What's Wrong With Using Templates?

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First things first, I realize that it seems hypocritical for me to say this when I design sites in Squarespace, which is a template-based system. I’m not referring to websites here, at all.

Templates for websites are entirely different because a website template means the coded structure is already done for you, but (typically) you still edit it. A LOT. You change the fonts or color scheme, put in your own content & images, etc. and truly make it your own, hopefully to the point it no longer obviously resembles the initial template style. You can choose where to put your content & end up making something that may or may not resemble the original you started with and THAT’s why it’s different.

Also, web developers are not always designers & designers are not always web developers; having the two separate sets of skills are vital in creating a good site, but it's not necessary to have both skill sets in the same person. A developer sets up the template, then a designer can come in & use that structure to design a site for someone using what the developer created. It's a great system!

So what's really wrong with using a logo or business card template, for example? I totally get why people do it. They're usually free, or very cheap and people who use them typically don't have a designer on staff or they assume they can’t afford one to set up these things. A lot of these templates even look really good, depending on where you get the template from, of course.

So, if they're free, cheap, easy to use, and are built into whatever company you're ordering the product from (like VistaPrint), then why shouldn't you be using them?


Good question!

First & foremost, what I'm talking about here are template designs for company use, such as templates for your business logo… YIKES.

Again, what I'm NOT addressing here are templates for: website design, greeting cards, invitations, and other things of that nature!

The 3 main issues I have with using templates are:

 

1 | TEMPLATES ARE MADE TO APPEAL TO A LOT OF PEOPLE

That may seem good, so why it could that be a negative thing?

Templates are designed by somebody, yes; but they aren't designed specifically with YOU in mind. In their most basic form, they may not even be designed for a specific set of customers (for example: restaurants, nail salons, writers, body shops, photographers, etc.).

So if they aren't made for anyone specific, how are they supposed to help you stand out among your competition? Templates are designed to appeal to a wide audience, so that in itself is good. However, it's one thing to APPEAL to a wide audience, and quite another to be REMEMBERED by that audience.

For example, if you don't have a logo for your company, maybe you decide to go to VistaPrint to order business cards, because they have good pricing and they give you the option to use any one of their templates before you place your order. You can type in your own information, but you're using their design. Sounds good, right? I'm afraid you're wrong! 🙈

Yes, it will save you a little time right at that moment, but that design you just bought with your order is not yours alone.

Other people are using that template too, and I’d hazard a guess that most people don’t change it much either between orders, aside from different information in the text. It's not designed with your company in mind!

READ MORE: Why hiring a graphic designer will benefit your business!

Did you make the right choice when you chose that template?

WHAT IF YOU:

  • chose it because it has music notes on it and you like music, but your business cards are meant to be used at your nail salon? (A problem I see all too often!)

  • chose a template that has clip-art of a fingernail being painted with red polish, but your cards are meant to be used for freelance makeup artist services? (Chances are people who see that business card will think you own or work in a nail salon, which is misleading, isn't it?)

  • are a photographer so you picked a template with a camera on it? (Not exactly a unique idea, I'm afraid...)

A designer like myself will always design your project with you and your industry specifically in mind, which is why (if you want to stand out) it's always better to get something created by a graphic designer instead of using a template.

READ MORE: Learn the basics of design terminology & grab a free reference guide!

Not to mention (again), because that template was free/cheap, you're not the only one in the world who's using it and that immediately wipes away any chance of being unique in your industry (not a marketable quality for you)!

2 | YOU DON’T OWN THE RIGHTS TO THOSE GRAPHICS

I’m no lawyer, but I imagine it’s safe to say that you can’t take the cool graphic VistaPrint had on your business card template, and use it in your logo. Imagine, you go from making peanuts to bringing in six figures or more & you’re still using that graphic. At some point, somebody is potentially going to approach you about the use of their graphic, because you didn’t purchase it with the rights to use it in that way.

I’m sure some of these companies have the commercial rights to these graphics for themselves in order to put them on your printed materials, but I honestly can’t say how this works for the recipients/customers of these companies. How much is the customer allowed to use it, where is the customer allowed to use it (tshirt vs logo vs business card, etc) & for how long? #thingstoaskalawyer

I know the concept of that might seem like bullshit to some of you, but think about it! Here’s a (pretend) scenario:

What if you drew this cute little bird one day and you put it out there for someone to buy & use. VistaPrint purchases it one day and you are SO EXCITED. Finally someone big! And I’m seeing it on all these different business card templates, which means people are using it! That’s sooo cool. But what if down the road, somebody took the graphic from that card template & started using it in their logo, and eventually that logo became what we all recognize as the Twitter logo? 😳

As the person who created it, you might feel pretty rotten–jipped even, knowing a huge company like that is using your graphic for their logo without your permission or having bought it from you, right? I would.

(This is a 100% fictional scenario, meant for example purposes only & in no way reflects actual history of the Twitter logo.)

That’s why it matters & that’s why there are legal permissions or rights to use these things in certain ways.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, before you start to use a graphic like that you should check the rights usage agreement or ask the company what you’re allowed to do with it before you move forward.

 

3 | TEMPLATES TAKE AWAY A POTENTIAL JOB OPPORTUNITY FROM DESIGNERS LIKE MYSELF

This is admittedly not your problem and more of a problem specifically for designers. When customers opt to use a template instead of hiring someone to design something specifically for them, it takes a job away from those of us who work in this field and the template isn’t serving you as well anyway.

They can be a good way to get started when you’re just starting your business, but make sure you do actually hire a professional to design something custom for you when you can afford it. A good logo or a well designed business card will go a long way for your business’ cred.

READ MORE: Why a good logo is so important!

 

 
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Want to know where I buy plugins for Squarespace sites? What websites have good stock photos? Where to buy fonts or high quality graphics or photos? What tools I use & love?

 

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