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What is Custom Web Design?

In this article we hope to make the tenets of custom website design absolutely clear so that you and your website developer are speaking the same language and working toward the same end goal.
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More often than not, people use phrases such as “custom design” or “custom website design” without truly understanding what their words really mean. We encounter companies on a daily basis who come to us with their “custom” websites which in turn are having “custom” problems.


In reality, these are simple template WordPress websites that were sold to them at an inflated price thanks to flashy colors and pictures. Let us be clear: this is not custom design! In fact, it's hardly web development... but this is a conversation for a different day.

We want to help you. We want to help the developers that you may eventually work with. In this article, we hope to make the tenets of custom website design absolutely clear so that you and your website developer are speaking the same language and working toward the same end goal. With our affordable website design expertise, you will stand out from the rest.

Difference between custom and template web design

What are the Main Advantages of Custom Design?

Boiled down to its most simplistic form, custom website design is one that tactfully incorporates the essence, interests, and goals of your company into a visually captivating state that can be displayed across a variety of outlets. When this design is then fused with your business’s website, it will be a direct reflection of the business as a whole. Even things, such as a company's location in a city like Philadelphia or Denver, its ecommerce capabilities can be incorporated into design. Visitors, when on your page will feel exactly as your business intends them to feel. Professional web design is art and science fused together. It is not something someone can accomplish by reading a few How-To articles online and jumping right in. Related MaterialsThe 30 Best Ways You Can Increase the Number of Calls From Your Company's Website Right Now: Part 1The 30 Best Ways You Can Increase the Number of Calls From Your Company's Website Right Now: Part 1The 30 Best Ways You Can Increase the Number of Calls From Your Company's Website Right Now: Part 2The 30 Best Ways You Can Increase the Number of Calls From Your Company's Website Right Now: Part 2 There are subtle details that only the trained eye will pick up on that contribute to a better overall User Experience for the average visitor. The placement of buttons, pictures, icons, videos, etc., are not random whatsoever. Instead, the designers meticulously analyze industry trends, target audiences, and the individual business itself before beginning their work. When the page is responsive, the design must also be responsive. If you talk to someone in the morning about a custom website design, and they have it ready for you by that evening, chances are your website isn’t as custom as they may have let on.

Quality web design is constantly changing. What may have been an incredible logo 20 years ago will look blatantly outdated in today’s world. A great logo design is responsible for the first impression. This why companies’ logos often undergo a “tune up” every few years or so. Recall when Google changed its logo in September 2015. Given the size and exposure of the company, the change was quickly noticed. Some criticized it, others lauded it. But take a look at the logo again. Now we can’t imagine the company ever not having this type of logo. This is because Google anticipated a change in modern design trends (i.e. minimalism, soft edges) and adjusted to stay relevant. The last thing you or your business needs is to look outdated. Good web designers continuously study their field and reflect their findings in their work. Template websites will not match the most important features of your business. As a simple example, we did work for a pizzeria which, naturally, displayed its menu on its website. When we analyzed the website during the initial stages of the development process, we noticed that their online menu differed from their in store menu in that it lacked the medium-sized pizza the restaurant offered. When we asked them why this was the case, they simply replied that their WordPress website did not give them the option to add more than two sizes. For two years they had to simply deal with the fact that many of their customers (or potential customers) did not know that this option existed.

Exemple of professional website design

We understand that this may seem insignificant, but this is a part of their business that they willfully neglected because of the inadequacy of their website. Would you slack on seating in the restaurant, provide outdated menus, neglect repairs? Then why settle for a website that is anything less than optimal for attaining your business goals? In terms of search engine optimization, Google is able to recognize a unique site and subsequently promote it to a higher rank than that of a template website. The logic here is simple. Google is constantly striving to create a fair and accurate search environment for its users so that they get the best results from their services. That is why it is important to have a good understanding how website usability and SEO work together. One of the many things Google’s algorithms do when determining a website’s rank in in its search result listings is identify a site’s variability from the norm. This variance is also geographically sensitive. If your firm is one of many similar firms in Philadelphia or Denver, then the uniqueness of your page will be that much more important. It considers both the code and the design. It follows then, that a custom website will differentiate itself to Google’s robots more so than will a template website. These differences are reflected in better performance on search engines.

