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There were plenty of great off-the- shelf templates out there ready for you to download and use on your website. You could also create a great design from scratch. Which is better for your situation? As always, it depends. Fortunately there are tons of free and low-cost templates available for WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla!. Just do a Google search to find them. They are simple to download and install. Many of them look great and work extremely well. A super big bonus is that most of these templates, especially the ones you pay for, are already debugged for the various browsers.
Here's a page showing in Firefox and here's that same page showing in Internet Explorer. These kind of templates are a great way to go for clients with small budgets, but who want a big budget look. You can install this template without worrying about designing and building a custom template from scratch. However, there are downsides to these templates. First of all since they're for sale, many other people have also downloaded them and used them on their site.
So the look isn't necessarily unique. For example, this is a template you may be familiar with. It comes with Dreamweaver but the principle is exactly the same between Dreamweaver and any of the content management systems. Here is that same template tweaked for Hansel & Petal. We could of course plug-in more branding for Hansel & Petal, as we show in this particular comp, which includes their colors and their logo. And here is Bliss No. 5 Chocolate in that same exact template.
So all of these have a very similar look and feel. Second, since you did not write the code yourself, it may be hard to understand what the developer of the template did and why. It may be hard to figure out how to tweak the template to make it do what you want it to do. Some templates come with some easily changeable parameters, such as swapping out a logo, changing an overall color scheme, or turning on or off some dropdown menus. For example, in the template for the Flootissmo website that I showed earlier, here is a template with plenty of parameters, and this is within Joomla!.
You can change the template widths of the columns on either side, change the font family and many other settings here within the screen. However, anything beyond these parameters may take a fairly high level of technical expertise to change. If your client has a larger budget, you could give them some template designs. Generally speaking there's three choices, which are based on your initial discussions. For example, Hansel & Petal had these three choices. Fairly complicated design with lots of flowers.
A simpler design with less flowers featuring a blog and a photo gallery, which we're pulling from the content management system. Or a different layout with a very, very large graphic and some smaller bits of information on the page. These three comps would be presented to the client. Typically the client would pick one to go in a direction and there would be two rounds of revisions. You then convert these designs, which are generally laid out in Photoshop, Fireworks, or GIMP, an open-source alternative, and you would convert those into individual images that then become the custom template for your content management system.
You need to make sure you have the skills to do this though. If you're not a great graphic designer, you might consider hiring someone to help you develop those designs, and then you can convert them to the code in individual images. If you're a great graphic designer though you might consider finding some great coders to help you convert your designs. If your client has the budget and you have the skills, or you know the right people to help you, a custom template provides a unique look that your client will consider close to perfect for their organization.
If the client does not have a bigger budget, a commercial template is a great way to go.
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