Why Prebuilt Themes Are Bad for the Web WordPress, Joomla, Drupal get a bad rap
There’s been an ongoing debate by everyone in the industry as well as with the do-it-yourselfers aspiring to have an easy-to-build, easy-to-manage website with dynamic capabilities… Which of the “big 3” content management systems is the best? Over the past several years the “big 3” CMS’s have emerged as leaders: WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. So which is best for what? and why?
Let’s pick on WordPress for a second… It’s the most popular of the 3. Originally developed to be an all in one blogging platform with easy to use SEO plug-ins, content widgets for streaming and open-end development, WordPress quickly became a popular option for bloggers. Soon after it became apparent that WordPress could be used for much more. It then morphed into a CMS where anyone, whether skilled in web-design or a novice, could grab a template and make a decent looking webpage.
My first, second and probably 328th impressions of WordPress were that I could identify a WordPress site from a million miles away. Their templates all looked the same with a two-toned header that runs all the way across the page, a white solid background in the body, a thick footer all the way across the bottom of the page and widget boxes down the right hand side. You know what I’m talking about… you’ve seen this site a millions times. Even Joomla templates can be equally as boring and played out for the most part… as seen here. Here’s something I came across recently that I find astoundingly yucky: A very large ad agency in Washington D.C. uses a prebuilt WordPress theme for their own site. Ummm Shouldn’t an ad agency design their own creative site? If this is what they’re doing for their own site, I don’t wanna know what kind of creative they’re selling to their clients!
Then I realized that WordPress isn’t necessarily about themes. It’s not necessarily about blogs. It’s not even about widgets. It’s about a content management system that makes building, organizing, managing and editing a website much easier. At CCM, we have a strict philosophy that we only build our clients’ own themes from scratch, never using/purchasing non-unique, prebuilt themes to be customized, but rather creating customized website designs for our clients based on their needs, branding and uniqueness. We use WordPress all the time… but a major difference in what we do from what other designers do is that we design the site ourselves and then put it into WordPress so that its easy to manage. Our clients end up with a creative, unique site design that is easily customizable to their individual needs and branding. What I can’t stand to see is many of these other designers buying preexisting themes for their clients, putting them in WordPress and trying to customize them slightly. Nine times out of ten they’ve limited themselves right from the beginning. Most prebuilt themes were built for a reason. When you try to take someone else’s work and make it work for your client, there’s almost always going to be something that can’t work out right. Whether it’s logo placement, an RSS feed in a certain area, or a slideshow it’s inevitably going to happen. About once a week someone will send me their existing site and ask me if I can make a few edits to it. Once we begin playing with their pre-bought theme it becomes apparent that what they want simply won’t work. I have to explain to them that the pre-bought template they’re using is limiting them and if we can build them a new customized site from scratch, this problem will be avoided.
Before working in WordPress as our preferred CMS, we did a lot of sites in Joomla. Joomla isn’t bad. In most ways it’s the same as WordPress, and likewise for Drupal. They all have little hiccups and features here and there that you may like better with one compared to the other, but WordPress gets my vote for the overall easiest to use, best SEO plugins and ease of blog and social media integration. But in the end it doesn’t matter which CMS you work with. They all mostly accomplish the same thing. WordPress just does it easier in my mind. The real issue is whether or not you’re using your CMS for evil or for good… For uniqueness or for the ordinarily stale depreciation of the web.
Let’s face it… Themes aren’t going to go away. We all get why they exist: someone develops a theme and sells it to the masses of people who need a website for a profit. They captivate buyers with discount prices and simplicity. It’s a business. Look at Intuit, Verizon, AT&T, Godaddy and 1and1.com just to name a few. They all offer several hundred pre-built themes you can customize in some fashion or another, but they’re ordinary, limiting and existing all over the web. If we as an industry know what is good for the web, we should commit to using content management systems as CMSs without prebuilt themes.
311 said it best… You’ve got to come original.