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Rant: Design in the time of templates

What follows is a completely unfounded rant that has been haunting my brain cells for a while now. It felt like time to let it out.

I understand the temptation companies feel to use a template for their online or print presence. They offer an easy and reliable way to make yourself look professional or good, maybe a combination of both. They are easily accessible, some great templates are available for free or a small fee online. Your basic word processor, which has long ceased being a basic word processor, probably include a wide selecion of templates that have been professionally designed and packaged for your convenience.

Using them in everyday correspondence at home or at the office, they are very familiar, they may even give you the impression that the act of typing your name into the fields designated for that purpose and address in that space results in a unique piece of design which represents you and your values perfectly.

Online, many commercial sites now use templates to represent their brand. While these may be easily customisable in regard to colours and fonts, the brand identity becomes, in the truest sense of the word, interchangable. The only thing represented by such a template is the flexiblity and adaptabilty of a good bit of coding.

One of my favourite examples for this is the Comicpress template for Wordpress. While it is highly customisable and flexible, it fails most webcomics in one respect: on every screen except an HD affair, you have to scroll evertime you want to turn the page.

My gut tells me that the template was created for a classic three- panel strip. My theory is that once it proved itself with those, creators webwide began adopting it as the template of choice for their projects, which, as often as not, are web versions of pages destined for print. This elongated format results in an uncomfortable use pattern when trying to catch up on a month of unread pages: look at the page, scroll, look for the next page link, click, repeat.

This misrepresents the great content that many of these creators post on a daily basis. By not providing a more usable experience for me, the grateful recepient of many free pages
of excellent reading a day, the brand is diminished.

A more abstract example would be what I call the Appleisation of the web. The original site has some flaws, but the overall experience it delivers is that of an uncomplicated, easy to use, somewhat friendly corporation. Now get this: not every company is Apple. While their design principles are applicable to many areas in life, copying their layout, colour scheme and/ or fonts will not make you Apple.

Seeing some blatant copies of any of the above makes me suspicious of the company, rather than endearing them to me. It bespeaks a company that lacks ideas or innovation. It is a demonstration of laziness and disrespect for the user. It is easily forgotten.

To say that there is no case for templates would be a lie. But to assume that a unique identity can be created through a thinly veiled copy of what is, by definition, a mold which produces the same result every time, is to say that you are yet another in a long
line of brands to be forgotten.

My favourite Monty Python quote is still: "Adopt, adapt and improve." If you can't do it alone, get professional help. You will be remembered for it.

/rant.

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