave you poor.

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