Stop Knocking Graphic Design Templates

July 15, 2014
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Browse a few graphic design or marketing forums and you’ll inevitably encounter the question: “Is it OK to use graphic design templates?” The range of answers will often vary, but design purists will almost unequivocally state templates are definitely not OK to use; in fact, they might be considered sacrilege. While I understand where that sentiment is rooted, I’m here to say there’s nothing wrong at all with using graphic design templates – in fact, in many cases their use should be encouraged. Here’s why you should stop knocking graphic design templates.

The big picture

The biggest problem with the argument against using graphic design templates is that those who make the argument have lost sight of the big picture. They’ve forgotten their role in the grand scheme and have elevated design to some imagined transcendental position. Graphic design is a means to an end, and if that end can be achieved through more efficient and less-costly means, then that’s the path that should be followed.

Total custom design has its place, don’t get me wrong; but if I’m operating a small startup and I can get a high-quality design that helps me achieve my goals by purchasing a $100 template as opposed to paying a designer $1,000 or more, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Templates are customizable

So what about branding? I would certainly advocate having a custom logo developed because that’s the mainstay visual of any brand. Brochures, flyers, postcards, websites, emails and other marketing materials, on the other hand, don’t necessarily require custom design. They’re already customizable, so a small business (or graphic designer) can place a custom logo, images, and text on a template, change its colors and images to match a given brand, and do it all much faster and easier than starting from scratch. The end result is still a unique custom design, just within the framework of a pre-defined layout. If we’re going to say every layout must be unique, I would say half of all “custom” business cards violate this rule.

Templates create opportunities

Because graphic design templates are cheaper and more efficient to use, they create opportunities for small business marketing that otherwise wouldn’t exist. If a small business can’t budget to pay a designer to create a completely custom design, they would be out of the market without templates – or forced to use inferior home desktop publishing templates. Instead, graphic design templates allow budget-strapped small businesses to compete with professional appearances.

Graphic design templates don’t just create opportunities for small businesses, either; they also create opportunities for graphic designers. Designers often deliver quotes for custom work that are far too high for the smallest of businesses to pay. Those who refuse to compromise can quickly price themselves out of the market, finding it difficult to compete with more established design firms. However, if the same designers are willing to use templates they can offer lower prices for professional work for small businesses and therefore land more jobs.

Time is money

Do graphic design templates cheapen the design industry? No. First, I would argue that a lot of designers tend to follow contemporary trends. How many websites adopted flat design once it became popular? And how about responsive/mobile website layouts? Many are incredibly similar, not because of design trends but because certain layouts are user-friendly. This brings up another key point: design must cater to the end-user, not the graphic designer.

In terms of small businesses, if a company can shave $1,000 off its postcard marketing campaign by using a graphic design template it will earn that much more in return on investment – and that makes template use a smart business decision.

What about graphic designers? Well, let’s say you’re a designer who charges $1,000 for a custom postcard design and it takes you 12 hours to conceptualize, design and revise the postcard. You’ll make just under $84/hour for your design work. Now, let’s say you offer to design a postcard using a template and charge $200 to tweak the design and it takes you two hours to make your adjustments. In the latter example, you’ll make $100/hour for your design work. Which would you rather earn?

Now, consider web design: you might not be a web developer or programmer, but you can offer your clients excellent value through the use of professional WordPress templates (which you can customize) and still make a pretty penny through web design, no developers needed. Somebody tell me what’s wrong with that!

Form vs. function

At the end of the day, it would be great if everyone could afford completely custom design; the fact is everyone cannot. What many businesses need are functional designs that help them achieve their goals, not works of art. If you’re a graphic design purist, submit your work to an art museum – chances are, you’re missing the point anyway and doing your clients an injustice in the process (you wouldn’t want to “cheapen” your design with a standard “buy now” call-to-action button, now would you?).

Form and function are the perfect blend in graphic design, but those who are unable to grasp the big picture emphasize form and neglect function – which, in the world of business and marketing, is without doubt vastly more critical to success.

Again, you have to understand the purpose of your design in order to meet your clients’ needs. If you can achieve that with a graphic design template, great! You’ll save time, save your client money, design and deploy more efficiently, and ultimately have an opportunity to make even more money than if you relied on 100 percent custom design work alone.

Great graphic design is that which helps one’s client achieve their end goal. Anything else is just extraneous fluff. Stop knocking graphic design templates, and start realizing how they can make you a more effective graphic designer. This realization could very well also make you a far more successful graphic designer.

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About Brian Morris

Brian Morris serves in various capacities as a freelance writer, content developer and public relations specialist for growing small businesses. When he’s not writing, he can be found on the racquetball court - usually getting his tail kicked by guys 20 years older.

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