Open Source Templates – The Future of Web Design?
In its broadest meaning, ‘open source’ usually describes a program which is freely viewable to the general public and can be modified from its original form.
This development model has led to some great and varied software over the years, from office suites like OpenOffice, to an entire operating system, Linux. It’s a fantastic alternative for anyone on a tight budget who can’t afford to fork out for expensive paid software.
We’ve begun to see open source creep into the world of web design more and more in recent years. Blogging platforms have given everyone a relatively simple way to set up their own site (as well as introducing a large number of people to the rudimentary principles of website construction). And as more people become aware of the potential of open source on the web, perhaps we should be asking the question: is open source the future? Is bespoke web design on the way out altogether?
To get a realistic projection, we must take a look at the current state of open source web design. There are many sites out there that offer free open source web templates, such as oswd.org. Most of the templates you can find on the web are functional and attractively designed. A search will reveal the typical sort of thing you can expect to find, such as this template from openwebdesign.org.
There are a few arguments put forward by those in favour of open source web design. Foremost among these is that using a template provides a pre-built skeleton for your website, greatly reducing the time it takes to develop it into a full site, as well as driving down costs. We are also seeing the rise of companies such as Viteb, which offer to take a template and customise it to suit your company’s specific needs.
Using an open source template as a starting point can be a great choice for budding web designers, especially if you’re on a budget. It’s now easy to get hold of a powerful ultrabook, which is capable of running Photoshop and other demanding applications used by web designers. If you have a good enough machine, there’s no reason not to have a go at customising a template that is already out there. You’ll probably end up with a unique design and you won’t have to pay someone to do it for you. Moreover, you’ll most likely learn some valuable web design skills along the way.
The other main advantage held by open source is that many templates are offered as cross-platform. This means that as well as a desktop version, they can also be used on mobile devices, a field of web design that is becoming increasingly important and cannot afford to be overlooked (by marisol ). Using an open source template is a good way to ensure that your site will work smoothly on both PCs and mobile devices.
The problem is that, as the example demonstrates, most open source web templates on offer are by necessity quite generic. In order to maximise traffic for the sites that offer them, these templates need to be able to appeal to a large number of people. This leads to a degree of homogenisation that, ultimately, means you’ll be lucky to find a design which exactly matches your site’s requirements in terms of visual aesthetic.
Web design requirements vary on an individual basis, meaning that open source will always be more problematic when applied to web design, as opposed to software, which can be effectively utilised by a large demographic. If you don’t have the skills or time to do it yourself, the only way to know that you’re getting exactly the design that you want is to employ a bespoke web design firm to build it from the ground up.
For the time being at least, bespoke web design is still the best solution, both in terms of improving your site’s chances of success, and for getting exactly the design that suits your site. A professionally designed site will almost always look slicker, and will usually function better, than an open source template, even if that template has been customised by a firm like Viteb. That said, open source still has a lot of potential to become a viable alternative in future.