Custom vs Pre-Built WordPress Themes

The question whether to use a pre-built/premium WordPress theme/template depends on a lot of factors. Budget, timeline, functionality and the ability to provide concrete instructions all play into this decision. I have several cases where a client wants to use a theme to save time/cost and ends up creating more hours of work due to the customization of the theme. The most important thing to consider is the layout and functionality of the theme. A custom WordPress theme coded by a professional will potentially have less functionality, but would easily be customized, based on a client’s request. The same can be said about modifications to an existing theme. Many times a project starts off with “I need a few simple edits to my theme, once testing and cross browser compatibility are factored in, the project took longer than a custom theme from a layered design file.”  I think there are cases where the client and more likely the end client will see the demo of a premium theme and chose this option with the understanding their site will look this way out of the box. These themes require setup and would at least take an experienced WordPress user to figure out the settings of the theme.

Here are some considerations when deciding on using a pre-built / custom theme.
  1. Does the client understand they have to live with any limitation of the theme?
    This is probably the biggest obstacle to a theme project. The client coming back and requesting a change that cannot easily be accomplished based on either the theme layout or set up. I have seen cases where the theme had a built in plugin that was not compatible to a gallery plugin. The time it takes to figure out plugin conflicts is increased as many of these themes have numerous built in plugins.
  2. Simple changes on many of these premium themes can take longer.
    When you are dealing with a correctly coded custom theme, finding the correct CSS class is pretty easy. Many of these themes have custom classes that take more time to locate and in some cases have to be over written.  In many cases, the three minute fix on a custom theme can take considerably longer.
  3. More code means it will run slower.
    The more features and images a theme has will lead to reduced load time. Many of these premium themes are loaded with built in functionality in the way of plugins and are dependent on images for the user experience.
  4. Learning curve on the theme.
    Each one of these premium themes has features and settings that are going to be unique to that theme. If it is an unknown theme to the developer/client, this will run up hours.
  5. Where are the graphics coming from?
    This is a big consideration for any web project and one I will get into in more detail on a later blog. Most modern websites are very dependent on graphics and quality graphics cost money and design resources. The risk of negative legal actions and penalties for using images of which you have no right to possess is high. Many companies are now using software that will detect images even after they have been edited as part of a larger flat image. This is a consideration prior to even picking the theme.
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