To demonstrate this principle further, consider a situation one of our clients got themselves into. Our client, a law firm, had recently merged with another firm doing similar business. Now under one name, this firm thought it best to also combine websites. Business-wise, this makes total sense. However, the means by which they went about merging the website were devastating for their search engine rankings. What the client did was copy all the content from the old company’s website, and paste it onto their own website (the other site was to be later shut down). When this happened, Google immediately flagged their website as a copycat of the soon-to-be nonexistent one. They were unsearchable, even on their own computers with site cache and all. It took us several weeks to remedy the situation because of the complexity of Google’s algorithms and their defense mechanisms used to prevent instances where the intent for copying is malicious rather than innocent. The moral of the story is the more unique you are, the higher up in Google you appear. Finally, a custom website will be versatile. That is to say, it will be primarily adapted to the devices your target audience uses. For example, if you sell skateboards, you will most definitely need to explore the mobile responsive options for your site, since your target audience will be younger people and will therefore be viewing it through mobile phones. If your website is designed for a senior audience, then you should focus most of your attention on the desktop version. Small decisions like these can bring your page to the top.

Web design of NYX Group adapted for other devicesWeb design of Ben Manis Plumbing adapted for other devicesWeb design of Babbo's Italian Grill adapted for other devicesWeb design of dental clinic adapted for other devicesWeb design of Castle Oaks adapted for other devices
A custom website is versatile. That is to say, it is adapted to the devices your target audience uses.

What Sets a Custom Website Apart From the Rest?

It is fairly simple to tell a custom website from a template one if you know what you are looking for. When looking to spot a custom website, it should meet the following criteria:

  • The design has been drawn from scratch
  • No templates or previous versions were used in the design creation
  • Site is incomparable to any other

Now this is not to say that there is no variability in the definition of what constitutes a custom website. However, the above-mentioned qualities will typically make up the foundation of what the web design world commonly considers a custom design scheme. If you find yourself doubting a site’s custom-ness, it’s best you have it analyzed by a team of professionals before spending any money.

Prototyping step in web design process for Evolut SilverMood Board step in web design process for Evolut SilverDesign step in web design process for Evolut Silver

Why are there so many articles online on “the death of Custom Design”?

There are plenty of large template companies out there today willing to pay countless bloggers to expound on the topic of the antiquity of custom design in order to promote their own agenda and line their pockets. Their goal is to convince you that the cheap prices they offer do not come with any strings attached. We in the web development world know, however, this is not true. It is interesting to read these articles and see how they describe the exact opposite of what a custom web design project can offer. They describe custom website design as an expensive waste of time and money that offers nothing unique or advantageous to the people and businesses who purchase them. This is an obviously biased take on the subject.

Template solutions like WIX or WordPress are suitable only for a limited number of clients, and usually serve only as a stepping stone to better things. While the pricing may be more affordable, they won't take you to the top and they come with several serious issues. If you want to take full advantage of what the internet has to offer, a custom website is what you need. The truth is, custom design is not dead nor will it ever be. The reason harkens back to human nature: we notice what stands out. Unless capitalism is supplanted by communism, businesses are going to constantly find ways to differentiate themselves from their competition to appeal to their target audiences. Sure, templates may become more abundant, but that only works to the advantage of those with custom websites.The more everyone stays the same, the more you stand out.

