As I contemplated updating my site this past summer, I reflected back on those notions and talked to a great number of my fellow designers and programmers on their opinions of building their own portfolio site, and I was surprised at how opinions had vastly shifted, even since the last portfolio site I built for myself back in 2010. Almost all had decided to make the jump to a readymade template site. The benefits were numerous - your content could be launched virtually overnight in a format that is modern, clean and streamlined. The daily maintenance of keeping up with the latest programming languages, backing up your information and keeping your site hacker-proof is taken care for you. The sites are optimized to work on any device and are already debugged. As someone who works a 9-to-5 job, does freelance on the side and still tries to get out an explore the fantastic city I live in, the concept of a template site was alluring.
This brought me to a larger question, with so many people turning to these templates, is it a good thing for creativity on the web? You can google this question and find page upon page of people decrying the end of the web and creativity as we know it for this very reason. While I agree with the sentiment of losing some of the structural personality of our websites to a kind of homogeny, I would like to put forward my theory that these template sites are actually a GOOD thing for us all, in the long run.
- They save us from some god awful sites. How many times have we gone to a website that is still running a Flash splash screen, looks like it was coded in the early 2000s, with tiled background images and blue underlined links? Or maybe the designer just went crazy and designed a hard to use navigation? Or what about a business owner who has no experience designing a site, yet tries to anyway? With the availability of template sites, anyone has the potential to create a high end website that allows their content to shine, without falling victim to overindulgences, weak designs, poor programming or inexperience. The web looks better for it.
- Consistency. As someone who does hiring at my full-time job, I see a lot of designer portfolio sites come across my desk. A lot of them. And I don't have a lot of time. I've seen some honestly confusing ones, trying hard to be artful for artful's sake. Because of this, I appreciate a site that is straightforward and easy to navigate. I liken website consistency to book design. A VAST majority of books are designed the exact same way, a column of text on the left page, a column of text on the right. Turn the page and its the same thing again. This familiarity makes it easy to pick up any book and go with it, you don't have to relearn how to use each book that you come into contact with. The same could be said for the web. For a vast majority, we use the internet to seek out information and content. Making it easier to surf with sites that are familiar in structure but unique in content optimizes the best of both worlds.
- Putting the focus back on content. In most people's cases, they are going to your website for information. Its your content that they are seeking. Its your content that makes you stand out, that makes your site truly unique and memorable. Focusing on making your content as appealing as possible should be the #1 goal, supported by an easy to use framework. If that framework happens to be similar to another site, most people aren't going to complain. Like artful coffee table books, there will always be a time and place for out-of-the-box websites that push the boundaries of what a site should be and tell a story in a unique way. However, for many people (for example, a restauranteur starting out or a print designer who wants to simply get their work out there), a template puts a website within reach, where it might not have been available before.
I'm sure there are many out there that hold a very different opinion than mine presented here. Programmers that feel jobs are lost to these sites. Web designers who feel some of the web's personality is being destroyed, replaced with laziness. All in all, as the web continues to grow and more people get on board, you are only going to see more job opportunities created and more opportunities for creative storytelling, supplemented with better looking and better performing sites. I hardly see that as a bad thing.