Getting Straight To The Point: Who Needs and Doesn’t Need Custom Web Design

Needs To Order Custom Web DesignWhy?
Advertising agencies, creative agencies, web development companies, designer furniture stores, and anyone who is, in general, associated with art and the creative sphere or advertisingYour business revolves around creating something beautiful for your customers and clients and thus your website should be a reflection of this. This simply cannot be achieved with a template website.
Banks and any organizations connected with finance, consulting, or law. In other words, all “white-collar” jobs.Your site must look very presentable because people are trusting you with their money, asking you for advice about their businesses, and are in general seeking a reliable source of financial advice. If you are building a website through a template builder, this hints that you do not have the financial resources to build your own custom website. This damages your credibility and reputation.
Any highly competitive marketsIf there is a lot of competition in your sphere of work, you need to seek to stand out from hundreds of similar companies in order to appear unique (i.e. better) for potential clients. A custom website is a great way to cultivate a special image for your company.
Any service business. For example, plumbers, HVAC, Damage Restoration, Cleaning, etc.The main feature of websites that promote and display these types of services is that they are all unique and different. While there are many types of businesses out their providing these services, a custom website will help you truly represent yourself in a different light than that of your competition.
Something unique or exclusiveIf you sell loft-style furniture or designer bags from major brands or wooden-chests carved from the most delicate of woods, all for a few thousand dollars a piece, then you cannot have a template website. This would be the same thing as Walmart trying to selling you a Porsche, your customers simply will not understand the mismatch.
Needs To Work With Template Websites Why?
A site for your dogWith a site like this, it is most likely that you just want to have fun and not spend a lot of time and money on it.
A site for your weddingFor a simple site like this, template sites offer excellent solutions that allow for speed and ease of use, all while looking good.
Any site that is to be created for a short-term goal                                                                                                                                                             If you are creating or promoting a new product for a short period of time, making a small website for an annual marathon in your city, etc. For goals like these, it is best to use a template site. Then when the results are realized and understood, you can make the decision as to whether you will invest in a custom website.
Blog  If you decide to make a website for a blog, the services like WordPress or platforms such as wix are exactly what you need. You will get everything that is essential to your goals with the necessary functionality, speed, and affordable pricing.
Startup                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Template are great for startups, but only at the initial stages where you are still developing your ideas and studying the potential demand for your product or service. God forbid you have a template site that is vulnerable to all sorts of bugs and problems when you reach the stage for investors to start funding you!

What Else Should I Know About Custom Design?

Though it may seem tempting, you should not hire a new or inexperienced company to take on your custom website project, especially if you are looking to build an ecommerce website.  Maybe their mockups seem nice, or they are offering good rates, but you will only end up with a mediocre site with limited or, at best, average functionality. Not to mention the wait time will be much longer than most would prefer. The best custom websites come from experienced developers. For instance, we at Direct Line Development, located in Philadelphia and Denver, can make a fully-equipped, custom website in around 4-6 weeks, delivering timely and satisfying results.

There’s still more to consider besides the quality of the site and the time of delivery. In another article, we detail the step-by-step process by which a custom website is created. The nature of the development process entails a working relationship between client and developer. It is the web design company’s job to not only build you the website of your dreams, but to guide you through each step. Experienced web development companies should be able to take you through this process seamlessly. It’s okay if you find yourself a bit confused at different stages, but if the web design company cannot make the situation clear for you, it’s a red flag. If the big template companies get one thing right, it’s that professional custom web design is not cheap. You must realize you are making an investment. If you take a look at the short-term future, you will understand the value that your site will bring you down the road and thus, better justify the cost.

Custom web design for Global Conservation, Evolut and AORCustom web design for Ben Manis, Party Planner and Panayiotis PattichisCustom web design for Speak Write Play, Mel's Pizzeria and Nahrgang Law

Wrapping up

Imagine you were forced to buy a suit that you were then forced to wear for the next 3-5 years. It may look great in the photos and the price will be perfectly justified. But nothing is as great as the picture lets on. It’s just average. You are not average. Your business is not average. You must think of custom design as a well-tailored suit. Your website will perfectly reflect the best features of your business. Direct Line Development is the experienced studio you need in order to get started with your own custom website! Give us a call and one of our representatives will answer any questions you may have.

The article was updated on August 28, 2017.

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21st March 2018

Once our clients understand the importance of their Website to their overall business Success, it becomes pretty apparent why they should choose a truly custom solution. On a competitive environment where we are constantly fighting competitors and how to reach new clients separating yourself from the herd makes perfect sense.
Custom Design and Development done by an experience company like ours could have tremendous results for businesses.

21st March 2018

I think the most important takeaway that I got from this article is about the changes in trends moving forward. To be contemporary, by nature, involves staying at the forefront of what's 'new'. With a template, it can only be just that. You're stuck inside of a box, but when you create something custom from scratch with nothing more than ideas and artists (developers and marketing experts are artists in their own way) you're coming out with something that resonates much deeper with the people you want to use your website.

21st March 2018

Huge difference between truly custom website and a template website. Custom has much more advantage of speed and flexibility that you will never get from a template designer.

2nd May 2018

From the comparison section that describes which types of industries would need a custom website, it is apparent that businesses in which there is any aspect of competition in their markets would need to have one in order to be successful in the long run. There are too many businesses that are not realizing their full potential and what custom web design can do to their revenue and growth and, sadly, template-based web services dominate due to their lower costs, but lower quality.

11th May 2021

Thanks for talk about web design in brief. Now I understand the benefits of custom web design.

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